Prized Possession: HEAT-Bulls

The following is part of an on-going series that features a single HEAT possession, one which may not result in points but gives the team the best chance to win. It is impossible to duplicate an individual shot, but it is possible to re-create the same opportunities and the effort that went into earning them.

Thursday’s contest between the Miami HEAT and the Chicago Bulls was not an offensive showcase for either team. Under a point per possession on both sides as the half-court defensive pressure was so tight, neither squad made a significant run until stretches of long misses and turnovers opened up transition opportunities.

The fluidity of Miami’s early-February offense was lost for an evening, with stagnant, broken sets reminiscent of the HEAT’s recent matchup with the Boston Celtics showing up in each stage of the game. Even when a 13-3 run in the fourth quarter returned the lead to Miami after losing the third quarter, those points were earned from LeBron James and Dwyane Wade getting themselves to the free-throw line while the defense afforded the HEAT the stops necessary in order to chip away.

Some of it is fixable, as the HEAT can sustain long stretches of brilliant team execution, Chris Bosh will not have the worst shooting night of the past 25 years again (1-of-18) and Miami will rarely score six points per 100 spot-up possessions, but some, too, is a reality. When defenses reign in the postseason, it becomes tougher to perform sets with practice-like precision. Teams know what’s coming, know what everyone else wants to do, and begin changing how offenses function – as opposed to the more reactive defenses of the regular season’s day-to-day.

And that’s where there is a premium on out-of-bounds and after-timeout plays. They are controlled situations that allow the offensive team to gameplan the element of surprise. They can draw up options – ones the defense has not seen before – and manufacture the motion that the style of play had hindered.

This is where we get to last night’s prized possession, when a sidelines play marked the lone bright spot in a ragged third quarter (we’re cheating today and going with what wound up as a highlight):

Wade inbounds the ball to Bosh, setting up in his comfort zone on the elbow, and immediately heads to the near corner to free Mario Chalmers with a pick. In the meantime, James is waiting on the far wing with Erick Dampier quietly getting outside position on the right elbow.

Chalmers runs off Wade’s pick and receives the hand off from Bosh with his momentum going right down the middle of the paint. By design, it’s not until the instant

Chalmers gets the ball in his hands that James, with the defense’s attention turned toward the action on the strong side, cuts to the rim. And because Dampier had not been very demonstrative about establishing his position, Luol Deng is caught off guard by his size, screened from sliding down into James’ path.

With Rose bumped off his trailing path by Bosh, Chalmers then has full vision of the passing lanes in front of him. Carlos Boozer and Omer Asik step up, but Chalmers drops a bounce pass underneath them for James, who is left with the best question a player can ask for: “How do I want to dunk this?”

As well as the play was executed, it did not kick start Miami’s overall attack. They had gone three scoreless possessions prior to James’ dunk, and did not score on their following four possessions. The third quarter continued to be a struggle. But when they had their best opportunity to get what they wanted, the HEAT capitalized, and at the very least they’ve proved to be consistent in those out-of-bounds sets. This is going to matter.