Prized Possession: HEAT-Thunder

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.

Miami’s offense had one of its best, most pure performances in weeks against the Oklahoma City Thunder, scoring 111.3 points per 100 possessions on 52 percent shooting. It’s not surprising that such a showing came with LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade healthy and Mike Miller incorporated into the rotation, but it was a joy to watch nevertheless.

Their timing was precise when a play called for it – we saw identical sets to last week’s Prized Possession again, this time with James and Wade running the left pick-and-roll – players made effective movements without the ball and every zone of the offensive floor was used. The tone was set in the game’s first play when Wade used a screen to cut backdoor for a layup, and the buffet of goodness continued from there.

At times, Miami’s possessions touched on perfection. Today’s selection is not one of those. Instead, it exemplifies how dedication to ball movement – and this season’s buzzword, trust – can cover up the imperfections of the possessions itself.

After stripping Kevin Durant on the other end, James brings the ball across halfcourt and initiates the offense from the right wing. At this moment, the HEAT’s spacing is ideal, with shooters in each corner and up top drawing defenders out of the paint. James sees the available lane and takes Jeff Green off the dribble, drawing Nick Collison up to help.

For a split second, it appears as though Zydrunas Ilgauskas is open for the dump-off, but Russell Westbrook’s body had been turned and squared toward the paint since James began his drive and he was in prime position to deflect a pass to Miami’s center. So James instead opts to push the ball to James Jones, and Westbrook effectively closes out, having defended two players at once.

With nowhere to go from the corner, Jones swings the ball back up top to Mario Chalmers. Freeze this frame.

In the second it took to get the ball from the heart of the paint back up top, Mike Miller has filled in James’ position on the right wing and Ilgauskas has shifted across the key, effectively resetting the spacing and offering their teammates a new canvas to work on with 14 seconds left on the shot clock.

We’ve now transitioned into a high-post play for James, the same sort Erik Spoelstra runs for Chris Bosh. And now the spacing begins to break down.

Jones’ hesitation on his baseline cut gives Westbrook opportunity to stay on James’ side of the key and deter him from continuing his dribble drive. At the moment James changes direction, he’s drawn three defenders, but three of his teammates are bunched up in the right corner. James is bottled up, and he takes the first outlet he sees, a risky bounce pass to Ilgauskas, who has nowhere to go.

From here on out, the HEAT are in pure improvisation mode. For many teams, this means Ilgauskas forces a shot, Chalmers takes a contested three or someone reverts to isolation offense. Sometimes, with the talent on board, Miami does the latter, just to ensure it will get a shot up. Chalmers could have done so, passing back to James, on his right, which likely would have resulted in a long two-point shot – the most inefficient shot in basketball – with five seconds left on the shot clock.

Instead, Chalmers makes a play, driving left, and is quickly met by defenders due to the awkward spacing. He jump passes, a habit the coaching staff has tried to weed out from all of its ballhandlers, and moves the ball. Pause again.

Even before he shoots, James Jones has already saved the possession. Though he had been shading to the wing, perhaps expecting a shot so he was getting in defensive position, Jones recognizes Chalmers’ predicament and races to the corner.

If Jones isn’t there, Chalmers it out of luck, hanging in the air with the shot clock winding down and no clear outlets. But Jones is in the corner, and the three falls through with a second to spare and the HEAT gain the lead.

It’s important to remember that Miami doesn’t have the luxury of a pause button. Everything we are taking the time to dissect, moment by moment by detail, the HEAT have to recognize on the fly. No team is going to pick the perfect option every possession, every time someone has to make a decision. And plays, spacing, will break down.

That’s why Spoelstra wants his team operating by certain principles: make quick decisions, move the ball to the open play, fill the open space. Above all, give your teammates the best options they could possible have, and your lineup the best chance to score.

Here, the HEAT did all those things, and when things weren’t perfect, sticking to their principles bailed them out. Comment on this article here...