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Prized Possessions: Bosh and Chalmers

From the moment when Chris Bosh joined the injured LeBron James and Dwyane Wade on the bench with his fourth foul, awarded to him with 7:31 to play in the third quarter against the Atlanta Hawks, the Miami HEAT hit one more field goal and scored four total points to finish out the quarter.

The Hawks scored 18 during that stretch, leaving Miami down two, a testament to how well they had been playing before Bosh’s exit from the game.

The offense normalized in the fourth, which is just when Bosh returned, with three of the first four field goals of the period coming from Bosh assists – including a particularly generous one to Terrel Harris. Whether he was passing or screening, Bosh was directly involved in 11 of Miami’s 12 scoring possessions in the quarter.

Perhaps Bosh’s most significant contribution last night, however, was spacing. Atlanta’s finest defensive possessions came with Bosh on the bench, as Hawks players were free to crowd the paint and run full speed at shooters without a threat of an elite shot creator on the floor. But with Bosh out there, Atlanta was so concerned with Bosh getting free in space that defenders simply took him out of the play. That meant little of the typical hedging you expect on pick-and-rolls, in essence giving Miami a free zone on the floor to offer separation for a ballhandler such as Mario Chalmers, with the added bonus of one of Atlanta’s big men being sucked out of the paint.

Using this, Erik Spoelstra manufactured three baskets, all after timeouts, in the last four minutes of regulation. Before Bosh’s three-pointer to force overtime.

This is a relatively simple set at the outset, with Chalmers bringing the ball up the floor, the two bigs ready to cross-screen for one another at the free-throw line and shooters in either corner spacing the floor. It’s a look Spoelstra has used often, particularly when trying to initiate a two-man game.

But instead of setting up the high pick-and-roll, Udonis Haslem bumps past Bosh’s defender, Ivan Johnson, giving Bosh the space to establish position at the left elbow. This sets up either a handoff or, if Bosh’s defender helps at all, a faceup opportunity for Bosh to shoot an open jumper or take his man off the dribble, as he will a couple of possessions later.

Atlanta’s defense seemingly doesn’t want the second situation to occur, so when Chalmers runs by Bosh for the handoff, Ivan Johnson sticks with Bosh and Chalmers gets space in front of him. That Teague runs right into Johnson is almost inconsequential.

During this action, Haslem is screening for Harris on the right block, giving Chalmers a safety valve on the perimeter should he be cut off in the lane. But Al Horford isn’t distracted by this, and he’s in good position to help across the paint. The rest is all Chalmers, as he quick-jumps Horford to take a right-handed floater, getting the shot off before Horford can even contest. Two possessions later, Johnson will overcompenstate on a similar action, a screen this time, and foul Chalmers on the drive on the left side, but it’s after Miami’s timeout with 52.6 seconds remaining.

We begin here with Shane Battier taking the ball out on the sideline, with a traditional box set for Miami. The down screens are timed so that Chalmers is freed first to receive the ball – you can see James Jones turning his head to make sure Chalmers has space for the catch – and then free Bosh for the high screen.

Though Josh Smith doesn’t stick as close to Bosh as Johnson did on the previous after-timeout play, in part because Bosh is further from the basket this time, he doesn’t fully commit to hedging out on the ballhandler and deterring the drive. So when Chalmers hesitates after his first dribble off the screen and doesn’t see anyone in front of him, he hits the turbo button.

Then he plays mindgames with Horford.

After quick-jumping Horford for the floater on the previous after-timeout set, Chalmers plays on that expectation and gives Horford a slight dribble hesitation move less than ten feet from the rim. Horford goes flying, and Chalmers ducks under the rim for the reverse layup.

Less than a minute later, with 12.1 seconds to play and Miami down four needing a quick two-pointer, Spoelstra does what Chalmers did, he played off expectations.

On the previous set, Haslem had been in the game as a screener, and as he was guarded by Horford, Horford was able to stay close to the paint to provide help defense. This time, Spoelstra goes small, playing Battier at power forward, which keeps Horford defending the inbounds pass (having Horford chasing James Jones around the arc wouldn’t have made sense, and the Hawks want him available to help, which is why he isn’t on Bosh).

Now, the box is gone. Miami is lined up with three players in a diagonal line and Chalmers under the basket. The expectation would be that the HEAT are either setting up Chalmers for a catch up top, with another screen freeing him for a drive, or that they are playing for the three, running Jones off screens to give him space.

That’s just what Atlanta expects. So Spoelstra zags. Instead of having Chalmers run to the top off a screen, Chalmers cuts to the right corner, bringing Joe Johnson with him, drawing the attention of Horford and emptying the paint. Then Bosh strides over to the left elbow to where Harris is standing, as if to give Jones a two-man screen to free him for a three.

Smith sees this coming and jumps the action early, shading toward the arc to prevent the Jones catch-and-shoot. But Smith doesn’t know the help defense has vacated the paint.

Bosh does.

All Bosh has to do is slip the screen he was expected to set, and when Harris gets a body on Marvin Williams, Jeff Teague is left as the only player capable of stopping Bosh’s cut. Miami gets its bucket, and with a missed Atlanta free-throw a few moments later, the HEAT are set up perfectly for Bosh’s overtime-forcing three.