When Isolation Isn't Enough
After Carmelo Anthonys 3-of-15 Game 1, which he spent being fronted on the post and on the wing by the tandem of Shane Battier and LeBron James, one of the major storylines headed into Game 2 was how the New York Knicks were going to get Anthony the ball in good position to score.
The adjustments were simple and predictable, but thats no knock on the Knicks. It wasnt complicated to have Anthony handle the ball a little bit more pushing up the floor on his own rebounds and to screen for him in the paint to free him on the wing. Thats all it took to counter Miamis aggressive ball denial, and Anthony didnt have nearly as much trouble getting open throughout the evening.
What the Knicks were left with when Anthony did get the ball, however, revealed a deeper issue, one that offered a stark contrast to how the Miami HEAT were going about their business.
As weve discussed before, New York has been playing more isolation offense under Mike Woodson than any team in the last eight years and Game 2, Miamis 104-94 victory, was no different. The Knicks put a lot of effort into getting Anthony the space to catch and operate, but the result of all that work too often resulted in one-on-one play, the type of possession that favors the defense particularly an athletic, cohesive defense over the long haul.
Hes a prolific scorer, Erik Spoelstra said. When hes got it going like that, I dont know if theres a better shot maker in the league. I dont know how many times over his career where weve said, Great defense . . . but hes killing us.
Even though Anthony scored 21 points in the first half, it took him 18 attempts and the shot chart shown on the right to get there. He got open, he got the ball, and he took jumpers, with 72 percent of Anthonys first-half attempts coming from outside the paint.
In the second half, with almost identical shot distribution, Anthony shot 3-for-8.
He finished with 26 attempts on 14 isolation possessions.
Meanwhile, the HEAT were playing one of their most complete games of the last two years, with 73 percent of their field-goals being assisted, and the same percentage of their attempts coming either in the paint or beyond the three-point line.
Thats one of the most efficient games weve had all year, probably last year and a half, two years that weve been together, James said. We play as a team like that and well be hard to beat.
Bear with the numbers here. While the Knicks were using 30 isolation possessions, the HEAT were dishing 28 assists. While Synergy Sports logged the Knicks using a combined 20 cuts and spot-ups opportunities almost guaranteed to result in an assist should the shot go in the HEAT used 43.
And Miamis assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.50 was is second-highest in the last two years.
Why the difference between the two teams? Why did the Knicks offense slow to a fading pulse when the ball stuck with Anthony on the wing while Miami constantly whipped the ball around, going from corner to wing back to corner and into the paint?
Some of it was scheming. While Miami made Anthony work to get open and work to get his shot off, they didnt double. They trusted Battier and James and let the percentages play out. But when James or Dwyane Wade caught the ball with their back to the basket or dribbled off a screen, they were swarmed with hard traps and double teams.
I adjust to whats going on throughout the game, James said. They applied a little bit more pressure on my pick-and-rolls today, tried to keep the ball out of my hands and I found my guys. Found my shooters, and they made shots.
Theres more to this than just the Knicks and Game 2. The Knicks in Game 2 played a game that was everything the HEAT could have been, a game that provides short-term dividends but reaches as extreme depths as it does highs, but its a game the HEAT have spent two years trying to avoid. Miami has strived for diversity and balance, a goal that has added more than a few speed bumps along the way, but its been a transformative journey.
Now this is a team with elite scorers that know how to play without the ball in their hands, and that are willing to trust role players when the doubles come and efficiency lies elsewhere. Its not a perfect team not every night will be like this but its one that is evolving despite its own limitations.
The clichéd analysis has often been that Miami is no more than the sum of its own parts. Some people will cling to that cliché in the moments when it still appears to apply, but Spoelstra has always pushed his team to be more. On the same court as a team using isolation after isolation, at least, Miami seems to have found more.
Statistical support for this article provided by NBA.com and Synergy Sports