The Time After Time

Dwyane Wade and Justise Winslow Execute The Details Following Timeouts
Mike Ehrmann
by Couper Moorhead

Teams that can score when they really, really need to score are the teams that generally find success in the postseason.

Yes, that’s a little reductive. The teams that can score at any time tend to do very well for themselves, but things are different after April 15. Opponents have specifically geared their schemes to take away your bread-and-butter actions, possessions take longer, the game slows down and teams can wind up slugging it out in the half-court.

And scoring against a stout, set defense in the half-court can be bloody hell.

Six timeouts, plus 20 seconds per half, is all coaches get to try and adjust. Most carry three into the final minute of the game if things are close, so that’s at least six possible possessions down the stretch that can depend on execution out of a timeout. You can have all the talent in the world but if you can’t execute off a stoppage, even if it just means getting the ball to the person you want to get the ball to, there’s a ceiling on your potential as a team.

All of which is a long way of saying it’s a good, encouraging thing to see the Miami HEAT execute down the stretch against the Indiana Pacers, both scoring off their own timeouts and stifling the Pacers off theirs.

“If you can score out of timeouts, that’s key,” Dwyane Wade said. “In a game that’s close, if you can get some of those cheapie baskets, that’s huge. I told the guys, ‘If y’all don’t know what Eastern Conference Playoffs games are like, this is what it’s like’.”

Though it’s a difficult thing to track by the numbers – not all timeouts are created equal – the HEAT have generally been one of the elite teams at scoring after breaks under Erik Spoelstra. Sometimes things really work, such as Hassan Whiteside getting dunks in back-to-back games headed into the halftime break because Spoelstra used a timeout to run the same Ray Allen high slip-screen play he’s been using for years. Sometimes they halfway work, such as the old Rajon Rondo lob play getting Tyler Johnson a quick score in an eventual loss to Indiana earlier this season, followed by the classic Spoelstra double-dip of calling the same play next time down. Sometimes a set produces a great shot that just doesn’t go in or get off in time, like Chris Bosh in the final seconds against Detroit recently.

At other times, especially with a newer group of players, things can get messy. Two or three or four players come out of a timeout knowing exactly what they need to do, but then one or two or three players forget or the timing is off or the defense sniffs it all out and you end up with a catch far from the basket and everyone staring at the ball.

However understandable, there’s been a bit too much clogging in the gears this season.

“We still have some slippage that we need to continue to get better at,” Wade said.

“We have to focus on it first and run it and actually execute the play, then we can work on everything else,” Bosh said.

“We still need to take care of some small things,” Goran Dragic said.

But the general consensus among all three players was that things are improving. It’s hard not to notice it when Whiteside is getting wide open dunks against Dallas and Washington, or when Bosh is getting opportunities like this in the fourth quarter.

“We’re a lot better than we were at the start of the season,” Wade said.

So when there’s 2.7 seconds left and a score is needed just to force overtime, it’s a neon green, flashing, positive sign that Miami can get points without just saying, ‘Hey, star player, go do something good’ with a thumbs-up emoji. Especially so when, as Dragic confirmed, it was a brand new play (to the players) that Spoelstra drew up on the bench.

“We have smart players. Everybody knows how to play basketball. That’s our quality. Spo can experiment with those plays and we can run a different one each time,” Dragic said.

You never know if you might find yourself in the exact (mostly exact) situation in a playoff game.

“It was close. Not quite the same,” Spoelstra said. “I do have to credit [assistant coaches David Fizdale and Chris Quinn]. We’ve been sitting down and really working on some of those actions. They’ve had some creative ideas.”

No, it’s not the same play but the concepts are eerily similar. “It was very simple,” says Bosh. You have Gerald Green in the Ray Allen role acting as the decoy, Goran Dragic as Norris Cole clearing the strong-side corner – another Spoelstra after-timeout staple – Tyler Johnson inbounding as Shane Battier and Chris Bosh setting a screen on the elbow. The primary difference this time is that instead of LeBron James clearing his own space on Paul George, Bosh helps Wade spring free.

The result is the same. George ends up a step behind the catch – “I don’t think Paul made a mistake. He’s trying to make a play,” Justise Winslow says – the set has effectively cleared the lane and Miami gets a layup.

“I didn’t look at [George] at all. My mind was made up. I was going to the basket,” Wade said.

*As a sidenote, the play for Wade wasn’t necessarily for him to get a layup. That was a positive result, but as observers we tend to play the results on set plays. Just because a certain shot is taken, that doesn’t mean it’s the exact shot a set was meant to produce. Coaches want to get their players the ball in good position to score, but they aren’t puppet masters pulling all the strings so a shot goes up on a dime. It’s a human game, after all.

The Paul George

Stopping is just as important as scoring, and if the HEAT are incrementally getting better at executing their own ATO’s they’ve consistently been good at defending those being run at them.

Before we get to the end of overtime and the most important defensive stand of the game, however, it’s important to look a little earlier. With about two and a half minutes remaining in regulation Frank Vogel called a nifty set that involved a number of decoy actions just so George could get some space coming off a screen at the elbow.

The first time, it worked, as Winslow – his individual great defense is becoming so routine that we’re only going to mention it here between these dashes – gets caught on the screen and Bosh, who would normally help on the catch in this situation, is distracted by the action in the paint.

As most coaches, Spoelstra included, will do when a set is working down the stretch, Vogel calls the same play on the next possession. This time Miami reads it well, but Rodney Stuckey uses the space created to get off and make a shot.

By the third time Vogel runs the same set, Winslow and Bosh are essentially quoting a movie they’ve seen 100 times as they’re watching it for the 101st. George gets the catch, and later a foul, but Winslow allows him no personal space.

“It’s just tough,” Winslow said. “You know who they’re trying to get the ball to. You try to do your best job of fighting through screens. We kind of learned as that three-play sequence went on. We knew what they were trying to do. But in this league you can know what they’re trying to do and they’re still talented enough to score on you.”

Here’s where things get interesting. Most coaches, especially late in games, want to get their stars the ball going towards the rim. If they do that, then, like Bosh and Wade in the earlier examples, the attack is likely going to come against a shifting defense. As useful as flare screens can be, they can still result in said star catching the ball facing away from the rim – creating more work.

But the flare screen also gets the star going away from any possible help defense, so they can also be good ways to ensure a catch. So after Winslow and Bosh disrupt the last time George tried to curl into a shot, Vogel comes out of the next timeout just making sure George can find space.

The result? A tough jumper.

Beyond being an example of players and coaches adjusting down the stretch, why is this important in the context of the game? What happened in the last few minutes of regulation repeated itself in the final seconds of overtime.

After the HEAT gained a three-point lead with three seconds to play – a lead gained via a handful of tough, competitive rebounds and loose-ball plays that were equally encouraging – the Pacers had one last chance. Indiana had already been missing George Hill, out with food poisoning, and the complexion of the game had changed again when C.J. Miles went out with a shoulder injury in the first half. That’s two of the team’s three best shooters sitting on the bench.

Everybody knows where the ball is going.

In their first attempt, Indiana again tries to use decoys and screens so George can get a catch coming to the ball. Winslow fights through, as he is wont to do, and Wade makes an exceptional read to attack the passing lane. Indiana timeout.

On the second try, Winslow again gets through the screens while Bosh and Wade both read the design as George tries to come back towards the ball.

“Paul George. You might as well have called it that, Paul George,” Bosh said. “I don’t care what they were running, we were looking at him.

“We’re not going to let him. A guy like that, I’m super nervous. He can shoot it from 30 feet out, he can get you on the up fake, you’re at his mercy. He’s going to get a look. Yeah, we’re jumping to him.”

Another timeout.

So, just as with the sequence during regulation when Miami was making George’s catches tough, Vogel goes in a different direction.

“They were loading up on the strong side and playing the zone, pretty much,” George said. “Coach decided to flare me to the corner. I had a free and good enough look to knock that shot down.”

“The first time Dwyane did a good job of showing off the inbound,” Winslow said. “The second time [Bosh] peeled. The last play was a good play. It was hard for me to see the ball so he just threw it over my head. I saw [George’s] eyes go up and caught it from the three-point line.”

George could very well have made that shot to send the game into a second overtime, but there wouldn’t have been much else Miami could do. If a great player makes a great shot retreating into the far corner, you tip your cap, do a curtsey, click your heels and skip on out of the room.

The HEAT did all it could do, and for that it earned a win. No, the execution wasn’t perfect throughout the game, but it was really good in high-leverage spots. Over the next few months you’ll want to see the team get better and better in all situations but that’s in part because the regular season is a time for learning and improving.

Come the playoffs, things change. You aren’t going to be perfect against the best teams, and nobody cares about being perfect if you win a game that can end a season. You just need enough. And in paying attention to detail and executing out of timeouts against Indiana, Miami had just that.

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