Among the adjustments the Heat must make for Game 2 are three top priorities: Tighten up their 4th quarter defense, play with a greater sense of urgency, and run the offense through LeBron James in late minutes when the game is close.
These three adjustments seem elementary at best, as a 5th grader could make these observations, but these issues seem to be a recurring theme for the Miami Heat in the postseason.
Just last season, the same lackadaisical tendency was shown during each of the first three Heat series. Against the Knicks in the first round, after the Heat rolled to a 3-0 lead, Miami went into cruise control and cruised to a Game 4 loss.
Against the Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics in rounds two and three, the Miami Heat started each series with 1-0 and 2-0 leads respectively, only to allow that seemingly “lazy” play to let Indiana and Boston to gain leads in those series.
It wasn’t until the Heat tightened up their defense late, played with a sense of urgency, and allowed LeBron to run the offense that the Heat regained control and ultimately won those series.
I thought that the Heat’s defense in the last two minutes was lacking in two respects. First, they needed a better effort shutting down the ball handler, Nate Robinson. From watching tape on the Brooklyn Nets series, Coach Spoelstra must have realized Robinson was going to be a threat if not contained. Mario Chalmers and Ray Allen, although excellent defenders in their own right, are not the best available options in that situation. LeBron James has proven to be a shut down defender time and time again and I expect given a similar situation late, will defend Robinson in isolation.
The second piece of that puzzle is a stronger presence in the paint. Chris Anderson has shown that he can provide that much needed rim defense in case the perimeter defense is broken. Robinson is deadly of the dribble and showed that he could get his shot in close, without much help from either Chris Bosh or Udonis Haslem.
As far as playing with urgency, I doubt anything needs to be done here. Losing to the Bulls in game 28 of “the streak” had to have put a bad taste in the Heat’s mouth, of which Monday night’s Game 1 loss surely reminded them. Look for Miami to come out swinging in Game 2.
Lastly, the Miami Heat are at their offensive best when LeBron James has the ball. Not only does he command the attention of, likely, the Bulls’ best defender, but also that of the potential double team help from the wing, anyone assisting on the pick and roll, as well as the man defending the paint, should he need to come up to guard against James’ drive to the rim.
Fortunately for the Bulls in Game 1, this strategy for the Heat was stymied somewhat, as the shots weren’t falling on the James kick-outs for three (the Heat shot just 29% from behind the arch, down from their season avg. 39% and started 1-8 from three).
If the Heat can make the needed adjustments while finding their offense, it should mean getting back on track and possibly even an early end to the series. If not, it still could be an early end to the series…