Chasing Down The Latest NBA News
In the conference finals we saw Oklahoma City start to define who they want to be in the fourth quarter of close games. Scott Brooks did a tremendous job of setting up the half court action they would use to assure they were getting the ball into the hands of their best players in areas of the court they are efficient.
Specifically, OKC looked to get Durant the ball between the elbows, from the FT line to the top of the key (Durant led the league in 3pt% from the top of the key). They looked to get Harden into hand off situations and ball screens where he is at his best and they used Westbrook in ball screens that would get him moving down hill.
It seemed as though Brooks clearly defined how their offense would work and from game 3 on OKC played effortlessly and with flow during crunch time. They even seemed to lean on a go-to set that they used in multiple games for extended stretches. It was a pretty simple action that put Westbrook into a down screen for Durant. OKC developed multiple reads and options out of this and were able to dissect San Antonio in the biggest moments of the Western Conference Finals.
To see this action with a full break down you can take a look at Sebastian Pruiti’s blog with video at:
In game one of the NBA Finals we saw the distinct differences between Miami and OKC play out in the 4th quarter. The game was a dead heat through 3 quarters of play and in the 4th the Thunder took over simply because they seemed to have purpose to their possessions, while Miami didn’t seem quite comfortable with what they were doing. More on this later.
We also saw Brooks make an adjustment to their “go-to” set and change it just enough to create a little extra action that made the down screen for Durant a bit more complex.
The set starts in a box formation with your key player on the right block. 2 curls off a staggered screen on opposite side to the middle of the paint.
2 comes off the staggered to the middle of the court. 4 follows right behind him to come off 5 down screen to the wing. 2 continues his cut directly into a down screen for 3 (which was Durant for OKC). 3 comes off the down screen to try to catch between elbow and 3 pt line. This is the money area for Durant and where OKC feels like he is unstoppable.
Once 3 catches at elbow 2 clears out to weak side corner to open up the side for 3 to play on. This is where you want to encourage your scorer to be aggressive.
Oklahoma City had a great counter to their “go-to” set during the conference finals and that was ending it with a flare screen. They ran the flare for the guy who passed the ball to Durant, which was Harden most of the time. Here you can see what that looked like. 3 usually caught a little farther from the basket and he put it on the floor to the right first. As he crossed back to the left this triggered 4 to set a flare for 1 and allowed 3 to make a pass quickly for the three. He could make the pass on time/on target because it was set strategically as he crossed back to his left and was moving toward the shooter. They didn’t run this in game 1 but it would be easy enough to add in as they did in the WCF.
Watch out for this set again in game 2 as I am sure Brooks will run it again and most likely add on some more wrinkles to it. The Thunder freed Durant up for an open mid range shot and an easy drive where he got fouled using this set. Miama did do a good job fronting it a few times as well to prevent the pass to KD so I am interested in seeing how OKC reacts to that strategy.
Now back to Miami and their end game offense. Watching each possession of the fourth quarter back it is impossible to blame LeBron or DWade specifically for the Heat’s struggles. I don’t think either was trying to play selfishly and while it seemed like Wade was much worse that LeBron, a second look at the quarter tells a different story.
Miami simply looks out of rhythm and they don’t seem to have any offensive action they want to go to consistently in order to get good looks. They ran a lot of opening ball screens that were predictable and easy to see coming. LBJ and Wade did score and create with some of these because they are so good but I don’t know if they can be efficient enough to beat a team like the Thunder with simple ball screens.
Spoelstra needs to come up with something on the X and O end that is going to put Miami players in comfortable spots and help them define what they want down the stretch. I believe ball screens should be a huge piece of this but to just have your two best players walk the ball up and go off a ball screen doesn’t seem like it is an effective strategy. Miami needs to create a set or action that starts with player/ball movement before the ball screen is set. OKC seemed to have better flow offensively in large part due to the set described above.
Is it Wade, is it LeBron? The juggling act of who has the ball and who is attacking is exhausting to watch and I think it is also the coaching staff’s responsibility to sit down with them and define 4th quarter roles. This doesn’t mean the other guy never gets to create (OKC has Durant as it’s primary option but Westbrook and Harden have both had moments where they have created), it just allows them to both know who the offense runs through. You can even change this game to game if you want, but each 4th quarter needs to have a specific plan with defined responsibilities.
If you take a look at all 22 of Miami’s 4th quarter possessions you can see the struggle. Wade touched it on 17 of those possessions and LeBron touched it on 15. LeBron was in attack mode on 9 of them while Wade attacked 7 times. James ended up taking 6 shots and going to the line once while Wade shot 4 times. These numbers show very little variance in usage for both guys. If you watch the quarter back each possession almost has a “now it is your turn” feel to it.
Watching the game I felt like Wade was horrific in the 4th but he wasn’t actually that bad. On his 7 attacks Miami shot 3/5, got fouled once and had 1 TO. On LeBron’s attacking possessions Miami was 2/7, got fouled once and had 1 TO. These guys have similar efficiency but it seemed as though the uncertainty of whose “turn” it was cause a lapse mid quarter when OKC went on their run. Five straight Heat possessions ended with: TO, Battier missed 3, LeBron missed 3, Bosh missed 3, LeBron missed layup. By the time LeBron attacked and missed that last layup OKC had put the game close to out of reach. A game can turn quickly in the Finals and you can’t afford to have four average possessions where you don’t find quality shots.
Oklahoma City made a lot of tough shots down the stretch and Miami wasn’t in rhythm enough to match them. I am interested to see if Spo can create something for Miami to play within that allows them to find this rhythm that has been missing in the Finals for the last two seasons.
Here is the set in full (copy and paste into Word if you want to print or save the set)
Head Men’s Basketball Coach