HEAT TURN UP THE D TO GET BACK TO THE FINALS

The Miami Heat didn’t let Game 7 come down to shot-making. And it’s a good thing, because they shot 39 percent.

 

The No. 1 defensive team in the league was the No. 2 defensive team on the floor on Monday, because the Heat found another level. And with a 99-76 victory over the Indiana Pacers, they’re moving on to The Finals for the third straight year. This game was about energy, on defense and on the glass. The Heat brought it from the start, reminding us how disruptive they can be when they enhance their speed and athleticism with relentless effort.

The Heat just haven’t been the defensive force that they were last year. Maybe it was a championship hangover or maybe their improved and top-ranked offense just didn’t need as much help to win games. They’ve been able to turn it on defensively — a couple of games or a couple of quarters at a time — but the consistency just wasn’t there.

 

In Game 7, it was there for 48 minutes. The Heat attacked the Pacers’ Achilles’ heel — their inability to hold on to the ball under pressure — and made it impossible for the visitors to find any kind of an offensive rhythm. Only once before garbage time set in did the Pacers score on three straight possessions, something that they did 10 times in Game 6.

“We wanted to really impose our energy defensively,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, “and really get to our identity of pressuring them, hopefully making them make mistakes.”

 

The Heat’s defense was a swarm, attacking the Pacers’ pick-and-roll ball handler, and then recovering to attack the poor soul who got the ball next. At times, you had to count the white jerseys on the floor to make sure there weren’t six or seven of them.

“They were a lot more aggressive on their back side,” David West, accountable for six of Indiana’s 21 turnovers, said. “They were there on the catch. They didn’t allow — particularly to Roy [Hibbert] — a lot of space.”

 

Hibbert scored 18 points on an efficient 7-for-11 shooting, because he was effective as a roll man. But he was surrounded on his post catches and when he tried to crash the offensive glass. For the second time in three games, he tallied only two offensive boards. More damaging were the turnovers. Indiana had nine in the first quarter and 15 by the half. They scored just 37 points 46 first-half possessions, making it almost inconsequential what the Heat were doing offensively.

LeBron James scored 32 points, of course, but it was Dwyane Wade who typified the Heat’s night. The guy who struggled through the first six games, drawing criticism – and Larry Hughes comparisons – from all angles, was the guy who really got his team over the hump in what will be remembered as a fantastic series, despite the Game 7 margin.

 

After shooting 11-for-34 in Games 4-6, Wade was a solid 7-for-16 on Monday, though he still struggled with his jumper. He was 2-for-9 from outside of five feet.

But he got 17 points in the restricted area or at the free-throw line. They were energy points. Wade attacked the paint and attacked the glass. Five of the 17 came from his own offensive rebounds, of which he had six, three more than any other player on the floor. Those six boards produced nine second-chance points total.

With the season on the line, Wade answered the call. This wasn’t his best game, but he not because of a lack of effort.

 

“That’s probably the hardest he’s played,” West said. “We knew he, at times, was in and out of the series, just in terms of his impact.

“I thought he beat us in the effort department and he physically played harder tonight than we had seen in the previous six games.”

 

The effort didn’t come without a big assist from James, who took on the Paul George assignment defensively and who looked to get his teammate involved early. James knew he needed some help to get through this game, and he didn’t want to run out ahead of his teammates and wonder if they were going to join him.

“I called a couple of sets for him early in the game,” James said of Wade, “just to get a feel for it. And it showed throughout the whole game that he was in the rhythm.”

That was more than enough for the Heat, who beat the Pacers at what they do best, grabbing 15 offensive boards and getting to the line 38 times, while holding Indiana (eight offensive boards, 20 free throw attempts) in check in both categories. Really, that was more important. The game was Indiana’s end of the floor, where the Heat out-defended the best defense in the league.

 

“They taught us a lesson,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “They’ve won it all, and they know how to ratchet up their defense at a level that just imposes their will on a basketball game.”

If the Pacers can learn a lesson from Game 7, maybe the Heat can too. When they play that level of defense, it doesn’t matter much if the shots don’t go in.

 

 

Source : John Schuhmann | NBA.com

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