There's nothing quite like playoff NBA basketball. After a couple of games, the familiarity between the two teams breeds unbelievable contempt. Team strengths are neutralized by adjustments, then coaches need to rethink everything to take advantage of the holes opened by those adjustments. It's truly a chess match. Let's take a look at a couple of key adjustments, and how they've been countered through the first four games.
The first adjustment, or change, is actually kind of weird. In game one, Doug Collins recognized that Miami had changed their modus operandi later in the season in tight games. LeBron James wasn't handling the ball anymore, instead Spoelstra was putting the ball in Wade's hands to be his closer. Collins responded to this by putting his best defender, Andre Iguodala, on Wade, and playing Jrue Holiday on LeBron. The idea being that if LeBron got the ball on the perimeter, Collins was fine with LeBron shooting a jumper in those situations. If LeBron drove or posted Jrue up, the help or double would come quickly, and the defense would be shaded to get the ball out of LeBron's hands.
In game one, this didn't work out so well for the Sixers. Spoelstra continually called the Wade/Bosh pick-and-roll, and Thad was pretty much helpless in the P&R. Wade got whatever he wanted, basically. Miami completely ignored the "mismatch" of Jrue guarding LeBron.
In game three, Collins switched it up, putting Jrue on Wade and Iguodala on LeBron, more of a natural matchup. I thought Jrue did a better job on Wade, though Thad's P&R defense was still lacking. Still, the results were better.
Yesterday, Miami threw a new wrinkle into their late-game playbook. Collins decided to stick with Jrue on Wade and Iguodala on LeBron, but instead of isolating Wade in this situation, Miami decided to force a switch back between the two players. Wade started with the ball, LeBron set a pick for him, and the Sixers switched Jrue onto LBJ. Then, Miami went to LeBron. So follow this logic with me. In game one, the Sixers were daring LeBron to take on Jrue late in the game. In game three, they were happy to attack Jrue with Wade. Yesterday, they ran plays to get Jrue on LeBron (even though they completely ignored that matchup in game 1, with solid results). Well, I think it's safe to assume we'll see another adjustment by Miami they find themselves in another close game with the Sixers.
The funny thing about this strategy is that it really never put any pressure on the defense. The pick was set simply to get that switch, and the Sixers were happy to do it. It was a low-stress defensive adjustment, it didn't cause a ripple-effect in the defense, it didn't give either offensive player an immediate edge, it just burned a couple of seconds off the shot clock. What I don't understand, and I'll never understand is why Miami didn't just run the Bosh/Wade pick-and-roll when they got Iguodala on Wade. That play worked very well for them in game one and Bosh was deadly on those long twos yesterday. Bosh was completely ignored down the stretch. Basically, Miami went back to the isolation offense they struggled with for long stretches during the regular season. This time down the floor, Wade isolates. Next time down the floor, LeBron isolates. The big problem with the LBJ/Wade switch in this series is that the Sixers have a PG who can hold his own against LeBron in isolation, or at least do a better job than just about any other PG in the league. They've also got a small forward who can handle Wade, usually. That's a unique combo in the league.
Collins made another adjustment late in game four, and this was a direct reaction to an adjustment Miami made earlier in the series. Thad Young was a monster in game one, since then, every time he's been on the floor, Joel Anthony has been in there to guard him. Yesterday, Collins went away from Thad and stayed big in the fourth quarter when Anthony was in the game. With 9:07 left in the game, Collins subbed Hawes in for Thad opting for his starting 4/5 combination to go against Anthony and Bosh. At the time, the Heat led the game 73-66. Over the next 5:28 Miami scored only three points and Spoelstra had to make a change to get his offense on track. Spoelstra went small, sliding Bosh to the five, LeBron to the four, James Jones to the three, Wade to the two and inserting Chalmers at the point. Now here's the wrinkle, instead of going to his knee-jerk small lineup with Thad at the four, Collins went smaller than small. He brought Evan Turner in for Hawes, creating these matchups on the defensive end:
- Jrue on Wade
- Lou on Chalmers
- Turner on Jones
- Iguodala on LeBron
- Brand on Bosh
Essentially, your best three defenders on their three offensive weapons. Turner and Lou only need to worry about closing out on Chalmers and Jones if they get the ball on the three-point line, then they can crash the boards. On the offensive end, the Sixers have four guys who can handle the ball and they can all slash. They spread the floor and attacked relentlessly. They didn't have much success (MIA blocked three straight shots, then Brand missed a wide-open 14-footer), but that lineup was attacking, and I think their aggression really changed the game. I'm hoping we'll see more of this from Collins.
If you look at the big picture, the Sixers have dominated Miami's starting lineup with their own. It isn't even close. Miami has made their runs when the Sixers have gone small with Anthony in the game. If staying big is going to negate that advantage, then you've kind of got them stuck between a rock and a hard place. Their starting lineup doesn't work. Their second big lineup doesn't work, and we've got a counter to their small lineup. Obviously this is a simplistic way to look at things, but it's good to know the Sixers have at least a theoretical counter to Miami's different looks.
Since we're talking about adjustments, here's one I expect to see from Miami whenever the Sixers get on a roll in game five. They're going to break out traps on Jrue. He didn't do a good job handling them today, it's something Collins absolutely needs to game plan for in practice and he has to have some counters ready and that counter really can't involve Thad as his closest outlet pass. Jrue needs to stop dribbling into the traps, he needs to bounce the ball back out quickly or, better yet, find the open man immediately and make Miami scramble. I think Collins focused on this during halftime because Jrue was ready for the traps in the second half, but I don't think we've seen the last of them.
One final move Collins made, he drew up plays designed to get Iguodala looks at the hoop. We need to see more of that. 16 points on 13 shots is right about where Iguodala needs to be. They need scoring production out of him and the points just aren't going to come on long jumpers, not in any kind of efficient way, at least.
Any other changes from game one through game four that you guys have noticed? Also, through four games, which coach gets the nod in your book? Who's doing a better job between Collins and Spoelstra?