Posted June 19, 2013

Examining how Danny Green continues to find open looks against Heat in NBA Finals

2013 NBA Finals, Danny Green, Miami Heat, Rob Mahoney, San Antonio Spurs
Danny Green

Danny Green needed just fives game to break the Finals record for most three-pointers made. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

The stakes run high for the Heat, but even the dwindling prospect of a repeat title apparently isn’t enough to compel the defending champs to pay attention to Danny Green. One would think that a record-25 made threes in these NBA Finals would be enough, but while fixated on Tony Parker and Tim Duncan, Miami’s defenders have seemed largely unconcerned with the threat that Green poses. As a result, Green is influencing the ultimate outcome of the postseason in a way that few shooters could, and remains San Antonio’s highest per-game scorer in the Finals.

Green has made his own way by sliding around the arc in tandem with the Spurs’ pick-and-rolls, but this level of success wouldn’t be possible without a strangely unresponsive Heat defense. “I can’t believe he’s still open at this moment in the series,” Spurs point guard Tony Parker said after Game 5, per The Point Forward’s Ben Golliver. “They are still trapping me and doubling [Duncan], and Danny is wide open. He’s shooting the ball well. If you are going to leave Danny wide open, he’s going to make threes.”

Even after Green’s back-breaking threes in Game 1 and his 7-of-9 shooting from deep in Game 3, Miami continues to disregard him in its half-hearted attempts at help defense. The Heat’s best perimeter defenders have a tendency to lean in (and away from their marks) with the aim of crowding a passing ball handler, but that vice has been thoroughly exploited by the fully expectant and impeccably prepared Spurs:

Driving toward Dwyane Wade, in particular, would seem the easiest means of freeing up Green. In the above clip, Shane Battier is hanging with Neal step-for-step on his drive, with Chris Bosh inching over to protect the rim in case Neal busts Battier’s coverage. None of this seems to concern Wade, who mindlessly slides into Neal’s path and leaves Green all by his lonesome in the right corner. Wade can barely manage a tepid contest of Green’s shot before it goes flying toward — and through — the rim.

Of course, exploiting Wade comes just as easily from the opposite side of the floor, as Wade can be pulled into no man’s land by his worst defensive instincts. Wade often does terrific work in the passing lanes and has no equal among guards in terms of contesting shots at the rim, but when lured into the space seen below, he’s neither guarding Green nor actually helping against Parker’s penetration:

But Wade is hardly the only culprit. Though less consistently guilty of over-helping, Ray Allen, too, has been caught on occasion sliding into the paint when he should be glued to Green on the weak side:

It’s an understandable reflex. Once Splitter makes the catch within range of a quick flip shot or even a potential dunk, every Heat defender shifts into high alert and crashes down to protect the rim. That’s fine in the case of Wade, who is defending Kawhi Leonard in the weak-side corner, or Battier, who is tasked with guarding Boris Diaw at the top of the floor. But Allen’s attempt at help leaves the entire left wing open, inviting a swing pass to Green. In this context, Green isn’t merely “in the zone,” but in a world all his own — saved from even the slightest defensive interference.

These kinds of poor judgment calls have been far too frequent for Miami, but San Antonio also increases the frequency of those tough decisions by way of the pick-and-roll. On this play, for example, it’s Mike Miller’s responsibility to both bump Duncan on his roll and recover out to Green once Bosh is back in place. The timing of the former makes the latter almost impossible, and it gives Green — who slid up from the corner to the three-point “break” — a comfortable shooting window:

Miller is stretched beyond what can be reasonably expected as a result of his team attempting to contain Parker, Duncan and Ginobili all at once. The three required a great, cross-court pass that would be tough for any team to defend, and it’s an acceptable concession given how effectively the other options on the play were managed. But in similar situations, Miami has been torn apart as a result of initial breakdowns in their pick-and-roll coverage, which then complicate the assignments of the other defenders on the court — including whomever is tasked with guarding Green. In this case, that’s James:

This is dreadful defense by Bosh and Mario Chalmers, who both play to Parker’s left without really accounting for Duncan’s screen. As a result, Parker has an open lane to the rim from the moment he darts by Duncan. This freeze frame comes just a moment after:

Freeze

With each of Miami’s other three defenders stretched out to the three-point line and Parker streaking towards the basket, James makes the necessary — and painful — rotation in an attempt to prevent an easy layup. As a result, Wade is left to guard both Green and Gary Neal on the left wing, and doesn’t have enough time to recover from one to the other once Parker kicks the ball out to an open Green. This make technically happened on LeBron’s watch, but the fatal mistake (the blunder by Chalmers and Bosh) came before James could even get involved in the play.

All it takes is the slightest mishandling of that initial screen, as the Spurs can masterfully find an opening from the most marginal of advantages. On this sequence, San Antonio runs a pick-and-roll with Ginobili screening for Parker and James is strangely slow in rotating back to Parker. As a result, Miller is delayed in recovering to Ginobili, which opens up a driving lane and sets in motion a course of events that ends with an open look for Green:

These basic mistakes are cropping up with worrying frequency from the Heat, for whom focus and effort are now bafflingly legitimate concerns. These are the NBA Finals, and yet James sleepwalked through that last defensive sequence, Wade can be caught cheating away from a knockdown shooter and the Heat on the whole are botching the foundational element of their pick-and-roll coverage. Some concession is inevitable when guarding an offense as diligent as San Antonio’s, but there’s no valid excuse for the way that each of Green’s primary defenders have been abused for their tendency to watch the ball:

Or, just as glaringly, for their tendency to give up on coverage altogether after being dislodged from their assignment:

These aren’t missteps by hard-working defenders, but forfeitures by players who can’t be bothered with more. Green has made 65.8 percent of his three-pointers in this series — a number which warrants a Heat detail from the moment he comes within 200 yards of the arena. Yet James and Allen both simply feigned activity (in the form of “helping” on Duncan) in lieu of actually fighting through the crowd to get back to Green, just as Wade refused to demonstrate the proper discipline in keeping track of a scorching shooter behind the three-point arc.

Shooting of this caliber cannot be taken lightly, and yet Miami’s inattention to detail and altogether patchy defensive efforts suggest a team that doesn’t fully grasp the gravity of its current situation. This is still a formidable team with the potential to follow through on its championship intentions, but that potential is unlikely to be realized if they can’t keep tabs on Green.

23 comments
Mark4
Mark4

To me, the one KEY thing about Green's shooting is that, other than the corner shots, he's like 3-5 feet beyond the arc.  There is NO WAY that the Heat can dig down on Duncan, or trap Parker AND get back to Green if he's bombing away from 26 feet.  That's the biggest difference between his shooting last year and his shooting this year.  He's taking a LOT more really long threes that are basically undefendable.  You can't really even run him off the line, because he's so far beyond it.

JulesG
JulesG

Great article. But there is one thing that you have to realize about the Spurs and how they play....they run their offense for this to happen and the Heat cannot defend everyone. They have a true inside/outside threat and the way they move the ball, there is no isolation for the Heat to key on. So if you leave a man glued to Danny Green, who guards Gary Neal, who is just a lethal shooter? Who helps on the weak side when Parker gets by his man, which he can at will? Who helps Bosh try and contain Tim Duncan in the post? Helpside defense is key against an attacking offense. But in this case, the players you don't scout against as killing Miami. If you start overplaying them, then the ones you do scout will hurt you. This is why it's more than JUST defense that Miami needs to fix to win 2 games. No defense can completely shutdown a smart, balanced team.

Mikemas
Mikemas

The post accurately captures the defensive breakdowns, but overlooks the role of the Heat's continued poor shooting in game 5.  The Heat took 16 more shots but made 5 fewer shots, and the shots they missed were largely in the paint or at the rim; they won the turnover battle by five.  Had the Heat shot well (and they haven't during this series), they likely would have won.  So they have two problems to fix -- poor shooting, and the defensive lapses that follow.  Some of the poor shooting is attributable to good Spurs' defense, but much of it simply amounts to failing to hit the shots the Spurs are willing to concede, amplified now by failure in the paint.

whatthegunks
whatthegunks

This is a fine break down of some of what gives the Spurs an edge right now.  This contrast of teams, of playing styles and fundamental team make up is fantastic.  I am enjoying the hell out of this series.

gary41
gary41

Yes, Miami has defensive lapses, but when trapping continuously, Green & Neal will be open.  Nonetheless any team shooting 60% is gonna win.  Will Miami make more in game adjustments and if not, can San Antonio continue to hit from outside....stay tuned....

burghkid18
burghkid18

The problem is the heat are trying so hard to contain the spur's "Big 3" and that's leaving the spur's role players wide open. the spurs on defense aren't allowing lebron or wade to get into the paint so easily. they're willing to let lebron take outside shots but he hasn't made them pay for it yet. also the spurs aren't turning the ball over as much accept for that one game. the heat live off the fastbreak and they aren't forcing the turnovers.

hdogg48
hdogg48

Rob Mahoney is by far the best online sports journalist inAmerica (at least) right new. His use of in depth analysisproviding selected film clips to support his fine writing issecond to none.....Well done.....again!

hdogg48
hdogg48

Rob Mahoney is by far the best online sports journalist in

America (at least) right new. His use of in depth analysis

providing selected film clips to support his fine writing is

second to none.....Well done.....again!

StephenLeeContreras
StephenLeeContreras

The Spurs have way too many variables while Miami has the big 3 but even they arent consistent only because the way the Spurs have played on keeping them uncomfortable. 

hitchworlder
hitchworlder

Dear NBA,

Please stop paying off your refs to keep game close. You've created a horrible product.

OK
OK

The Queen is Swat Happy.

Show Me Da Green Or I Ain't Playin' For Da Red, White, and Blue - or Da Heat - wants to poach in the passing lanes like The Alleged Rapist out in LA.

The Little Bosh Woman is defenseless.

Miller and Allen are slow.

Maid Battier can only cheapshot - not defend.

Chalmers lives to foul. Cole lives in Chalmers's shadow.

Bird Dung Anderson is a drug trafficking bust waiting to happen.

Haslem guards only mini-bigs.

The Queen and Her Court looked pathetic in each and every one of these video clips.

The Cool Ruler
The Cool Ruler

What wasn't said in this article is that Miami Heat has a poor coach in Erik Spoelstra. Bottomline!!! He has been riding on the coat-tails of LeBron and Wade for too long that he doesn't make the proper adjustments to counter what San Antonio is doing. Erik has far too much talent on that team for them to be exposed as much. 

Mark my words, if the Heat lose this final - WHICH THEY ARE - Spoelstra is going tobe unemployed.

eng e
eng e

Well, the REAL problem has been that the Heat have FALLEN BEHIND early, except for Game 1. That means they extend too much effort coming back, and they have been fatigued as a result. When players are tired, they do what comes most naturaly, in Wade's instance, going for the big block in the paint, in James' covering SPACE, and not the man. To their credit, the Spurs shooters have hit the shots when the team is ahead, though when they fell behind, they haven't shot that well. So, the key for the Heat is a good start.

BY
BY

@The Cool Ruler Absurd comment. Pat Riley is known for not being competitive and not caring about winning. I'm sure he hired Spoelstra because Spoelstra can't coach but can really bbq well. 

Mark4
Mark4

@eng e Danny Green hit 7-9 from downtown in game one.  The Spurs were behind almost the entire game.

Oh, and guys in their 20s shouldn't be fatigued and getting run around in circles by guys in their 30s.

DavidosaurusCawston
DavidosaurusCawston

@Mark4 @eng e That was game three I believe and Green and Gary Neil were draining threes all game long. the heat weren't even competitive.

eng e
eng e

@Mark4 @eng e We are talking about Danny Green; he AIN'T in his 30s, but in his EARLY 20s. His primary defenders are Dwyane Wade, Shane Battier, Mike Miller, and Ray Allen, ALL in their 30s.

Mark4
Mark4

@eng e Danny Green is one guy who took 10 three pointers.  The rest of the team also shot 60%, and you're fresh out of thirty-something defender excuses, having used them all in your post above.

Mark4
Mark4

@David105 So, if anyone has cause to complain about being tired, it would be the thirty-something Big Three of the Spurs.  They aren't.