The Pacers did a lot of good things in their 103-102 overtime loss in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, but even prior to LeBron’s game-winning layup – one basic play with a clever twist caused them significant problems defensively. Late in the game, Miami ran an unconventional variation of high screen-roll with LeBron and Wade. Instead of a bigman (or pseudo-big like Battier in their small-ball lineup), the Heat opted to utilize their guard as the screener for Dwayne Wade and LeBron James – and the Pacers were unable to stop it either time.
#1. The Heat bring Ray Allen up to screen for Wade. Wade’s defender – Sam Young – choses to go over the screen which puts the defensive pressure on Allen’s man – George Hill (circled). Hill, a point used to fighting over picks – not having his man set on-ball screens, is playing the screener softly. As a result, Hill isn’t in a position to show-out hard which would force Wade to elongate his path and give Young a chance to recover. (Also, why Young would go over on a screen 26-feet from the basket is beyond me.)
#2. As a result, Hill’s choices are to pick up Wade and allow Allen to pop out for an open three, or recover on Allen and trust the help-defense behind him.
#3. Hill opts to go after Allen – giving Wade a wide-open lane to the basket.
#4. The only strongside help-defender in position to impede Wade is David West, and West opts not to leave Shane Battier (camped in the deep right corner) and Wade scores an uncontested layup to put Miami up 2 with 43-seconds remaining.
Fast-forward to overtime. Again the score is tied – this time with under 20-seconds remaining. Out of a timeout Erik Spoelstra again calls for a high-screen roll – this time with point guard Norris Cole coming up to screen for LeBron.
#1. The Pacers have a different strategy this time – to switch it with point guard George Hill (6-2/190) picking up LeBron (6-8/250).
#2. This is a huge mismatch as LeBron can power past Hill. Indiana opted to take 7-2 shotblocker Roy Hibbert out of the game to match up with the Heat’s “small-ball” – so David West is again the strong-side help-defender guarding Chris Bosh camped in the deep corner. The rest of the Pacers are matched up with quality 3pt-shooters spacing around the perimeter.
3. West half-heartedly helps off Bosh and LeBron blows past Hill for a go-ahead layup with 10-seconds remaining.
Much will be made over the Pacers’ defense on the final possession in which LeBron easily scored the buzzer-beating layup – but their normally solid defense fell apart defending Miami’s unconventional screen-roll. It’s a brilliant wrinkle from Spoelstra’s standpoint as it put George Hill in uncomfortable and unusual (for a point guard) positions and involved their best 3pt-shooters (Allen/Cole) as the “pick&pop” man rather than a frontcourt player such as Bosh (28% 3pt-shooter) or the the cold-shooting Shane Battier (0-4 in Game 1 from behind the arc).
Close playoff games usually boil down to matchups and adjustments – and late in Game 1 Spoelstra clearly had the advantage over Pacers’ head coach Frank Vogel. It will be interesting to see how Vogel and the Pacers opt to defend this Wing/PG high screen-roll in the ensuing games. This is where NBA head coaches earn their paychecks. It can be argued if Frank Vogel’s late-game decisions lost the game for the Pacers – but Erik Spoelstra’s moves unquestionably won the game for Miami.