The Microscope is your recurring look at the NBA's small-scale developments—the rotational curiosities, skill showcases, coaching decisions, notable performances and changes in approach that make the league go 'round.
Dwyane Wade, over-roving by design
When the Miami Heat's offense becomes overly simplistic, all eyes turn to Erik Spoelstra, who no doubt laments his inability to squiggle the appropriate play on his clipboard for every possible opportunity. When the Heat's defense becomes too aggressive on the perimeter or cedes ground to an opponent too consistently, all eyes again turn to Spoelstra, despite the fact that he's often forced to use rotation-caliber players in unfittingly prominent capacities.
This is the price of having some of the best players on the planet at your disposal; no matter the context or roster complications, Spoelstra and his team are expected to beat all comers. And to their tremendous credit, they often do.
Spoelstra isn't perfect, but he's actually a pretty tremendous coach. One could point to a number of mistakes in some attempt to cobble an overstretched indictment, but Spo has often made creative use of the resources available and, in this season in particular, has gone well outside of convention in order to give Miami a great chance to manage difficult situations.
The latest example: a tweaked version of his no-point lineup that found the court in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, featuring Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Ronny Turiaf, Shane Battier and James Jones. How you choose to assign positional designations with that mix is up to you, but the important thing is that Wade was freed up to defend Rajon Rondo, while James took Paul Pierce, Battier played big, and Jones and Turiaf filled in the gaps.
Putting a skilled, athletic defender on Rondo isn't rocket science, but assigning such a talented help defender to that matchup was a slick move. Rondo isn't the kind of shooter who demands Wade's constant attention (we've seen Wade pay the price for cheating off of Ray Allen in the past).
Rondo may stray and probe all over the court with a live dribble, but his scoring potential remains tethered tightly to the basket. He hits a floater here and a mid-range jumper there, but the more Rondo elects to shoot from the intermediate zones, the better for Miami. That frees up Wade to dig down on the Celtics' post-ups, dive into the paint to contest a shot at the rim, or flat-out double-team another of Boston's ball-handlers. Wherever Wade's defensive instincts guided him, he was essentially free to go.
Rondo can still find ways to take advantage of Wade and the Heat's liberal interpretation of man-to-man defense, but Spoelstra—with a mere lineup shift—has nudged a sometimes problematic over-helper into a hugely advantageous situation.
Various defensive breakdowns for Boston, with two worrisome results
The Celtics defense didn't exactly implode in Game 1, but it was certainly overwhelmed. James and Wade may have compromised their offense too easily in the first half, but by the third and fourth quarters, the Heat's offensive actions were largely successful.
Some of Boston's concessions came on the pick-and-roll. Many in transition and on the secondary break, and some on post possessions or simple ISO penetration. But regardless of where the technical mistake occurred, the fallout was largely the same: an open shot at the rim or from behind the three-point line, giving the Heat access to the two most efficient spaces on the floor with a highly problematic consistency.
Not only did Miami attempt 45 of their 72 field-goal attempts from either within five feet or beyond the three-point line, but Boston registered just a single blocked shot and allowed the Heat to finish 85 percent of their attempts at the rim. The Celtics were lucky with just how many open threes the Heat managed to miss. Had Battier and Mario Chalmers not combined to make just two of their 15 three-point attempts for the game, we could be looking at even more demonstrative results.
On the management of a mismatch
It's always interesting to see how hyper-talented perimeter players go about managing the mismatches they create or, in this case, that defensive necessity creates. The Boston Celtics elected to switch on a majority of the Heat's ball screens in Game 1, forcing Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett to defend James and Wade well out of their defensive comfort zones, and hypothetically granting the Heat superstars a bit of a specific advantage.
In that situation, the offensive player typically revs backs, flashes a crossover and licks their chops. But what follows is a bit confusing. Rather than force a defender like Bass or Garnett to commit, too often we see the ball-handler—and James, in particular—subsequently settle for a lousy pull-up jumper.
Driving directly into the teeth of the defense isn't always the right answer in such situations, but Wade's management of Boston's switches in Game 1 illustrated a more dynamic potential for those who dare to actually challenge the mismatched defender.
Any possession that ends with a contested mid-range jumper is a fairly effective one for an opposing defense; James and Wade may be able to convert those looks, but they're still less efficient options than almost all of the alternatives and particularly so considering the defensive disadvantage.
Where James gave the Celtics exactly the kinds of looks they would prefer that he take, Wade attacked Garnett, forcing the rest of the Celtics defense to collapse and account for his movement.
It was an actualization of a novel idea: attacking a mismatch by, well, actually attacking a mismatch.
Statistical support for this post was provided by NBA.com.