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.
Filling roles, making shots, bucking criticism
The Miami Heat's supporting cast is said to be lacking and limited, and on some nights the on-court product corroborates; there have certainly been occasions when Miami's role players altogether failed to cobble together the necessary production, and in terms of the most traditional means of bench assessment, Miami definitely comes up short.
The Heat are lacking in all of the usual reserve archetypes; they have no high-scoring sixth man, no athletic big to change the dynamic of the game, no spark plug point guard to infuse the team with energy, and even a lack of applicable veteran wisdom in their ranks. They merely have a group of reasonably capable players, providing an comparably dull border for the team's brilliant centerpieces.
But that superficially underwhelming supporting cast came up huge in Game 2, even while compensating for the absence of Chris Bosh. Mario Chalmers was well upstaged by a spectacular Rajon Rondo, but was fantastic in his own right as both an accurate spot-up shooter and a steady ball-handler. Shane Battier again shifted seamlessly between various positions, and did a particularly good job of making the extra pass on the offensive end. Udonis Haslem notched a double-double in under 30 minutes of action, and was responsible for some of the Heat's most timely baskets.
They succeeded without stepping out of themselves; Miami's role players played comfortably within their assigned functions, and collectively they gave LeBron James and Dwyane Wade perfectly sufficient support in a tightly contested game. This group gets roasted on nights when their shots aren't falling or the defense mitigates their impact, but the Heat -- as an entire team -- did a terrific job on Wednesday night, and the credit for that goes well beyond the two most notable performers.
Doc Rivers and Rajon Rondo, patron saints of the lob
The NBA has seen many players specifically skilled in setting up their teammates for alley-oops (Andre Miller might be one of the greatest of all time in that regard), and many coaches willing to draw up plays using the lob as a weapon. But Rajon Rondo is a particularly effective practitioner of this kind of lofty, soaring pass, and Doc Rivers is perhaps the best around at engineering sets to create the opportunities that allow them.
Kevin Garnett isn't anything resembling an elite finisher at his advanced age, but during his time as a Celtic, the potential for the Rondo-to-KG oop provided a brilliant counter for Ray Allen's sprawling routes and Paul Pierce's more immediate threat. Often we'd see Garnett set screens for one player or another before working around a pick or two set for his behalf, and before the defense untangles the danger from the decoys, the ball is sailing overhead and Garnett is set for an uncontested look above the rim.
What the Rivers-Rondo combination might someday be able to concoct with a springier finisher is an intriguing though, albeit not one alluring enough to overlook how successful Garnett has been in that capacity. There's a tremendous chemistry between Rondo and Garnett on these plays, but both have been empowered by the script Rivers has so carefully written.
Miami, using LeBron James more and more as a screener
Just a little nugget worth keeping in mind as the Heat trudge onward in this series: Miami is using LeBron James more and more as a high screener, and the potency of the Wade-James pick-and-roll pairing in particular is absolutely intoxicating.
It's unlikely that James could roll into the paint and actually have enough space to catch and finish in such a scenario, but that's exactly the point; using James as a screener draws a lot of attention (and switches) that the Heat can subsequently exploit, and when Wade is also involved in the play, it momentarily makes the Celtics extremely vulnerable to two of the league's most effective scorers at once.
If the Celtics cling too hard in their defense of James, Wade can attack the slightest opening without mercy. If they allow James to roll or float into open space, he positions himself well to advance the ball -- be it by drive or pass -- against a defense caught in rotation. It's an incredibly difficult sequence to cover when these two stars are involved, and though James handles the ball too often for this to become a staple of Miami's offense, it's clearly been a point of emphasis against the Celtics' defensive coverage.
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