Miami Heat: Should Erik Spoelstra Be Criticized for His Late-Game Play Calling?

Rob Mahoney@RobMahoneyNBA Lead WriterJune 4, 2012

BOSTON, MA - JUNE 01:  Head coach Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat looks on against the Boston Celtics in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on June 1, 2012 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

While we're all apparently in the mood to over-dissect and over-diagnose all that went wrong with the Miami Heat at the end of Game 4, now seems a better time than ever to refresh the notion that shortcomings exist in an infinite number of degrees. There are colossal failures and minor ones, and most importantly, there is a gulf of floating possibility between them. One can be responsible without being blamed, and when it comes to the intricacies of late-game performance, perhaps it's best that we appropriately shift our rhetoric as such.

No Heat player "choked" at the end of regulation or overtime in Game 4, and Erik Spoelstra—the man who orchestrates Miami's offensive action from a clipboard—actually did a pretty commendable job in drawing up the Heat's final play in overtime.

As Sebastian Pruiti outlined in his breakdown of that particular set at Grantland, Spo managed to completely free up Mario Chalmers for a three-point try...had Chalmers only received the ball as planned. Dwyane Wade's positioning was off just enough to prevent the scripted pass, and what looked to be a rather impressive set ended in yet another Wade isolation.

That possession didn't yield points, and thus the Heat share in the blame and disappointment. But before we lambaste Spoelstra for drawing up a set that concludes with Wade being forced to create for himself, it's important that we see the entire scope of the play in question, including all of the options that could have been. This opening -- with Chalmers on the far side having created separation from Dooling -- was there for Miami:

Although the camera angle shrinks the opening available to the Heat, don't be mistaken by the distortion of its lens; Chalmers has a considerable opportunity, Dooling is scrambling to find him, and the eventual blown possession is soaked in what could have been.

In this particular set, Chalmers turned out to be the 1A, and though he ran his route to perfection and the Heat screeners provided him with the perfect opening, it wasn't enough. The play was smart, four of the Heat players ran it well, and yet the one-on-one action that Spoelstra was wise to try to avoid ended up eating his play-call alive.

In short: it happens. That kind of passive acceptance may not give bloodthirsty sports fans the pounds of flesh they desire, but it provides a more realistic assessment of what happened on the final play of Game 4 and what happens on basketball courts in general. There's no great crime in committing a slight error, and certainly no blame to be placed on Spoelstra's shoulders for having the audacity to run a winning set. The Miami Heat lost, but beyond that, why create a story where there need not be one?