Oklahoma City’s crushing 112-95 victory over the Miami Heat on Wednesday night did more than throw a wrench in the MVP race. It also exposed flaws in the Heat’s quest for a third straight NBA championship.
Yes, Kevin Durant continued his torrid start to the New Year with yet another 30-point performance—his 12th in a row—while throwing in seven rebounds and five assists.
And yes, LeBron James poured in 34 of his own points while shooting 60 percent from the field.
But there were eight other men in uniform with them on the court at all times, and what began as a blowout ended as a blowout. Only it went from the Heat’s 18-point advantage in the first quarter to the Thunder’s 17-point win.
In the process we learned a few things about Eric Spoelstra’s men that could play significant roles come playoff time.
Miami struggles at defending the three ball
After quickly jumping out to a commanding 22-4 lead, Miami let the Thunder back into the game in a hurry.
From the 5:22 mark in the first quarter, Oklahoma City hit seven three-pointers to close out the first half on a 51-28 run and take a five-point lead into the locker room.
The Thunder opened the third quarter with three consecutive treys and hit nine in the second half to keep the Heat at arm’s length.
Derek Fisher and Jeremy Lamb combined to shoot an insane 9-for-11 from behind the arc and the Thunder shot 59.3 percent as a team.
This performance obviously sticks out as abnormal—as was Miami’s own 3-for-19 display—but it points to Miami’s issues defending the three-point shot. They are 20th in the league in opponents shooting percentage from deep and only four other teams have surrendered more than their 388 threes.
This amounts to a .515 opponents effective field goal percentage, which takes into account that threes are more valuable than regular field goals. Only Sacramento, Detroit, New York and Philadelphia—four non-playoff teams at the moment—are worse.
Miami’s defensive prowess takes a hit with the ever-increasing popularity and importance of the three-pointer and the team’s inability to effectively defend against it:
Miami can be very, very sloppy with the ball
The Thunder were able to maintain their lead by and large due to Miami’s sloppy ball handling. The home team committed seven turnovers in the third quarter alone, en route to 21 total for the game.
Spoelstra noted that his team’s performance against the Thunder was unusually careless, as quoted by Israel Gutierrez of ESPN.com:
"We made it more difficult. We have to shore up that [turnover] area. We've taken care of the ball better in years' past while still being aggressive."
One of the major differences between this and last year’s Heat teams is taking care of the ball.
The 2012 Heat committed 13.3 turnovers per game, sixth best in the NBA. This year, that number is up to 14.7. While their 16.3 percent turnover ratio on defense is best in the league, their 14.9 percent on offense ranks second to last. LeBron, Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole all have higher turnover numbers than last year.
With all of LeBron’s coast-to-coast blocks and Wade’s penchant for open-court steals, the Heat have always been adept at minimizing points off turnovers. Last year they allowed just 15.7 such points per game, while this season they are up to 17. The Thunder got 25 of their 112 points off giveaways Wednesday night.
Meaningful contributions from the bench are scarce
As stated above, Fisher and Lamb combining for 33 points off the Thunder bench is an aberration unlikely to repeat itself. However, Miami’s reserves were outscored 39-21 for the game and four of those points came in the last minute of the game.
Ray Allen and Norris Cole, the Heat’s first two guys off the bench, combined to go 1-for-6 for five points. Chris Andersen was the most effective reserve, scoring eight points and grabbing seven rebounds in 19 minutes of action.
Seventeen points is a staggeringly low number for a unit that averages the eighth-most minutes in the league, per hoopstats.com.
On the season, Miami’s reserves contribute 31.3 points per game, good for 18th in the league. Here’s how the benches of some of the title favorites fare this season.
|Bench Play of NBA Title Favorites|
San Antonio gets the most out of it’s bench by far. While Indiana and Portland see little production from their benches, they have possibly the strongest starting lineups in the league and Oklahoma City’s numbers are skewed due to Russell Westbrook’s extended absence.
Obviously benches shrink come playoff time, but getting meaningful minutes from the second unit is invaluable in the postseason—just ask Tom Thibodeau.
All stats provided by basketball-reference.com unless otherwise noted.