Lance Stephenson was in the midst of taking over Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals, having just scored 10 points in the third quarter.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Miami Heat needed an adjustment to stop him. That’s when LeBron James challenged Norris Cole, of all people, to guard Stephenson in a surprising and genius adjustment.
“I believe that he’ll be a good matchup on Stephenson, even though Stephenson is a bigger guy,” James said in the postgame press conference. “He’s going to get some shots over him. He’s going to make some plays, but I think Norris can lock in on him.”
Stephenson went just 1-of-3 in the final period.
After the game, Dwyane Wade spoke highly of Cole’s efforts.
“He is one of those guys that, he loves to play defense, and he did a great job on Lance, making it tough for him in the second half,” Wade said in the postgame presser. “So we’re versatile when Norris is out there with the way he guards pick-and-rolls and how low he is to the ground as well. So, he did a phenomenal job.”
It allowed Wade to guard Paul George and James to slide over to George Hill. In turn, it put Miami’s super duo in a better position to focus on offense, scoring the final 20 points of the game.
It all happened because the Heat took advantage of their versatile roster and threw out yet another surprising adjustment. In years past, it was putting Shane Battier on David West or playing Chris Bosh at center.
Now, facing the Pacers in the playoffs for the third straight season, it seems as if Miami’s adjustment will be to keep adjusting.
Miami has had two different starting lineups in two games, swapping Battier for Udonis Haslem on Tuesday night. The Heat also used the the lengthy frontcourt combination of Chris Bosh and Chris Andersen nearly 10 more minutes than they did in Game 1, per NBA.com statistics.
George has seen James, Wade, Ray Allen, Battier and Mario Chalmers guarding him at different points this series.
After sticking mostly to Roy Hibbert in the first half of Game 1, Bosh started off on David West in Game 2.
West, who went 8-of-11 for 19 points in the opening game, made just five of his 16 shots the second time around.
While West is known for being a banger in the post, he mostly gets the ball on the elbow. The Pacers run a lot of their offense through West here, and Bosh's length is disrupting to not only his shot, but to his facilitating.
Just as Stephenson is the X-factor for the Pacers, Cole could be the X-factor for Miami. If "Born Ready" is heating up, Miami can throw Cole at him.
And that's the key to the Heat's next possible adjustment.
It allows Miami to use a combination of Chalmers and Cole in the backcourt—what was considered a week defensive lineup going into this series, giving up four inches and 53 pounds to Hill and Stephenson.
In the regular season, the two-man lineup of Chalmers and Cole averaged 109.5 points per 100 possessions (half a point more than the combination of James and Wade) and pushed the pace faster than the Heat's typical rate, per NBA.com statistics.
If Cole can defend Stephenson and Chalmers can hold his own against Hill and C.J. Watson (which he did a better job of in Game 2), playing those two helps the pace and space of Miami's offense.
Cole and Chalmers only played about three minutes together through the first two games of this series, but just as we saw an uptick in the Andersen-Bosh combo, we could see the same with Norris and Rio.