Even though the San Antonio Spurs offense was firing on all cylinders in Game 3, the Miami Heat defense certainly contributed to San Antonio's success. In particular, Dwyane Wade's poor effort in both transition and half-court defense hurt Miami's ability to get stops.
It's always difficult and usually unfair to assign blame to a single player for a game's worth of poor play, but Wade's lack of hustle was jarring. Throughout San Antonio's blistering first half, there were multiple instances of poor communication on switches, lazy or nonexistent help defense and reckless gambling.
Look, San Antonio would have scored a ton of points in Game 3 with or without Wade on the floor. The Spurs couldn't miss to start off the game, and there's simply no defense against outstanding shot-making. As Wade himself said, according to ESPN: "It's a hit-or-miss league." San Antonio shot 76 percent from the field in the first half. The Spurs were hitting.
The goal of any solid defense is to force difficult shots, not prevent shots in the first place. The latter would have been Miami's only shot at slowing San Antonio down, and that's an obviously unrealistic goal.
That shouldn't excuse Wade, however. He's a high-level defender when he chooses to be, and one of the best shot-blockers at the guard position of all-time. He has the instincts and intelligence to match up against any wing player and can really lock a player down in one-on-one situations when he chooses to.
But even he admits that he hasn't always been at his best this series, as told to Jason Lieser of the Palm Beach Post:
Wade says he's had good & bad moments defensively in this series.— Jason Lieser (@PBPjasonlieser) June 11, 2014
It's the effort portion that simply didn't exist in Game 3, an inexcusable letdown for the NBA Finals. As CBS Sports' Matt Moore notes, "Dwyane Wade was a step slow in Game 3, and that allowed the [Spurs'] inside-out game to get going."
Let's take a look at some examples.
Here we are in the first quarter of Game 3, with Wade involved in a dribble handoff sequence with Mario Chalmers. As per Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra's play design, Wade is charged with flipping the ball back to Chalmers after receiving a pass from him moments before.
The flip gets mucked up as Danny Green pokes his hand in, causing the ball to carom away into a loose-ball situation. As the player who turned the ball over on the perimeter, it's Wade's job to be the first man back on defense. Instead of turning, putting his head down and sprinting back, he slowly twists his body to face the ball.
Only then does he realize that Green has already taken off down the court ahead of the pack, leaving Wade in the dust. By the time Wade makes a move to catch up with Green, it's too late: Green already has the ball and is streaking in for a layup.
Turnovers happen. Sure, Chalmers and Wade could have been a bit tighter in their handoff execution, but Green deserves credit for making a nice play here. The problem is Wade's reaction to the turnover or lack thereof. Even though his hesitation is momentary, it's enough to give up an easy two points.
In the second quarter, Wade isolated against Green in the post. After throwing up an air ball (it happens, and the shot quality isn't awful), he makes an effort to grab the offensive rebound. So far, so good. But when he doesn't get the board, he comes to a complete stop, slowly turns around and buddy-runs with Tiago Splitter—which is to say he runs side-by-side with him.
This is the easy way out, after all. Chris Bosh is already back and next to Wade's assigned man, Green. They communicate and execute a switch. While it's certainly a positive that there's communication and no one is open in transition, the ball is on the other side of the floor. Due to Green's location in the corner, a brief Wade sprint could get Miami matched up properly, with Wade on Green and Bosh on Splitter.
On the ensuing possession, Bosh is guarding a perimeter player and sucked in to help on a Boris Diaw drive. When Diaw kicks to Green, Bosh closes out extra hard to take away his deadly three-point shot. Because Green is significantly quicker than Bosh, he's able to blow by with a simple pump fake. The result is a floater in the lane.
Does Green make a difficult shot? Yes. Does Miami generate a result preferable to a Green three-pointer (a floater) by driving him off the three-point line? Yes. But Wade, unlike Bosh, is quick enough to both close out on Green and stop the ensuing drive.
Wade's effort wasn't limited to transition. In the half court, there were multiple plays where his lack of hustle led to immediate scoring opportunities for his man.
On one such play, Wade is guarding Tony Parker when he throws the ball into Tim Duncan on the elbow. Parker follows his pass in a pinch post-action, looking for the ball back on a handoff or cutting through to get a pass as he pivots toward the rim. In this instance, Duncan hands the ball off to Parker.
Stopping Parker's penetration is of primary importance to any proper defense of San Antonio, and Wade therefore rightfully goes underneath the screen caused by the dribble handoff. The advantage of going underneath is that it allows the defender to beat the offensive player to the spot toward which he's heading. The defender has less distance to travel and can more easily stay between his man and the basket.
That's not what happens here. Wade gets caught completely flat-footed when Parker makes the pass, and he's late going underneath the screen. When Duncan flips the ball back to Parker, he has an easy floater with Wade nowhere to be found.
On the bright side, Wade is not a bad defender. He's a great one, in fact, when he wants to be. Effort is an easily fixed issue, but it's completely up to Wade as to how hard he tries on each possession.
Miami will need Wade's defensive best if the Heat hope to slow down San Antonio. With Wade being continually assigned to Green, he'll need to be even more on his toes to close down the space for Green's lethal three-point shot.
As we've seen throughout this series, it's the team that can get stops that wins. Both teams have outstanding offenses and have been mostly scoring at will. For Miami, getting optimal effort out of one of its leaders will be the starting point for turning it around, as Wade's intensity will trickle down to the rest of the team.
If things don't change quickly, expect San Antonio to continue running Miami out of the building.