Three and D: How the Heat Won in Week Two
After a disappointing 1 – 2 record to start the season, the Heat won their next two games this week, with many of the flaws I criticized in last week’s recap looking like strengths in this one. Give Rodney McGruder, Kelly Olynyk, and Hassan Whiteside a lot of credit for their positive contributions that helped the team turn the page.
Before we start with all the positives, let’s take a look at the ugly first half the Heat had against the New York Knicks last Wednesday. The team was giving up open threes left and right, Josh Richardson kept committing inexcusable turnovers, Whiteside couldn’t make a basket to save his life, and the defense seemed to collapse nearly every other possession. McGruder was the lone bright spot, scoring 16 of his 19 points in the first half without missing any of his five shots, and keeping the team afloat.
“He just does the simple things great and that’s not an easy thing to do,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of McGruder after the game. “Always in the right spot. He’s going to run his patterns and cuts full speed. He’s going to get the best defensive matchups every night and find a way to help you, and he’s been doing that night in and night out.”
At the half, the Heat were up by just two points. Spoelstra's halftime lecture clearly paid dividends. Miami scored 45 in the third quarter alone, shooting 75 percent from the field and going 7-for-9 from downtown. “It felt like everything we threw up was dropping,” Josh Richardson said later.
Not only did the third quarter see the Heat explode on offense, but it looked as if they had finally realized the answer to their many problems.
“What I am proud of is, when the offense started coming easier, we didn’t let up on defense,” Richardson said. “A lot of times in the NBA when guys’ shots start falling, they start relaxing on both ends and start trying to flow more. But we kept it tight on defense.”
The defensive show was anchored by Hassan Whiteside, who once again started to look like the scary interior defensive monster we had seen in past seasons. From the start of that third quarter through the next game against Portland this past Saturday, Whiteside blocked a total nine shots. The rest of his teammates communicated, made timely switches, and their defense looked as alive as ever.
McGruder scored only three points in the second half against the Knicks, but made his presence felt on defense and made the right plays for his teammates on offense. Look at how after McGruder forces a bad shot and grabs the rebound, next runs the floor and throws a beautiful alley-oop to Hassan Whiteside:
Kelly Olynyk underwent a similarly positive transition from this third period on. After being pretty much a non-factor in the Heat’s first three games – save his glorious game-winning layup that gave Miami their only previous win of the season – Olynyk turned it up in the second half against New York and it carried over to Saturday.
Olynyk’s career-year last season was overshadowed by his poor performance in week one. We forgot just how good Kelly is at creating space for his teammates with one of his favorite plays, a quick handoff followed by a screen:
An underrated aspect of his game is his playmaking, which is exceptional for a big man. After five games this season, Kelly has a 1.23 assist to usage ratio, which is ranked at the 97th percentile amongst big men according to Cleaning the Glass. When Olynyk does not give up the ball on a handoff, he can make pinpoint passes to the opposite corner or to a cutting teammate, just like in the following play:
Kelly also got back to making threes, another one of his strengths that was missing in Miami’s first few games. Get used to Olynyk earning a good amount of playing time because his presence on the court unlocks a different aspect of the Heat offense that no other player on the team can. Even at 7 feet tall, Kelly is mobile on defense and is not afraid to guard the perimeter if a switch demands it. He’s less of a defensive liability than other bigs.
The Heat’s good defense continued on Saturday night against the Portland Trail Blazers. Unless you live under a rock or watch no NBA basketball at all, you should have noticed that pretty much all games this season have been high-scoring. That is in part thanks to the three-point revolution, as well as the new “freedom of movement” rule that gives players more space to attempt shots as well as more free throws. Allowing 111 points from a team that averages 125+ a night isn’t half bad.
“Guys really stepped up tonight,” coach Spoelstra said of the game. “Even giving up 111 points, it sounds funny, but our defensive efforts and commitment on that side of the floor against two really dynamic playmakers, I thought was very good.”
Despite the solid Miami defense, Portland put up a good fight. Major props to Damian Lillard and co. for hitting way too many contested shots:
Speaking about tough shots, Dwyane Wade had a night filled with highlight-reel shots over defenders. It was good seeing Wade bring it off the bench, and he finished the game with 19 points, three rebounds, and one assist on 7-for-12 shooting and 21 minutes. When Flash is feeling it like this, you can always give him the ball and let him go to work:
Wade was not the only one who got hot, as Goran Dragic also enjoyed a successful night for the Heat. He scored a team-high 28 points with five assists and three rebounds. The Dragon hit a career milestone midway through the second quarter, scoring his 10,000th career point on a driving layup.
The fun did not stop there, as Dragic hit a dagger three on the Blazers with just under one minute left on the clock that essentially put the nail in the coffin:
Carrying on with my Kelly Olynyk flattery, he was a great playmaker in both games with five and six assists each night. His best assist of the week came in the form of a Kevin Love-esque touchdown pass to Goran Dragic that gave the team a two-point lead in the close game. Olynyk also went 3-for-6 from downtown against the Blazers, generating some of his looks with beautiful screen-(or fake screen)-and-pop looks like this one:
Hassan Whiteside was once again a beast on the glass, especially on the offensive end. After taking a night off in the offensive rebounding department against the Knicks, Miami followed up with 16 total offensive boards against Portland, double what their opponent had. And even when Whiteside scored a mere five points on a pedestrian 2-for-8 shooting, his impact was felt big time – especially on the defensive end.
On a quick note, I would like to point out that I love Tyler Johnson’s lefty hooks. He made two easy shots of this type in the second half against the Blazers and I would love to see him try them out more often.
At the end of week two, the Heat showed massive improvements on the defensive end and shot a combined 41.2% from three between both of this week’s games. The team has a tougher schedule ahead, as they will host the Sacramento Kings on Oct. 29, head over to Charlotte for a revenge game with the Hornets the very next day, and finally travel to Atlanta for a Saturday-night matchup with the Hawks. If everything goes right, the team should take all three wins; all they have to do is stick to what worked this week: play tough defense and generate open threes.
Data and statistics obtained from NBA Stats and Basketball Reference.
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