Over at The New York Times’ Off the Dribble blog, I took a closer look at three “minor” matchups that could make a significant difference in shaping the Finals. Take a peek:
J.J. Barea vs. Joel Anthony/Udonis Haslem/Chris Bosh
Miami has amazing elasticity in defending the high screen-and-roll; bigs like Anthony, Haslem, and Bosh are so mobile and so active that they’re able to hedge and recover quickly, so much so that according to Synergy Sports Technology, the Heat held the Bulls to a crippling 0.27 points per possession on pick-and-rolls in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and have held opponents to just .70 points per possession on pick-and-rolls in the playoffs overall. Derrick Rose was thwarted in his attempts to use his pet screens at the top of the key, and the Heat defense limited the league’s most valuable player to an inefficient and ineffective offensive series thanks to their mobility up front.
Those bigs are likely to be assets in the Finals as well, as J.J. Barea -– the Mavericks’ lightning quick backup point guard -– has diced every defense he’s seen in these playoffs by milking high screen-and-roll action for all it’s worth.
Yet before we immediately assume that the Heat will handcuff Barea, consider this: Dirk Nowitzki is Barea’s most common pick-and-roll partner, and he’s a deadlier threat in space than any of the screening bigs Miami has contended with so far. Recovering quickly may not be enough; the combination of Barea’s quickness (and cleverness) and Nowitzki’s ability to score from anywhere on the floor could still open up all kinds of opportunities, and it’s up to the vaunted Heat defense to close off those options.
Head on over to Off the Dribble to check out the other highlighted matchups.