The Miami Heat have been a top-five defensive team each of the last three years. And with a top-five defense comes an ability to win ugly, to pull out a low-scoring victory when your own shots aren’t falling.
But entering Sunday’s Game 3 of the 2012 Finals, the Heat hadn’t really won ugly since Game 1 of the conference semifinals vs.Indiana. Even against the vaunted Celtics defense, they scored about 115 points per 100 possessions in their four victories.
TheMiamidefense was not very good in Game 1 of The Finals. It was better in Game 2, but still not up to the standard it set in the first three rounds. And Game 2 was still very much an offensive victory.
In Game 3, a 91-85 win that gaveMiamia 2-1 series lead, the Heat defense was at its best, holding the potent Oklahoma City Thunder offense (No. 2 in the regular season and No. 1 in the postseason) to less than a point per possession.
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
The key forMiamidefensively was defending the rim and defending the 3-point line.Oklahoma Cityshot just 12-for-26 in the restricted area and 4-for-18 from beyond the arc in Game 3.
Again, Russell Westbrook struggled to finish at the basket, making just one of his five shots in the restricted area. After shooting 58.6 percent from the restricted area in the regular season, Westbrook has shot just 50.9 percent there in the playoffs.
Westbrook, Kevin Durant and James Harden, meanwhile, combined to shoot just 2-for-12 from 3-point range.
There’s no ‘J’ in Heat
Of course,Miamineeded to be better defensively in Game 3, because they had their worst shooting game since Game 3 againstIndiana. The Heat shot just 38 percent on Sunday, including a brutal 5-for-31 (16 percent) from outside the paint.
It was the fewest baskets the Heat have had from outside the paint in the two seasons that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have been together. And it was just the eighth time in 190 games over those two seasons that they’ve had less than 10 baskets from outside the paint. Amazingly, they’re 6-2 in those eight games.
Even more amazing is that the Heat are now 2-9 this season when they shoot less than 40 percent overall, and both wins are against the Thunder. They shot 31-for-83 (37 percent) in their April 4 victory over OKC here inMiami.
The only Heat players to hit shots from the outside on Sunday were Shane Battier (2-for-2 from 3-point range), James (2-for-9 from outside the paint) and James Jones (1-for-2 from beyond the arc).
Battier continues to be red hot, shooting 11-for-15 from 3-point range in the series. His effective field goal percentage in The Finals is a remarkable 102.6 percent.
Shane Battier’s shooting
All other Heat players are just 22-for-93 (24 percent) from outside the paint in The Finals. James is 5-for-25.
Advantage at the stripe
The Heat outscored the Thunder 46-42 in the paint in Game 3. And the team with the points-in-the-paint edge has now won all three games. But the difference on Sunday was really at the free-throw line, whereMiamiwas 31-for-35 andOklahoma Citywas just 15-for-24.
The difference in attempts isn’t much of a surprise, considering the Thunder’s two dumb fouls on 3-point shots late in the third quarter, as well asMiami’s four free throws in the final 20 seconds.
But the discrepancy in percentage is pretty shocking. Just last year, OKC had the fifth-highest free-throw percentage in NBA history (82.3 percent), and they led the league again this season (80.6 percent).
Through the conference finals, the Thunder were even better, shooting 83.5 percent from the line (best in the league) in the postseason. The Heat were shooting just 72.3 percent (10th among the 16 playoff teams).
Apparently though,Miamilikes shooting free throws against OKC. They shot 40-for-43 (93 percent) from the stripe in the two regular season meetings and are now 67-for-78 (86 percent) in The Finals.
Miami free throw shooting (reg. season + playoffs)
The Thunder, meanwhile, are now shooting just 54-for-77 (70.1 percent) from the line in The Finals. That’s by far the worst they’ve shot in any of their eight playoff series over the last three seasons. Their previous low was 79.7 percent in the first round vs.Denverlast year.
Big three vs. big three
Bosh was just 3-for-12 in Game 3, but he was effective in rolling to the basket and in defending the rim on the other end of the floor. Harden, meanwhile, had a pretty miserable and ineffective game, shooting 2-for-10 from the field.
But when the Heat’s three best players — Bosh, James and Wade — have been on the floor against the Thunder’s three best — Durant, Harden and Westbrook — the Thunder have had the advantage.
Those six guys have all been on the floor for just 43 of the 144 minutes thus far in the series. And the Thunder have outscored the Heat 98-92 in those 43 minutes. The OKC big three was a plus-1 against theMiamibig three in Game 1, a plus-3 in Game 2, and a plus-2 in Game 3.
Overall, the Thunder big three is a plus-11 in 61 minutes. The Heat big three is a plus-1 in 87 minutes.