A lot has been made of James Harden falling flat on his beard in the 2012 NBA Finals. But, saying that Harden choked away the series is not only closed-minded, but belittling to the defensive effort that Miami put forth. The Heat did an excellent job game-planning to limit Harden and all of the factors below helped them accomplish this and their ultimate goal of an NBA championship.
1. Miami deterred pick-and-roll action by showing hard on hedges.
As you can see here, Harden gets all of the attention by the Heat. Even with Durant being the screener, Wade switches to Harden and Miller stays in what is essentially a spy position until he’s sure that Wade has him covered. The second go around, Bosh switches on to Harden and Lebron stays high until he sees Ibaka slip the screen. A majority of the time Miami makes sure to not create any lanes that Harden can attack the basket in.
Note: Durant often does not move well after being a screener. He often just “posts” behind the three point line a few feet away. This aided the Heat in their game-plan as they recognized that they had time to recover. (This is also sometimes the issue that forces Russell Westbrook’s hand as the Thunder try to run pick-and-pop to get Durant the ball late in the shot clock from time to time.)
2. Miami limited Harden’s opportunities off of screens/hand-offs.
Harden led the league in PPP off of screens and hand-offs, but Miami’s “small-ball” line-up provided them with the ability to ability to switch screens, similarly to pick-and-roll action, and negated Harden’s in these situations. When the finals were over, Harden only had engaged in four scoring chances out of these types of plays. Here’s a successful opportunity for Harden:
Haslem isn’t as comfortable defending in open space and Harden is able to knock down the triple. But, with Bosh on the floor there is a challenge and Harden fails to capitalize.
These types of plays account for over 10% of Harden’s scoring chances, and Miami’s ability to switch defenders and not compromise their defense was a thwart in Harden’s effectiveness.
3. Miami did an excellent job in transition.
Harden typically does a terrific job in transition, but shoots just 31.4% from deep in transition. The Heat made sure to get back and protect the paint in transition and Harden failed to capitalize.
4. Harden was just unlucky.
Sometimes this happens to players. Harden’s shots were going half-way down and then rimming out, like so:
5. The Heat prevented Harden from getting to the rim.
This plays a big factor in number four. Harden was able to get to the rim, but nowhere near as often as he would have liked to. Failing to see the ball go through the hoop on these drives likely affected the mentality of Harden as it can do to players who seem to not be able to buy a bucket. But, this side-effect is not nearly as important as how it was able to limit Harden’s efficiency. According to HoopData, Harden shot 70.4% at the rim, but just 30.8% from 3 to 9 feet.
Here, Miami collapsed and forced Harden to dish the ball off, but Perkins was unable to finish. Once Harden gets the ball back, he still isn’t able to get all the way to the rack.
Again, Miami makes it very difficult for Harden to get into the paint, and when he finally does there are four Heat players waiting for him.
The Heat forced Harden into lower percentage shots and paid lots of attention to him when he had the ball. Also, their line-up was very helpful in being able to facilitate these adjustments. Harden wasn’t able to get going in these games and while he still was able to produce an average game and an above average game by his PPP standards, the Heat capitalized on limiting him to below this in three games and neutralized the Thunder’s “secret weapon.”
Don’t worry Thunder fans. Adjustments can be made to counteract this defense by Miami. Ball movement will be key and taking advantage of defenders shading off of Harden will be crucial if this tactic becomes more widely employed by the league.
Here, Harden gets rid of the ball quickly and Westbrook immediately goes into attack mode getting into the paint. Quick ball movement does the rest of the work as the defense collapses and Harden is able to get a nice and easy catch-and-shoot three.
Special thanks to Synergy Sports and HoopData for the statistics, as well as anoldent via Flickr for the heading image.