The stakes run high for the Heat, but even the dwindling prospect of a repeat title apparently isn't enough to compel the defending champs to pay attention to Danny Green. One would think that a record-25 made threes in these NBA Finals would be enough, but while fixated on Tony Parker and Tim Duncan, Miami's defenders have seemed largely unconcerned with the threat that Green poses. As a result, Green is influencing the ultimate outcome of the postseason in a way that few shooters could, and remains San Antonio's highest per-game scorer in the Finals.
Green has made his own way by sliding around the arc in tandem with the Spurs' pick-and-rolls, but this level of success wouldn't be possible without a strangely unresponsive Heat defense. “I can’t believe he’s still open at this moment in the series,” Spurs point guard Tony Parker said after Game 5, per The Point Forward's Ben Golliver. “They are still trapping me and doubling [Duncan], and Danny is wide open. He’s shooting the ball well. If you are going to leave Danny wide open, he’s going to make threes.”
Even after Green's back-breaking threes in Game 1 and his 7-of-9 shooting from deep in Game 3, Miami continues to disregard him in its half-hearted attempts at help defense. The Heat's best perimeter defenders have a tendency to lean in (and away from their marks) with the aim of crowding a passing ball handler, but that vice has been thoroughly exploited by the fully expectant and impeccably prepared Spurs:
Driving toward Dwyane Wade, in particular, would seem the easiest means of freeing up Green. In the above clip, Shane Battier is hanging with Neal step-for-step on his drive, with Chris Bosh inching over to protect the rim in case Neal busts Battier's coverage. None of this seems to concern Wade, who mindlessly slides into Neal's path and leaves Green all by his lonesome in the right corner. Wade can barely manage a tepid contest of Green's shot before it goes flying toward -- and through -- the rim.
Of course, exploiting Wade comes just as easily from the opposite side of the floor, as Wade can be pulled into no man's land by his worst defensive instincts. Wade often does terrific work in the passing lanes and has no equal among guards in terms of contesting shots at the rim, but when lured into the space seen below, he's neither guarding Green nor actually helping against Parker's penetration:
But Wade is hardly the only culprit. Though less consistently guilty of over-helping, Ray Allen, too, has been caught on occasion sliding into the paint when he should be glued to Green on the weak side:
It's an understandable reflex. Once Splitter makes the catch within range of a quick flip shot or even a potential dunk, every Heat defender shifts into high alert and crashes down to protect the rim. That's fine in the case of Wade, who is defending Kawhi Leonard in the weak-side corner, or Battier, who is tasked with guarding Boris Diaw at the top of the floor. But Allen's attempt at help leaves the entire left wing open, inviting a swing pass to Green. In this context, Green isn't merely "in the zone," but in a world all his own -- saved from even the slightest defensive interference.
These kinds of poor judgment calls have been far too frequent for Miami, but San Antonio also increases the frequency of those tough decisions by way of the pick-and-roll. On this play, for example, it's Mike Miller's responsibility to both bump Duncan on his roll and recover out to Green once Bosh is back in place. The timing of the former makes the latter almost impossible, and it gives Green -- who slid up from the corner to the three-point "break" -- a comfortable shooting window:
Miller is stretched beyond what can be reasonably expected as a result of his team attempting to contain Parker, Duncan and Ginobili all at once. The three required a great, cross-court pass that would be tough for any team to defend, and it's an acceptable concession given how effectively the other options on the play were managed. But in similar situations, Miami has been torn apart as a result of initial breakdowns in their pick-and-roll coverage, which then complicate the assignments of the other defenders on the court -- including whomever is tasked with guarding Green. In this case, that's James:
This is dreadful defense by Bosh and Mario Chalmers, who both play to Parker's left without really accounting for Duncan's screen. As a result, Parker has an open lane to the rim from the moment he darts by Duncan. This freeze frame comes just a moment after:
With each of Miami's other three defenders stretched out to the three-point line and Parker streaking towards the basket, James makes the necessary -- and painful -- rotation in an attempt to prevent an easy layup. As a result, Wade is left to guard both Green and Gary Neal on the left wing, and doesn't have enough time to recover from one to the other once Parker kicks the ball out to an open Green. This make technically happened on LeBron's watch, but the fatal mistake (the blunder by Chalmers and Bosh) came before James could even get involved in the play.
All it takes is the slightest mishandling of that initial screen, as the Spurs can masterfully find an opening from the most marginal of advantages. On this sequence, San Antonio runs a pick-and-roll with Ginobili screening for Parker and James is strangely slow in rotating back to Parker. As a result, Miller is delayed in recovering to Ginobili, which opens up a driving lane and sets in motion a course of events that ends with an open look for Green:
These basic mistakes are cropping up with worrying frequency from the Heat, for whom focus and effort are now bafflingly legitimate concerns. These are the NBA Finals, and yet James sleepwalked through that last defensive sequence, Wade can be caught cheating away from a knockdown shooter and the Heat on the whole are botching the foundational element of their pick-and-roll coverage. Some concession is inevitable when guarding an offense as diligent as San Antonio's, but there's no valid excuse for the way that each of Green's primary defenders have been abused for their tendency to watch the ball:
Or, just as glaringly, for their tendency to give up on coverage altogether after being dislodged from their assignment:
These aren't missteps by hard-working defenders, but forfeitures by players who can't be bothered with more. Green has made 65.8 percent of his three-pointers in this series -- a number which warrants a Heat detail from the moment he comes within 200 yards of the arena. Yet James and Allen both simply feigned activity (in the form of "helping" on Duncan) in lieu of actually fighting through the crowd to get back to Green, just as Wade refused to demonstrate the proper discipline in keeping track of a scorching shooter behind the three-point arc. Shooting of this caliber cannot be taken lightly, and yet Miami's inattention to detail and altogether patchy defensive efforts suggest a team that doesn't fully grasp the gravity of its current situation. This is still a formidable team with the potential to follow through on its championship intentions, but that potential is unlikely to be realized if they can't keep tabs on Green.