How Dwyane Wade's intermediate game is keeping the Heat afloat
The Pacer defense is an engine of constriction. From the point of attack, Indiana's collective length on the perimeter draws out and rebuffs all kinds of action. First and second options are denied as the shot clock dwindles, leaving opponents to fall back on last-resort isolations or frantic pick-and-rolls. In the event that the initial line of defense gives way, the Pacers rely on help -- orchestrated in such a way that the 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert is generally in prime position -- to continue the coil. Those appropriately wary of Hibbert's ability to contest tend to stall possessions with nervous pump fakes or hesitation moves, feeding the frenzy by going deeper into the structure of the defense with every tick of the clock. Then, once an opposing ball handler stalls in the middle of the floor with his options limited, the Pacers squeeze.
That asphyxiating approach wrings the life from most opposing offenses, though to this point in the Eastern Conference finals the Heat have squirmed their way through and around the Pacers' snare. No single player has been so successful in that regard as Dwyane Wade, whose slippery dribble drives have given Miami's offense a consistent pulse.
In a way, Wade (who is averaging a co-team-high 24.3 points per game on 62 percent shooting in this series) has fed into the Pacers' designs. He consistently works his way into the lane and engages the help defense, though for the most part he's proven unable to push through to quality looks at the rim or nudge Hibbert toward foul trouble. What remains is the challenging terrain of the high paint: A swath of court crowded by a recovering defender, shaped by the help of Hibbert and not at all conducive to efficient scoring. No matter the positive connotation that 'points in the paint' might hold in a general sense, baskets from this particular range do not come easy.
Yet for Wade they have. To this point in the series Wade has taken roughly a third of his shots from that tricky space -- in the lane but not in the restricted area -- and converted 76.5 percent of them. That's way up from Wade's already decent 53.3-percent mark on similar shots in the regular season, despite the fact that almost all of his Eastern Conference finals attempts have come in the face of pressure applied by the best defense in the league. See for yourself through this interactive shot chart:
Hover over shot chart for play descriptions and video on all of Wade's intermediate field goals.
Much of this is Wade being Wade -- only a precious few players boast such wide offensive range, and here we see Wade repeatedly nail two particularly challenging maneuvers in the teardrop floater and short fadeaway jumper. To go from bursting at full speed around a screen into one of those change-up counters requires not only a mastery of situational awareness but a complete and impeccable balance. The ease with which Wade pulls off either move draws from the very underpinnings of his superstardom.
That in itself communicates plenty about both teams in this series. In full form, Indiana's defense can surrender these looks and live with the results, knowing well that only a few players in the league can hit runners and other intermediate shots consistently enough to compromise the defense. Miami, though, has drawn an edge in this series to date in part because Wade is just such a player. One staple of the Heat playbook brings a curling Wade into a side screen-and-roll specifically to leverage his ability to read and react however necessary. If the pass is there, he makes it. If the lane is there, he takes it. If nothing materializes, then Wade manipulates the help until there's just enough room for a floater or fadeaway, an outcome which the Pacers prefer by the odds. It's to Wade's credit -- and Miami's series-leading benefit -- that he has been able to render those probabilities irrelevant.
Statistical support for this post provided by NBA.com.
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