The essence of the Miami Heat lies in defense: zone, pressure and a strategy based on change to win

One of the most repetitive criticisms that a notable sector of fans makes to the game that is lavished in the NBA It’s the lack of defense. As if for 48 minutes the two teams participated in an offensive bacchanalia without paying the slightest attention to protecting their own hoop. However, the reality is very different. Not only because the differences in regulations and field between the ecosystem FIBA and the one that occurs in the American league are notable, but because the styles are also different. This means that the attempt to transfer logic that works in one context to another ends up being an effort in vain. Yeah, in the NBA he defends himself at a high level, but exposing a thousand facts does not serve to convince the skeptic, but to use tangible examples that the story is not as it was said. And the best case for it is Miami Heat.

long time ago Erik Spoelstra he abandoned the rope followed by the vast majority of coaches in the NBA. At a time of change like this, trying to do something different can be a guarantee of success, but for this you not only have to have a good idea, but also know how to carry it out. Being right or a great hypothesis is never enough, because the players rule in this and the coach cannot aspire to control how many drops of sweat fall to the ground from his pupils as before. Leadership remains a crucial part of the recipe for success and the figure of Spo is unquestionable within the Florida franchise.

Upon the pillars laid by his predecessor and teacher, Pat Riley, Spoelstra shaped a project whose essence rests on defense. With the attitude is not enough, you need tools, the more the better and the Miami Heat have reached this point thanks to being an uncomfortable opponent to attack. Because? Because of the variety of defenses they can raise, not in the course of a series, but in the development of a game or even a quarter.


That is the word which defines Miami Heat.

As soon as they’re in the zone they move to singles or they’re deploying full-court pressing and an extremely aggressive direct blocking scheme.

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“I believe in versatility, toughness and guys like Jimmy Butler who drive it”Spoelstra responded after beating the Celtics in Game 7. “If your best players aren’t defenders it’s hard to create a good defense. We’ve got Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, who care about defending and doing the hard stuff. Other things are pretty easy to figure out, and defensive schemes aren’t. It’s about committing to do hard things.”

In the era of the automatic change, those of Florida have chosen to show off a book of defensive approaches that has nothing to envy to any self-respecting European club. With the enormous difference of being a scenario with few similarities, rivals capable of scoring from any space and with also different arbitration criteria. Only through their radical commitment to being alternatives can it be understood how an eighth-ranked player has been able to go so far, being one step away from being champions. Even despite having names like Adebayo, Butler, Lowry or the injured Herro.

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in these NBA Finals 2023 Miami Heat has once again put on muscle, to show that they are the most unpredictable project in the entire NBA and against which it is better not to bet. This mixture of group cohesion at all levels, almost as if it were a religion, together with the tactical proposal makes them unique.

“The most important thing is that there is a basis and a responsibility before a system“, Spoelstra said during the 2020 Finals. “Are the nuts and bolts of the system a little different than they used to be in the ’90s? Yes, the game is different and it evolved. It’s a markedly different game, from the shooting and the skill level and even the staff level than it was 20 years ago. So we’ve been forced to adapt and make some adjustments. But how Pat built a system, where there’s consistency in structure and accountability, we’re still adhering to that.”

The way they are carrying out their particular proposal in this 2023 is based on combining all kinds of defenses, from the most traditional to the avant-garde.

The zone is the most obvious and mentioned resource when talking about this team. Before the start of the tie, Juan Estévez analyzed here in Sporting News the operation of the zonal system. However, Spoelstra has modified it slightly for these Finals, in such a way that it is not so much a tool that is governed by classic frameworks, but rather mutable, open to changes and, above all, that drinks from the scouting.

The zonal approach is different with and without Jokic on the field. If the Serbian is present, the primary objective is to deny him reception, but not with Adebayo, but with an exterior that takes advantage of his speed instead of answering the physical.

As can be seen, this area is not something closed, with areas of intervention for each player, but rather mutates, advances and develops depending on what the opponent does. With this, Spoelstra is not trying to force a change in the Nuggets’ game, but rather to make them feel uncomfortable and, above all, to control where they are going to play in attack. In a way, Miami intends with this to lead from defense. Have the hegemony of the game.

If Spoelstra saves the zone for crucial moments and only appears after a basket, there is another card that the coach saves for key moments, such as the full-court pressure. This strategy, which he used brilliantly in the second game, was applied only after taking free kicks. This is a classic.

So your players can organize quickly, reach the spaces they are looking for and deploy the strategy successfully. Again, this pressure does not seek to replicate what is seen so much in the FIBA ​​world, with traps or possible theft. Rather, Spo He wants the Nuggets’ pace to increase, that they can’t think and, consequently, have a harder time scoring.

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The last pillar that supports the defense of the Miami Heat in these Finals is being their organization of direct blockade. Without an adaptable structure, open to change (but not necessarily to change), you cannot hope to win. Today it is impossible to be a champion without a defense of the pick&roll absolutely elite. And Spoelstra knows how to do it.

The problem is that the Nuggets present alternative scenarios, where the traditional roles are reversed, which means that Jokic may end up being the manager at any given time. Stopping the Serbian in any of his forms is the key that opens the doors to a possible victory over Denver. Everything revolves around him, in such a way that Miami organizes everything based on how to mitigate his impact.

This is where the figure of Kevin Love, urgently rescued in the second game. The veteran is far from being a great defender, but he is someone very intelligent, who knows how to react and read situations. Thus, the ex of the Cavs was fundamental in the collective effort, because with a timing Perfectly executed the direct block approach that Spoelstra wanted and needed to win. As? Being very aggressive as an aid to the unlocks of the Joker:

The plan to stop the Nuggets in the direct block is to raise lines. This means that Adebayo will put his attention on the ball along with whoever chases the manager. The possible crack is in Jokic, because if the ball reaches his hands under normal conditions the basket is safe. That is where Love comes in, which is always aware of anticipating and acting accordingly. If Denver falls for the trap, Miami will deploy a chain of defensive rotations to prevent the opponent from scoring.

The small details make the difference and at this stage of the course there is no magic recipe that will make the opponent collapse in one fell swoop. It takes dozens of small touches to break down the wall and enter the citadel. Miami Heat is clear on how the playoffs are won and has a roadmap to carry it out.

“Put some pressure on the ball. Get the defensive balance right. Get our hands on fumbles and just challenge every pass, every shot“. There is no better summary of the Heat Culture than these words from Jimmy Butler after winning the second game.

The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily represent those of the NBA or its organizations.

2023-06-05 08:01:26
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