The Miami Heat have a swarming defense. They try to overwhelm you with incredible athletes using length and fast twitch muscles to jump out at your pick-and-roll execution, fluster the ball handler and leave you throwing slow, looping passes that lead to rushed shots or turnovers. If they can transform bad possessions from you into quick scoring opportunities for them, your team is pretty much toast on any given night.
There are two ways to beat this type of defense: 1) you need to have crisp passing that stays ahead of the swarm and 2) you need dribble penetration to get past the initial speed bump in their pick-and-roll defense and get into the teeth of the defense. When you get the Heat defense to go from swarming to scrambling, then it's just a matter of making shots to leave them scratching their heads and wondering why their supreme talent doesn't win out.
In the 2013 NBA Finals, the San Antonio Spurs have been able to do this well enough to win three of the first five games and are just one win away from their fifth NBA championship banner. A big part of this has been what I mentioned up above. The Spurs are doing a great job at staying ahead of the Heat's defense. But the historic shooting display of Danny Green has been fueling the demoralizing offensive outburst of the Spurs.
Danny Green has made 25 3-pointers through the first five games of this series, shattering Ray Allen's NBA Finals record of 22 made 3-pointers in a Finals series. With at least one more game to go, Green has a chance to put this record out of reach for quite a long time if he hits another five, like he's averaging in this series.
So why is Green so effective against the Heat in this series? A lot of it is him being ready to shoot and being confident in his ability to knock down open shots. He's worked incredibly hard over the years to hone his craft and turn into a deadeye shooter. He's also taking advantage of terrible defensive decisions by the Heat as the seemingly refuse to adjust to his performance.
Thanks to the NBA's YouTube account, you can see the first 23 3-pointers of the playoffs for Green that set the NBA Finals record. Below the video, we'll breakdown how each 3-pointer came to be such a good look for him.
How many of those looks did you wonder, "how are they letting this guy get so wide open?" Green moves extremely well without the ball and the offense is designed as almost a magician's act. The Spurs use misdirection and offensive slight-of-hand to make you look one way while the trick/illusion is happening somewhere else. But there are rare occurrences in this series in which they've had to resort to smoke and mirrors to get Green open.
He's simply being left by the Heat as they can't decide where to help from and whom to help off of when the ball moves around. Let's hit all 25 threes from Green in this series with the moment of failure by the Heat's defense:
Green's first 3-pointer: Game 1, 10:23 left in the first quarter
On Green's first three of the Finals, the Heat are scrambling from a pick-and-roll switch that put Chris Bosh on Tony Parker and Mario Chalmers on Tim Duncan. As Chalmers recovers to Duncan, Dwyane Wade sucks into the middle to take away the opportunity for a 37-year old big man to attack the basket off the dribble from 22 feet away. He ends up leaving Green open long enough in the corner for him to get a clean look at the rim.
Green's second 3-pointer: Game 1, 4:50 left in the first quarter
On his next three, Green is left once again in the left corner, this time by LeBron James. James helped down against Duncan in the post and Chalmers was slow to rotate over to the shooter. Parker is an improved shooter from downtown, but you have to quickly leave him to swarm the guy that finished seventh in the NBA in 3-point percentage.
Green's third 3-pointer: Game 1, 6:51 left in the second quarter
As his knee has gotten worse, Wade has fought through screens horribly. He goes under a pick from Duncan and leaves Green open on the perimeter with plenty of room to shoot and not feel like it will be contested. You can't go under screens against the Spurs; you just can't. It leaves them with too much space to shoot and their ball movement is too good not to take advantage of any gaps in the defense.
Green's fourth 3-pointer: Game 1, 2:13 left in the fourth quarter
Late in Game 1, the Heat were desperately trying to get a stop to keep within striking distance of the Spurs. With Manu Ginobili isolated against Ray Allen on the wing, the Heat are clearly worried about a rolling Duncan into the middle of the lane and a drive by Ginobili. As soon as Manu receives the pass from Parker, he sees Green wide-open on the right wing because Mike Miller is too far into the paint. The Heat keep leaving him and he keeps knocking down shots.
Green's fifth 3-pointer: Game 2, 11:14 left in the first quarter
For his first three in Game 2, Green is in the right corner with the ball action away from his side of the floor. He catches LeBron with his head turned and sneaks along the baseline to where Parker can give him a quick pass for an open three. James doesn't realize where Green is until it's too late to react. All he can do is watch.
Green's sixth 3-pointer: Game 2, 9:02 left in the first quarter
Wade goes under the screen; Green gets a great look on a 3-point shot. Rinse, lather, repeat.
Green's seventh 3-pointer: Game 2, 8:16 left in the first quarter
This three by Green in Game 2 was a result of two bigs not being aware of the time on the shot clock and worried about defending a perimeter player. Udonis Haslem switched out to defend Green. Tiago Splitter stepped up to set a screen, but with so little time on the clock, Bosh has to be more aggressive guarding the perimeter and run right at him. If he gets by Bosh, he has to hit a pull-up long 2-point jumper off the dribble. You live with that.
Green's eighth 3-pointer: Game 2, 2:28 left in the second quarter
I have a theory. When Danny Green runs the baseline, he actually turns invisible to the Miami Heat. As he starts running the baseline for this corner 3-pointer toward the end of the first half in Game 2, all of the Heat players ignore him. Wade is far too late to recognize he needs to get over there and James never knew he needed to switch.
Green's ninth 3-pointer: Game 2, 7:45 left in the third quarter
The Transition Defense Bermuda Triangle has struck the Heat a few times in this series, but this is the one where it allows Green to get his first transition three of the NBA Finals. LeBron can't leave Cory Joseph alone underneath the basket and Mario Chalmers has to pick up the ball handler. That leaves Duncan streaking down the middle of the floor as a trailer and Green gets to flare to the corner.
Green's 10th 3-pointer: Game 3, 6:47 left in the second quarter
I showed this replay angle on Green's 10th three of the series because it shows another bad decision by Wade on defense. In basic help defense strategy, the strong side help defender guarding the man in the corner isn't supposed to help off the shooter if that shooter is any good. At this point, it's well established that Green can shoot a little. But Wade helps anyway by gambling for the steal. If you're going to gamble for a steal in that situation, you better make good on that gamble. Wade doesn't.
Green's 11th 3-pointer: Game 3, 9:28 left in the third quarter
Bosh has to switch out to Green on the perimeter and has his hands down as Green goes for the shot. Preach, Mark Jackson.
Green's 12th 3-pointer: Game 1, 7:31 left in the third quarter
After Green misses a three on the other side of the floor, the Spurs grab the offensive board and get it to Ginobili for a shot at the top of the key. He misses that and Kawhi Leonard grabs another offensive rebound. He finds Green in the left corner and James has a sloppy closeout, perhaps worried about the drive if he's too aggressive. He wasn't aggressive enough and gets caught with his hands down.
Green's 13th 3-pointer: Game 3, 9:39 left in the fourth quarter
Ray Allen sucks in on defense and leaves Danny Green way too open on this attempt. 37-year old Ray Allen isn't closing out in time on that.
Green's 14th 3-pointer: Game 3, 8:51 left in the fourth quarter
After Allen saves the ball from going out of bounds in the corner, it goes right to Splitter who calmly finds an open Green on the left wing. Nobody even pretends to have the time to rush the shooter.
Green's 15th 3-pointer: Game 3, 7:25 left in the fourth quarter
Allen's hands are down and Mark Jackson is done with this.
Green's 16th 3-pointer: Game 3, 6:04 left in the fourth quarter
At this point in Game 3, the Heat were getting waxed. Down 28, Green pulls up for his final 3-pointer of the game while in transition. James didn't even pretend to contest the shot, which seems to fit in with the team's defensive philosophy around Green right now.
Green's 17th 3-pointer: Game 4, 10:52 left in the first quarter
Dribble penetration off the pick-and-roll means James has to crash the paint and take away the layup opportunity for Parker. This leaves Wade having to defend two shooters that just torched the Heat in the previous game. Green leaves right where he left off in Game 3 by knocking down the open shot.
Green's 18th 3-pointer: Game 4, 6:29 left in the third quarter
Parker gets good dribble penetration once again and he essentially has four Heat players watching or collapsing around the lane. Allen had to drop down to defend Duncan and Chalmers never retreated back to the shooter hanging around at the top. Allen couldn't rotate in time.
Green's 19th 3-pointer: Game 4, 54.2 seconds left in the third quarter
Haslem leaves Green so that he could defend an area of the half court that wasn't in danger of having anybody from the Spurs occupying. He's not close enough to Parker to actually do anything and Green is just left by his lonesome.
Green's 20th 3-pointer: Game 5, 8:44 left in the second quarter
Ginobili and Splitter run the side pick-and-roll that gives Tiago the ball right on the low block. Bosh and Battier collapse to Splitter as Wade stops him in the paint. That leaves Allen to defend three different Spurs players at once. Tiago Splitter kicks out to Boris Diaw and he throws the quick pass to Green. Allen never had a chance.
Green's 21st 3-pointer: Game 5, 7:42 left in the second quarter
Danny Green's zone of invisibility. Chalmers has no idea that Green is sprinting from the right corner to the left corner. We've seen this before and it always ends with blood.
Green's 22nd 3-pointer: Game 5, 7:02 left in the second quarter
Allen semi-helps against Parker dribbling in the midrange zone but isn't actually doing anything defensively. Green rolls around the perimeter and uses Diaw as a quick speed bump for Allen to get through as he recovers to find Green. He actually makes up quite a bit of ground but not enough to bother the shot attempt.
Green's 23rd 3-pointer: Game 5, 9:41 left in the third quarter
Wade and Green both hit the ground on one end of the floor. Green gets up quickly, trails the play where Ginobili has the ball and drops it off to his red hot teammate. James never steps up to contest and Wade never gets back on defense in time to do anything.
Green's 24th 3-pointer: Game 5, 2:54 left in the third quarter
I hope you're sitting down for this: Wade played horrible defense off the ball and couldn't fight through a screen to contest a 3-pointer by Green. To be fair, he shot that one from Austin but you still have to be more aware of your surroundings.
Green's 25th 3-pointer: Game 5, 1:06 left in the fourth quarter
Transition Defense Bermuda Triangle strikes again as Green delivers the dagger to the Heat in Game 5. Miller is trying to cut off Ginobili but he's not in front of him, which causes Bosh to play the drive. Allen never gets back in time and Green flares to the corner. He knocks down his 25th 3-pointer of the NBA Finals to build on his record.
By my count, Dwyane Wade was responsible for eight of Green's threes, Ray Allen was responsible for five, LeBron James was responsible for four, Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem were responsible for two each, Mario Chalmers was directly responsible for one and so was Mike Miller. Green also hit two threes off of broken plays.
The Miami Heat can still come back and win this series with the final two games being played in Miami (if they can get it to a seventh game). But they're going to have to either swarm the Spurs a lot better than they have and take away passing lanes to open shooters or they're going to have to stay home on Danny Green and stop letting him get such easy looks from outside.