Miami Heat forward Shane Battier was as honest as ever when reflecting on what will be his last season in the NBA. After losing to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Sunday, he said that his team simply couldn't cut it defensively against the best, via Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick:
"Unfortunately, I made the mistake of looking at our defensive rank before the Finals," Battier said. "And I know that no team outside the top 10 had ever won the title. So we'd have to do something pretty historic to beat the best offensive team in the league. And that 12th ranking is not the result of two weeks or a month of basketball. It's the result of an entire season. And we just didn't have the fundamentals to stop an offensive juggernaut like the Spurs. And we were exposed."
Miami ranked 11th in defensive efficiency in the regular season, the best team in the league at forcing turnovers but the 20th-best in terms of opponents' effective field-goal percentage, per NBA.com. The Heat gave up 102.9 points per 100 possessions during the regular season, also per NBA.com, and 118.5 per 100 against the Spurs in the Finals.
While Miami still at times looked like an elite defensive team, it lacked consistency for significant stretches of the season. There is nothing wrong with head coach Erik Spoelstra's schemes, but the Heat play a demanding style and their aging role players could no longer handle it.
"It was a difficult year," Shane Battier said after his final NBA game, repeating a sentiment he'd privately expressed several times during the season. "It was a trying year from the standpoint that there were very few pure moments. That was the biggest difference between the past two years.
"And we were always trying to conjure something. And for a while there, in the second half, it worked. But you can't win a championship trying to conjure something. It has to be who you are, and it has to be pure, and that wasn't the case for us this year."
If Miami had met a different opponent at the end, it could have had a different result, but, as Battier said, history was not on its side, via NBA.com's John Schuhmann:
Entering the 2014 Finals, the 2000-01 Lakers were the last team to win a championship after ranking outside the top 10 in defensive efficiency in the regular season.
They still are.
Out of the top 10 is not where you want to be. Over the last 37 years (since the NBA started tracking turnovers in 1977-78), only three teams have won a championship after ranking outside the top 10 in defensive efficiency in the regular season. Twice as many champs have ranked outside the top 10 in offensive efficiency.
If you were wondering, the Spurs finished fourth in defensive efficiency and sixth in offensive efficiency this season, per NBA.com. San Antonio's offense has gotten more attention, but its defense is equally responsible for the title. With the retirement of Battier, one of the Heat's best defenders, the Eastern Conference champs will have to address that end of the floor in the offseason.