As we’ve seen over the past few weeks, NBA coach is essentially a temp job. So head coaches that are fortunate enough to be competing in the Conference Finals must be willing to rethink their strategies and rotations based on what the opponent is bringing to the table.
The two-time defending champion Miami Heat opened their series with the Indiana Pacers as 4/1 favorites to make the NBA Finals, meaning you would receive a quarter per each dollar you invested in the supposed inevitability that the Heat will advance. Yet after getting thoroughly outworked by a Pacers team that was so focused on a rematch with the champs that they almost let the Hawks peck them out of the playoffs, it appears that the final leg of the Heat’s quest for a three-peat will be anything but easy.
You could point to poor outside shooting from Chris Bosh, or the fact that Dwyane Wade is certainly a step slower in his 11th season, but Miami lost because they allowed the Pacers, who averaged 91.4 PPG in the first two rounds of the playoffs, to break the century mark with five minutes to play in the fourth quarter. While Indiana beat the Heat’s vaunted defense with a balanced attack, the fact that they scored 54 points in the paint may be the most telling statistic.
Unlike most teams, the Pacers refused to downsize to combat the Heat’s quick lineups and continued to pound the ball inside. That is why, in this particular series, Chris “Birdman” Andersen may once again become the second most valuable player available to Eric Spoelstra.
Andersen played under 19 minutes in Game 1, yet managed to outscore and out-rebound the Heat’s starting center, Bosh. He doesn’t stretch the floor like CB4, but when he entered the game in the third quarter his ability to protect the rim, rebound, and finish around the basket, helped his team swing the momentum and trim a 17-point deficit to nine. Of course that momentum collapsed due to Mario Chalmers’ classic cheap shot (2:46 mark below), yet perhaps if the Birdman was on the floor more often, Chalmers would’ve realized that his tatted teammate was flying in for the chase down block on that play.
As a “new school” coach that is well-versed in statistically analytics, it’s surprising that Spoelstra isn’t aware of the situation. Andersen is averaging 14 points, 11 rebound, and 3.1 blocks per 36 minutes in the 2013-14 playoffs. For perspective, that’s twice as many rebounds and blocks as self-proclaimed “Hall of Famer” Chris Bosh. I’m not necessarily suggesting Birdman should be playing instead of Bosh, but pairing them together seems to be the best way to match up with the Pacers huge front court.
Much is made of the departure of Mike Miller, but techinically, Andersen was even an even more vital part of Miami’s 2012-13 title run. His .309 Win Shares per 48 minutes not only led the team, but is the 10th highest mark in NBA Playoffs history. Obviously LeBron was more valuable last spring than his .260 Win Shares per 48 would indicate, yet despite all the Heat’s quickness and skill on the perimeter, it’s no secret that their greatest weakness lies in the paint.
Eric Spoelstra is lucky enough to coach the greatest player of this generation, and so far he’s done a great job making the proper adjustments in order to get his squad to the next round. Heat fans certainly hope he can read into both the numbers, and the superior performance of Pat Riley’s sneaky acquisition by getting Miami’s other MVP some more floor time.