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Miami Heat

The Heat have a 2nd-half problem

Nov 10, 2017; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra reacts to referee Derrick Collins (11) during the second half against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday, the Miami Heat were blown out by the Indiana Pacers, 120-95. It was a back-and-forth affair for the first 23 minutes and 54 seconds. The final six seconds of the half were a disaster. This shouldn’t happen:

The Heat never recovered, getting outscored 62-40 in the second half. This isn’t the first time Miami has blown a game in the second half (more on that in a moment), but this one was notable enough to fire up head coach Erik Spoelstra. 

It’s rare that Spoelstra comes with this sort of — wait for it — heat, but he has clearly had enough:

The most notable part of Spoelstra’s rant was his unhappiness with Miami’s effort. Teams have poor shooting nights, but inconsistent effort and poor focus defensively are unacceptable. To paraphrase Spoelstra, that isn’t Miami Heat basketball.

Miami took the NBA by storm last season — well, the second half of it — by playing its usual brand of inspired basketball on both ends. After an injury-riddled 11-30 start, the Heat literally flipped the script by going 30-11 to end the season behind a relentless drive-and-kick attack and a make-them-grind defense.

Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters attacked at will while Hassan Whiteside held down the paint. James Johnson and Tyler Johnson spearheaded a gritty bench unit, and Spoelstra further solidified his case as an elite coach by maximizing his roster after the sluggish start. The Heat missed the playoffs due to a tiebreaker, but brought the band back hoping to build on their strong finish.

Through 16 games, the Heat have mostly been mediocre. Their 7-9 record sits 12th in the East. The defense is picking up (14th in defensive rating) after a slow start, but their offense (26th in offensive rating) has been a dumpster fire all season.

It’d be one thing if the Heat were just a “meh” team throughout 48 minutes, but they aren’t. They often get off to strong starts in the first half, then seemingly forget how to play basketball in the second.

THE NUMBERS

In the first half, Miami has the sixth-best offensive rating (109.3), net rating (plus-5.6), and true shooting percentage (58.7) in the NBA. The Heat turn the ball over a good bit — 24th in turnover percentage (16) — but they’re able to offset that by generating and knocking down open looks.

A whopping 58.5 percent of Miami’s first-half shots have been open (nearest defender 4-6 feet away) or wide open (nearest defender 6-plus feet away), per NBA.com’s tracking data. 36.4 percent of their 3-point attempts are open or wide open; they’ve converted 43.4 percent of those triples. Generating and knocking down open 3s is why their overall first half 3-point percentage (42.6) is tops in the league.

In the second half, Miami becomes a putrid offensive unit. The offensive rating (91.1) isn’t just the worst in the league; the Heat are six points per 100 possessions worse than the 29th-ranked Sacramento Kings (97.7).

Their ball control is only slightly worse (16.8 turnover percentage), but their shotmaking virtually disappears. Their true shooting percentage (50) and effective field goal percentage (44.6) are the worst in the league.

Miami doesn’t create quite as many (wide) open looks in the second half (58.5 percent vs 55.8 percent). In terms of open 3-pointers, the frequency isn’t much different (36.4 percent vs. 35 percent), but the efficiency goes down the drain.

Miami is knocking down only 29.2 percent of its open or wide-open 3s in the second half. The overall 3-point percentage plummets nearly 16 percentage points to a league-worst 26.9.

It appears missing a bunch of open shots and turning the ball over is a recipe for a poor offense.

WHAT’S GOING ON?

Part of Miami’s second-half problems, and the team’s larger deficiencies, is the loss of a surprise factor. The scouting report is out on Miami, and teams have done a better job of taking the Heat out of rhythm.

For example, Miami killed teams from the corner over the second half of last year. Dragic, Waiters, or either of the Johnsons would routinely drive the baseline, then fling a dart to the corner to either generate an open 3 or start another driving sequence. Teams are sitting on that now, which has led to more turnovers.

Here, Tyler Johnson attacks a semi-hard closeout from Victor Oladipo. Myles Turner steps up to prevent a potential layup, while Thaddeus Young lurks for the kickout pass. Johnson tries to force a pass to a cutting Justise Winslow, and gets it picked off fairly easily:

 

That isn’t the best decision from Johnson, but he also didn’t have much of a choice. Turner was in position to help on a shot or a cut after a dump-off pass for Bam Adebayo. Dragic wasn’t open, and Richardson didn’t relocate to the corner. That’s mostly by design — Miami tends to space guys around the arc that way — but that’s also the point.

The other part of Miami’s offensive woes is, as Spoelstra alluded to, a lack of effort. On this possession, Miami couldn’t shift Indy’s defense at all. As the clock winds down, Waiters and Whiteside kick off a pick-and-roll, but Whiteside “sets” a nonexistent “screen.” The defense doesn’t react, so Waiters throws a bomb (a pass at the end of the clock) to Richardson, who has no choice but to hoist an out-of-rhythm 3:

 

Pay attention to how Indiana defended this. As Whiteside set up for the “screen,” both corner defenders for Indy drop down into the paint. They know Whiteside is going to slip, so they do their work early to prevent a potential look. Waiters could have skipped a pass to Dragic, but that would’ve set up a similar look to the Johnson drive in the first clip.

Miami posted an 81.2 offensive rating in the second half against the Pacers on Sunday. The Heat couldn’t consistently generate good looks. When they did they failed to make Indy pay. Momentum never left Indy’s side — the Pacers blew the game open in the third quarter and never looked back.

If you’re looking for a silver lining for Miami’s second-half struggles, you’ll have to bank on positive regression in terms of 3-point shooting. It’s hard to imagine the Heat will continue to shoot under 30 percent on wide-open 3s. If they keep generating those looks, they’ll start falling eventually.

Miami still has to help itself, though. Poor screening makes the guards work harder than they need to. The turnovers, especially the live ones, are putting Miami in holes it can’t shoot out of.

Committing to the little things and valuing the ball more would make the Heat a below-average second-half team instead of the worst one by a healthy margin. Normally, that wouldn’t be worth praising, but even that level of improvement would be welcomed at this point.

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