Miami Heat executes defensive game plan perfectly against Warriors but it’s still not enough

The Miami Heat were able to what very few teams have done against the Warriors this season: Take away Golden State’s 3-ball. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra came in with a plan, it was apparent, and it was to limit the Warriors field goal attempts from beyond the arc.

That simple.

A lot of teams want to do that against the Warriors, but few have. After all, it takes a combination of terrific coaching and a darn good roster to keep Golden State off that line, and how many teams really have that parlay in the NBA now?

But when you tick off the reasons why the Warriors beat Miami 111-103 on Monday at Oracle, “3-point shooting” is nowhere to be found. The Warriors were 7-for-23 from beyond the arc, and we don’t see those kinds of numbers usually from them.

The Warriors had taken at least 31 3-pointers in each of the previous four games and had made no fewer than 13 in any one of them. The Warriors’ season-low for 3-point attempts in a game this year (18) is the win over Cleveland on Christmas. They took 19 3-pointers in their loss at Dallas, but Stephen Curry didn’t play that game.

The Pistons, who came into Oracle and defended the Warriors as well as anyone earlier this season, held the Warriors to 21 3-pointers. So, it can be done. And I think we’d all agree that Step 1 to beating the Warriors would be to do that: stifle or slow down their usual barrage of 3s.

But what makes the Warriors the elite team they are is their ability to adjust and counter – so far, everything that’s been thrown in front of them. With the Heat hell-bent on getting out beyond that 3-point line defensively, it left the court even more open than usual and gave the Warriors big driving lanes and little resistance near the rim.

They rode that penetration and finishing at the bucket to 50 points inside the paint. They also got to the foul line 30 times – a lot for them. One big reason the Warriors are tough to beat is that not only are many of their players terrific 3-point shooters but they’re also above-average drivers. Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala all can put it on the floor if a defender runs at them.

The question that last night’s game begs, though, is this: What if center Hassan Whiteside would have played? Wouldn’t that have given the Heat a rim protector and likely meant a little less effectiveness for Golden State inside? That might have been the difference in the game.

Well, in theory, yes, and no doubt Spoelstra and the Heat have every right to cling to that idea. But as we know with the Warriors this year is they have an answer for just about everything and probably would have had one for Whiteside, too.

Chances are, the Warriors would have played smaller much more of the game, which would have created an issue for Whiteside and the Heat. Who does Whiteside guard, if Bogut is off the floor, and how is he going to prevent that player from shooting 3s? Only way that happens is if Whiteside is mobile enough to step out on the perimeter to contest that shot. But then, aren’t we right back where we started, with an uncongested lane and nobody to defend the rim?

The Heat played a heck of a game last night, hung in there and made the Warriors do work. Miami executed Priority No. 1 of its scouting report to perfection: It defended the 3. That’s a great foundation. But what we found out Monday is you’re going to have to take away the Warriors 3-ball and still have a player on the court big enough to impact the game inside defensively. Perhaps offensively, too.

That’s going to take a special team and a special player, though. Are there any of those out there?


















About Steinmetz

Matt Steinmetz is a veteran San Francisco Bay Area sports journalist. He covered the Golden State Warriors for the Bay Area News Group for more than a decade before becoming a television analyst with Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. Steinmetz can be heard on "Steiny & Guru" on 95.7-FM The Game in San Francisco, from 12-3.
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3 Responses to Miami Heat executes defensive game plan perfectly against Warriors but it’s still not enough

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  2. Steinmetz says:

    The issue isn’t about the Warriors missing open shots or making open shots. The issue is the number of 3-point attempts in total. The Warriors took 23 3-pointers against the Heat on Monday night. They had taken fewer than 23 3-pointers in a game just twice before this season. It’s about number of attempts and has nothing to do with missing shots. Plus, you could also make the case that the fewer 3-pointers a team takes the tougher they may be to hit because there are fewer of them to take. Regardless, we’re talking attempts.


  3. Lefty says:

    What I watched was a little Heat pressure…but more of Warriors just missing a lot of open 3 looks. It’s called a cold shooting night otherwise it’s blowout central.


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