Five things to watch in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals on Saturday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN):
• Miami’s offense: In the flow?
The Heat had a possession early in Game 6 where they operated the way they’ll have to play more often to win Game 7 and ultimately have a realistic chance to beat the Thunder in the NBA Finals. It started with Chris Bosh holding the ball at the left elbow as LeBron James cut from the right corner, darted around two screeners and caught the ball near the foul line. LeBron’s man, Paul Pierce, had somehow fought through both screens, and so the Heat went into their next option: Bosh ran to the left corner and screened for Dwyane Wade, who came sprinting around the pick to catch a pass from James.
Boston passed that test, too, as Ray Allen managed to stick with Wade. So Miami moved on to option No. 3: a quick-hitting Wade/James pick-and-roll, which finally broke the defense. Allen had to switch onto James, who used his huge size advantage to post up the Boston guard and score.
Miami’s half-court offense has too often lacked that commitment to steps two, three and four in the conference finals. That was even the case for the most part in James’ epic explosion Thursday in Boston. Wade’s shot selection, in particular, has been awful, as he has too often settled for pull-up jumpers in transition and when coming off that first screen in the corner. Wade is 11-of-40 on mid-range shots in the series. The Heat have taken nearly 28 percent of their shot attempts from three-point range, up from 19 percent in the regular season, according to NBA.com’s stats tool. And as others have noted, an unsustainable percentage of James’ season-saving 45 points in Game 6 came on contested mid-range shots, some out of ho-hum isolation plays that Boston will happily give him almost every night.
The Heat will have to do better, whether it’s Saturday or in the Finals. The James/Wade pick-and-roll has been more effective and prolific in this series than at any time over the last two seasons, forcing Boston into repeated compromising switches. As for the threes, there are good threes and bad ones, and the Heat would be wise to limit their tries to those attempted by role players (Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier, Mike Miller) who find themselves open as Boston’s defense tilts toward the Miami stars. (Note: It’s a cliché to say each team needs its role players, but each team needs its role players.)