Down 1-0 in its second-round series to the Bulls, the Heat said its offensive game plan for Wednesday night is pretty simple: Make more three-pointers.
Heat reserve Shane Battier said he was surprised at the wide-open looks he received in Game 1, considering the Bulls were one of the league’s best teams this season at not allowing uncontested three-pointers. If the Bulls are going to concede the three-point arc in favor of protecting the paint against LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, then the Heat’s shooters say they will gladly take aim at exploiting the strategy.
“It’s shocking because they allowed the fewest number of threes in the league by a wide margin, and so I wasn’t expecting those looks,” said Battier, who went 2 of 7 from three-point range. “If I’m going to get those looks now, I might try to set a second-round, three-point attempt record. Those looks that we had [Monday night] were not there in the regular season. Not even close.”
The Heat attempted an average of 17.6 three-pointers in its first three regular-season games against the Bulls. On Monday, Miami attempted 24 and made seven.
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Effects of the Heat’s long break between the first and second rounds have been mostly overstated, but the week off did seem to trouble Miami’s three-point shooters, who thrived during the first round and throughout the regular season. The Heat’s primary three-point shooters — Battier, Ray Allen, Mike Miller and Mario Chalmers — combined to go 4 of 17 from three-point range in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Overall, Miami shot 29.2 percent from long distance in its 93-86 loss.
In the first quarter of Game 1, James seemed to recognize immediately that the Bulls were playing off the Heat’s three-point shooters. As he always does, James found his open teammates, but they weren’t able to convert. The Heat was 1 of 7 from three-point range in the first quarter, with Battier going 1 of 5 from distance. As a result, the Heat scored just 15 points in the first period.
Undeterred, James said he plans on going back to his shooters early in Game 2 if they’re open. The Heat led the league in three-pointers from the corners this season (719) but started the game 0 of 5 from the corners in Game 1. Miami finished 3 of 8 on those shots.
“Oh, we’re going to take them,” James said. “That’s what we’ve done all year. That’s why we’ve won as many games as we’ve won; that’s why we won the series in Milwaukee.”
Actually, that’s not exactly why the Heat swept the Bucks. The Heat shot 39.6 percent from three-point range in the regular season (second only to Golden State) while attempting the sixth-most three-pointers in the league (1,809). In the first round against the Bucks, the Heat’s numbers dipped dramatically. Miami had a three-point shooting percentage of 32.2, making an average of seven three-pointers per game.
The Heat’s dip in three-point efficiency in its first-round series might be a reason the Bulls, limited by injuries, decided to focus their defensive efforts inside. Chicago outscored Miami 40-32 in the paint.
But never mind the downward trend. The three-pointers are bound to start falling, said the Heat. After Tuesday’s practice, James counted off the number of wide-open shots his teammates attempted in Game 1.
“If we get those looks, our shooters are going to shoot them,” James said. “Six out of seven of Shane’s threes were wide open, and three out of four of Mike Miller’s threes were wide open, so we want our shooters to shoot, and we will continue to shoot because we will continue to find them.
“We’ve got the utmost confidence in them. That’s why we led the league in field-goal percentage, and we were up there in three-point percentage, because those guys were knocking them down.”