The last time Miami played on the road, the defense was in disarray.
The Heat gave up 121 points in an ugly loss to the Hawks on Jan. 20. That performance came on the heels of a 114-97 loss to Washington the week before when Miami allowed 43 points in the first quarter.
“We know what championship-level defense looks like, and the way we were playing was anything but that,” coach Erik Spoelstra said about that stretch before Wednesday’s game. “We’re trying to get that [championship-level defense] back.”
On Wednesday night, the untrained eye would have said Miami’s bad defensive habits returned. They were late on rotations and allowed the Thunder some wide-open looks. The 112 points Oklahoma City posted were reminiscent of the problems in Atlanta and Washington.
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Although it looked like a step back for the Heat defensively, Spoelstra said Thursday there were worse issues with Miami on Wednesday than the defense.
“There were a lot of dominoes falling [Wednesday night],” Spoelstra said. “Our offense started the domino effect, and then from there we lost a real tough commitment to the defensive side of the floor.”
Miami’s 21 turnovers were the obvious culprit because they led to 25 points for Oklahoma City. However, the Thunder did most of its damage in transition with 20 fastbreak points in the victory.
The Thunder was able to get behind the Heat’s transition defense in addition to the normal odd-man breaks, which got its shooters into a rhythm. Kevin Durant got into his groove by taking advantage of the easy shots, which proved problematic for Miami late in the game when Durant started hitting shots over defenders.
“What we didn’t do as a team is keep Durant out of transition, and that allowed him to go off,” Heat forward Shane Battier said. “We did a pretty good job on him in the first quarter. He was taking tough shots, and nothing came easy for him.
“[We] turned the ball over, he got in transition, he got a couple to get his rhythm going and that’s when scorers are dangerous.”
When Miami forced Oklahoma City to play in the half-court, the defense was not as bad as the scoreboard suggests. The Thunder made 16 three-pointers and numerous other long jumpers, many with a hand in the shooter’s face.
Battier said there are still areas the Heat needs to correct defensively, most notably rebounding, but Miami did force four shot-clock violations in the game. He said the defense forced a lot of long jump shots, normally a good thing, but Wednesday the Thunder was on point.
“Generally, you live with long twos and you live with dribble jumpers because the numbers, over time, usually win out,” Battier said. “When they hit them, everybody says, ‘Oh, he was torching us,’ when [forcing long jumpers is] the best-case scenario for the defense, and sometimes they make shots.”
Heat guard Dwyane Wade said before Wednesday’s game that Miami goes through a period of every season when it gets away from its identity as a great defensive team. Wednesday may not have been the best defensive effort of the season, but it wasn’t as bad as the box score shows.
“We have to continue to work our habits and be consistent if we’re going to be the team that we’ve become,” Wade said. “We’ve had these kinds of moments throughout every year and the good thing is we’ve been able to get back into our identity.”
Bosh is All-Star
Heat center Chris Bosh was named a reserve in next month’s All-Star Game by the coaches Thursday night.
It is the ninth time he has been named an All-Star and the sixth time as a reserve. He will be joined in New Orleans by teammates LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, who were voted in by the fans as starters last week.
“He has the respect of the league, the coaches and the players,” Spoelstra said of Bosh. “People see him as a champion, willing to do whatever it takes if that means sacrificing opportunities [and] shots but still have an impact on winning. It’s great that he’s acknowledged for that.”