Heat Check

Takeaways from Heat-Warriors (not including Whiteside): Miami defended at elite level

Golden State Warriors' Klay Thompson, center, shoots between Miami Heat guard Josh Richardson (0) and forward James Johnson (16) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Nov. 6, 2017, in Oakland, Calif. Warriors won, 97-80.
Golden State Warriors' Klay Thompson, center, shoots between Miami Heat guard Josh Richardson (0) and forward James Johnson (16) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Nov. 6, 2017, in Oakland, Calif. Warriors won, 97-80. AP

Takeaways from the Heat’s 97-80 loss at Golden State on Monday night at Oracle Arena – besides center Hassan Whiteside getting benched in the second half:

1. The Heat defended the Warriors at an elite level. Holding the league’s No. 1 offense, which came in averaging 120.7 points per game, 31.5 assists per game and shooting 52.6 percent from the field and 41.5 percent from three-point range, to a season-low in points (97), assists (20) and shooting (36.8 percent) was no small feat for Miami.

Last season, Golden State only had two games worse than that on its way to the title (including the playoffs): when it shot 35.9 percent in March 11 loss to the Spurs and 36.4 percent in a win over Philadelphia three days later.

“It’s not like we were missing a ton of wide open shots, they were contesting everything,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said afterward. “I thought [Josh] Richardson did a really good job tonight defensively on both Steph [Curry] and Kaly [Thompson] and keeping the pressure on, [Goran] Dragic as well. We didn’t have a ton of open looks. It was a slog.”

Curry finished 5-of-19 fron the field including 2-of-9 on threes and Thompson was 5-of-15 from the field including 3-of-8 from three. Of the combined 34 shots the Warriors All-Star backcourt took, 13 were contested according to the NBA’s tracking system. That’s pretty good considering how well the Warriors pass the ball around until finding an open shooter.

Where the Heat struggled defending was in transition as the Warriors scored 26 points on fastbreaks. Golden State also finished 22-of-24 from the line.

Heat Warriors Basketball(6)
Miami Heat forward James Johnson (16) and Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry, right, chase a loose ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Nov. 6, 2017, in Oakland, Calif. Ben Margot AP

“It’s hard enough to guard ‘em through all the actions and the playmaking and making extra passes, getting them off the three-point line, but when you give up so many in transition,” Spoelstra said. “We gave up some back cuts, some easy runouts to their centers, where they got behind us a few times, a few times where we ran two guys to the same guy. None of this is easy, obviously, when you’re defending all the way out to 25 feet. But those are back-breaking plays, to give up almost 30 fastbreak points. That would be a number for three games for us.”

Ultimately, the best team in the league just found a way to win and the Heat – minus Dion Waiters and a benched Whiteside – scrapped and clawed as best it could.

“We know that they’re first or second in transition points by a large margin, and we let them get off to that transition start, which got them going,” James Johnson said. “I thought we defended Curry, Klay, KD, I thought we defended them well in the half court set. But we didn’t make them play our game long enough.”

The Heat rank 17th in the league in defensive rating (103.5) and 10th in opponent field goal percentage (44.2 percent). Monday’s performance was a huge step in the right direction on all defensive fronts for the Heat, which was top five in both categories last year.

2. Turnovers once again were a problem. It’s one thing to just have an off-night shooting like the Heat did against an elite defense, shooting a season-low 36.1 percent. It’s another thing to continue to cough up the basketball like Miami has.

The Heat turned it over 23 times, which led directly to 29 points, including most of which led to the Warriors’ 26 fastbreak points. The Heat now rank 27th in the league in turnovers with 17.1 per game.

“It’s just guys trying to make the right play, man,” said James Johnson, who after turning it over a team-high six times in Sunday’s win over the Clippers trimmed his mistakes down to two against the Warriors. “We’re playing with pure hearts and sometimes you see a guy thinking he’s open and you see him the first time, that’s when you throw it. If you try to throw it to him the second look, most times it’s a turnover. But I credit a lot of our turnovers to guys playing with pure hearts, man. We’re trying to make the right play and you have to give a lot of credit to their defense.”

Said point guard Goran Dragic: “We can correct those sloppy plays when you’re not careful enough. Maybe if you see the pass is not there you don’t try to needle it, you try to make an easy pass. We have a lot of games where we had 14, 12, 8 turnovers and the last couple games we’ve had over 20 and it’s tough to win. Now if you change those seven turnovers and get seven more possessions and score half of those, it’s more points, six, eight more points.”

3. Before he was benched, Whiteside was having a terrible night offensively. So how does a team without a 7-foot rim protector stop Whiteside from dominating in the paint? With smart, physical defense. Whiteside was 1-of-9 from the field and flustered all night long. Kevin Durant blocked his shot twice.

Whiteside’s 3-point performance snapped a string of 28 conscutive games with double-digit scoring.

“They got a system,” Whiteside said. “The thing is, they trap, they trap the post and then I noticed they leave the post. They trap, they double-team, they don't really play one on one. They trap you, and then once you pick up your dribble the person that traps, he'll run back to his man.

“And they’re long. They're 6-11. Their average wing span has to be Top 5 in the NBA.”

Kerr explained what his strategy was going to be on Whiteside before Monday’s game.

“The biggest thing with Whiteside is you have stay attached to his body,” Kerr said. “You can’t help too far off where they just throw a lob to the rim and he dunks it. So, the big has to be able to stay into his body, the big who is guarding him. That means the guard on the penetrator has to get in front, which is difficult. They design a lot of their offense to try to get penetration, get [the guard] to turning the corner and then put that pressure on you where you either have to go for the guard or Whiteside’s going for the lob. It’s a team defense. It’s a team concept that you have to employ in order to keep Whiteside away from those lob dunks.”

Mission accomplished by one of the best team defenses in the league.