The Miami Heat should be in the midst of a week-long rest before the start of the second round against the Indiana Pacers (barring a miracle). Yet here we are a day before Game 5 against the New York Knicks, and I’m still here shaking my head wondering how this series is still ongoing. The fact is there is an elephant in the room that no one on the Heat coaching staff wants to talk about, and it already cost the Heat a chance of sweeping their bitter rivals and extending the Knicks’ NBA-record playoff losing streak. In this particular matchup, Shane Battier has no business guarding Carmelo Anthony, and it is Spoelstra’s job to recognize that.
Now, there are plenty of things people could point at about Sunday’s Game 4 loss that could paint a picture as to how the Heat choked the game away. Between their porous three-point shooting (3-19 3-pt FGs), Dwyane’s difficulty at the line as he struggled to a 4-11 FT day (45!!!), and another disappearance of the Miami bench (9 points). However, here’s the line that I’m looking at:
Carmelo Anthony: 41 PTS, 15-29 FG, 10-14 FT, 6 Reb, 4 Ast, 1 TO
If Melo is taking 30 shots against you and making better than 50% of them, you’re going to be in a dog fight. If you let him get to the line 14 times on top of that, you’re most likely going to lose. If you let him do all that while he only turns the ball over ONE TIME, you’re fucked. That’s exactly what happened Sunday. The task of guarding Anthony fell to Battier for most of the game, and poor Battier never stood a chance. The troubling thing about this is that we already knew this before Game 4.
Via Brian Windhorst, who’s article here goes deeper into some of Spoelstra’s decision-making woes dating back to last year’s Finals, Carmelo ENTERED Game 4 already shooting 14-26 FG (54 percent) while being covered by Battier. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Heat coaching staff had this information going into the game. Yet they made the mind boggling decision of leaving Battier on Carmelo 1-on-1 for the majority of the game and during the pivotal stretch run.
During the final minutes of the 4th quarter, Battier was being left alone with Anthony while LeBron, possibly the best perimeter defender of this generation, was left guarding Tyson Chandler in the post. This is unexplainable because during the last 5 games between these teams that was competitive in the 4th quarter (3 regular season and 2 playoff games), LeBron covered Melo every time down the stretch. Why change something that isn’t broken? Why change for the sake of changing when the last 5 times it resulted in success and a win?
This would make more sense if Chandler had a strong post game with which he can create for himself, however Chandler does most of his offensive work on the glass getting put backs and taking advantage of poor defensive rotations with easy dunks. These things can be prevented with strong off-the-ball defense and proper positioning to keep Tyson outside of where he is comfortable. These things can be done by people on the roster not named LeBron (Haslem, Bosh, even Battier himself).
What’s interesting is I COULD have written all of this without looking anything up because it doesn’t pass the “eye test”. All series long, if you’ve been paying close enough attention, you have noticed that Battier just cannot stay with Anthony at this point in his career. Melo knows he can drive by Battier if he starts far enough from the basket, and Shane is such a smart player that he knows this as well. This is where the problem lies, as Battier, out of respect for Melo’s rare blend of athleticism and strength, is forced to bite on Anthony’s jab dribbles out of fear of him blowing by Battier. This causes Battier to back up and play on his heels as he tries to guard one of the league’s best shooters. This recipe leads to Anthony getting looks with more space, which he has taken advantage of. If Battier tries to play him closer to get a hand in Anthony’s face, then he risks getting blown by.
The best way to summarize the Carmelo-Battier matchup is as follows: You have an elite scorer in his prime being guarded by an elite defender out of his prime. The fix here is straight forward. Use the hulking defensive stopper known as LeBron James.