The Three is the Key for the Knicks to Beat Miami

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Though their first 55 games played, the Knicks have attempted more threes per game than any team in basketball. They’re quite good at it as well, checking in with the league’s 5th best three point percentage at 37.1% per the NBA.com stats database. While old traditionalists of the game shoot down the offensive philosophy of hoisting up three after three after three as a gimmick, the Knicks have embraced it and have been successful doing so, running the league’s third most efficient offense.

Coming into this season, and the last two before that, the goal has been simple for the Knicks: Beat the Heat. Since Miami’s ‘Big Three’ came together in the summer of 2010, the Heat have had a target on their back. The entire Eastern Conference has been unsuccessful in hitting that target, as Miami has made it to the finals in both years that the James/Wade/Bosh trio has been together. Only the 2010 Dallas Mavericks have been successful in defeating Miami in a playoff series. New York had an opportunity last season, but were beaten soundly in five games.

The construct of this Knick team parallels much of that 2010 Dallas squad. They’ve got Tyson Chandler anchoring the middle of the defense, an unstoppable offensive force at power forward and they shoot a ton of threes. Currently the Knicks look far from a championship caliber team, having gone 17-15 after starting 18-5, but there are similarities between them and that Dallas team.

In the first two Knicks-Heat match-ups, New York was able to defeat Miami behind incredibly hot three point shooting. They hit 52% (19-36) of their threes in the first matchup and and 40.9% (18-44) in the second. Shooting a ton of threes, and more importantly making a ton of threes seems to be the forumla behind offensive success against the Heat. Granted, this could be said about playing offense against any defense on any given night. However, Miami isn’t just any other defense. When locked in, the Heat are one of the most disruptive defenses in the league. Having ridiculous speed and athleticism along the perimeter allows Miami to attack opposing ball handlers. In the pick and roll, the Heat love to put a hard trap on the ball handler, trusting that their rotations will do what they need to do on the back end. By simple arithmetic, trapping the ball handler with two defenders means that an offensive perimeter player is going to be unguarded. Miami’s perimeter defenders are incredibly athletic and they rotate to the open offensive players much faster than most, if not all other defenses in basketball. The offense must be decisive and quick in swinging the ball along the perimeter, much like the Knicks were in games one and two earlier this year.

Take this play for example:

Miami traps the Knicks not once, but twice. They trap Felton in the pick and roll before then trapping Chandler. Chandler does a good job of kicking the ball back out to Felton who then swings it to Kidd. Here is where we see where the Knicks can hurt Miami. Because the ball was decisively and quickly kicked back out from Chandler and swung around the perimeter, Miami cannot completely recover on defense.

Rotation

LeBron is put in a position to have to make a decision. Either he closes out hard on Kidd, forcing him to continue swinging the ball, or runs to Brewer giving Kidd the shot. LeBron hesitates, not really doing either, allowing Kidd to take and hit the three.

Here’s another play where the Knicks beat a trap by hitting a three. Using Carmelo Anthony as a roll man (!), the Knicks are able to free up Steve Novak in the corner. When Felton gets trapped, Anthony rolls towards the hoop. This brings Novak’s defender, Dwyane Wade, down to pick up Anthony. Felton gets enough space to swing the ball to Novak in the corner and he hits the three.

About halfway through the second game, Miami started switching on their pick and roll defense.

As a result of all the switching, Felton had a career game. I would be highly surprised to see the Heat employ this strategy today.

A lot has changed since the Knicks beat Miami 112-92 on December 12th. The Knicks have cooled off drastically while Miami has won 13 games in a row. What hasn’t changed is that New York’s ticket to victory against the Heat is to shoot, and make, the three ball. Hard trapping and rabid attacking defense by the Heat opens up opportunities on the perimeter for the offense to hit threes. Over the last 10 games, the Knicks have actually been quite cold shooting the ball, hitting just 31% of their 3 point attempts. Today, and in any future meetings, they’ll have to re-find that early season shooting form if they want to beat the Heat.

Follow Taylor on Twitter @tarmosino