MIAMI, FL. -- 52-28.
To understand exactly how the Miami Heat desecrated the Brooklyn Nets in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, you have to understand these two numbers. 52 was the number of points the Heat scored in the paint Tuesday night, on 40 attempts. 28 was the number of Nets paint points, on 28 attempts.
Not much separated these teams. They ended the game with roughly the same number of personal fouls, three-pointers, rebounds, and turnovers. Neither team created much in transition.
But the Nets gave away the most prized real estate in basketball, at the same time the Heat made them pay dearly to even approach it, and it's what decided the game.
"Layups, layups, layups," Deron Williams sighed after the game, channeling the Brady Bunch. "When you give up 52 points in the paint, it's hard to overcome."
The Nets run a similar defense to the Heat, and most successful teams in the league: they want to load the paint with defenders, close out quickly on shooters, and keep teams from touching the paint as much as possible. Except in Game 1, they did none of that, no matter who was in the game: not only did the Heat score 52 points out of the paint, they were able to create looks for teammates by just the threat of getting inside.
"They made us pay for (mistakes)," a despondent Garnett in the locker room following the loss. "Back cuts, cutting to the basket, being very aggressive. We need to tear a page out of that book and be just as aggressive next game."
A nasally Williams, the only Nets player to appear at the podium, agreed with Garnett's assessment. "Our defensive gameplan wasn't executed at all," Williams said. "I got beat on a couple back-door cuts."
The Heat also used their ability to get into the paint to create open looks on the perimeter. They ended the game with 22 assists, twice as many as the Nets, and 11 of their first 17 assists came as a result of the ball touching the paint or on shots in the paint.
When it touched the paint, the Heat were able to get plenty easy looks. On this first look, James gets into the paint with no resistance and plenty of space, and with the Nets James-watching, finds Shane Battier for an open corner three:
"It wasn’t anything as far as one-on-ones. Our defensive schemes, they weren’t sharp." - Shaun Livingston
Or by swarming the paint, the Heat were able to beat the Nets defense to their spots, forcing them to react quickly to the Heat's quicker players:
"Everybody has to pack the paint, and then build out. If they beat us shooting jump shots, then they beat us shooting jumpshots. But we can't give up layups." - Joe Johnson
The Nets tried to dive head-first into the paint and got rebuffed, time and time again, by Miami's elite strong-side defense. "They're a great strong-side defense, when you have the ball on the strong side they gonna sent two three guys, make you skip the ball," Pierce said matter-of-factly Tuesday night. "We didn't really skip the ball tonight to get it to the weak side so we could drive."
Nets head coach Jason Kidd has talked all season about getting his team touches in the paint. In those clips above, you can see why those are so valuable: when the ball gets in the paint the defense locks in, resulting in either a quick layup or dunk or an open shot elsewhere. But the Nets went stretches barely touching the paint, and took more shots from mid-range than they did inside the restricted area. Too many possessions looked something like this:
"We were in a rut. We really wasn't executing and running our plays to the fullest, man. Just taking quick shots. We lived on the jumpshot tonight, and that's not us." - Joe Johnson
"I like what we did on defense," Heat center Chris Bosh, who finished the game with 15 points and 11 rebounds, said. "They had to work for every shot."
Some of these things aren't fixable. James and Wade are terrors attacking the rim, and the Heat have an athletic, buzzing defense that'll close off gaps as quickly as anyone. The Heat played about as good a basketball game as you can on both ends.
But Brooklyn's lack of aggression was evident: the Nets starters combined to finish the game with just two free throw attempts, both from Shaun Livingston, their fourth option. They didn't make Miami's defense work, shooting just 12 of their 70 attempts in the restricted area and 18 from outside the paint and within the three-point line. They didn't make Miami's offense work, missing their assignments when packing the paint.
- The underreaction: this was a game the Nets gave up in the third quarter to rest their starters and come out stronger for Game 2. The overreaction: their series is over and they probably won't win a game. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.
- Some will point to Kidd sitting his starters in the fourth quarter only down 13 and refusing to bring them in for most of the game, a strategy Kidd played to see if his bench could get the game into single digits. "I wanted to give those guys, the starters, a break," Kidd said at the podium. "Give them some rest. When we went with that group, I thought that group could make some shots, but also get some stops and get it to where it’s under 10, and then go from there. But it never happened." A defensible strategy, even if it angered the world.
- This was the first scoreless playoff game of Kevin Garnett's career in 123 career playoff games.
- The Miami Heat crowd isn't like the Toronto Raptors crowd, but they're similar to Barclays Center: if you give them something to cheer, they'll grab on to it and push it to the limit. If the team takes them out of the game, they're not going to rally.
- I can't stress how weird it was to watch Andrei Kirilenko try to take LeBron James off the dribble. It was like when they both touched the ball at the same time they commenced a body-switch.
- Deron Williams hit two improbable shots, 28-foot heaves to end the second and third quarter, to buoy his numbers. Without those shots his night's looking a lot worse.
- LeBron James is incredible at basketball. There was one point in the game when he caught a loose ball with one hand standing at the very edge of the baseline, somehow flung a bounce pass into the paint, and hit Chris Bosh for an open layup. Bosh missed it, so we might forget the pass. But it's worth remembering.