How did the Heat buy time for LeBron and Bosh to contest Derrick Rose's shot? Credit Udonis Haslem.
MIAMI -- Udonis Haslem was flat on his back when he watched Derrick Rose’s potential game-tying floater descend toward the rim. As odd as it sounds, Haslem had no idea that Rose was the one who shot it.
“Once I went down, I didn’t even see what happened,” Haslem said.
Haslem may not have seen who shot the ball, but he did his job: stop Rose from getting to the rim. Rose ended up missing the shot and the Heat survived a close battle against the rival Bulls.
Many will remember the game because LeBron rode his bike to the arena, or that LeBron hurdled a standing NBA player, or that Rose missed two free throws, or that LeBron missed two free throws. Those are all important ingredients to a dramatic and bizarre win for the Heat, but don’t overlook the impact of Haslem’s gutsy defensive play in the final seconds.
With 9.9 seconds remaining in the game and down two points, the Bulls had possession of the ball. It was a sideline out-of-bounds play following a timeout and the Heat knew what was coming. The Bulls had already used the play many times this season, recently to beat the Hawks on a similar final possession earlier this month. The Heat did their homework before the game.
"They’ve won a lot of games with this one trigger and we wanted to make sure that we were prepared for that," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after the game.
Sunday's play was slightly different than the ones that Spoelstra and the team studied. In that instance against the Hawks, it was Joakim Noah who dished to Luol Deng from the high-post for the go-ahead layup. But on Sunday, both of those players were on the bench as Deng sat out due to injury and Noah had already fouled out.
The personnel here is important because Carlos Boozer -- who took the place of Noah -- missed a golden opportunity to hit Rip Hamilton -- who took the place of Deng -- for an easy bucket after Hamilton cut to the rim. Instead of dumping it to Hamilton, Boozer hurried a pass out to Rose at the top of the key. As you can see, no one was near Hamilton as he cut to the rim.
But the Bulls still had a chance to make a shot -- a good chance, actually, since Rose held possession of the ball at the top of the key for a pick-and-roll. The Heat struggled all game to keep Rose from penetrating through the lane throughout the game, but they were able to stop him when it mattered most.
How did they do it?
Before we get to the heady rotation from Haslem, we must first point out that Rose split the pick-and-roll coverage so sharply that it caused Bosh to slip on the floor trying to change direction. At that point, the Heat's defense looked broken and vulnerable for yet another acrobatic finish by Rose at the rim.
"Once he turns the corner," Spoelstra said, "All bets are off.”
Usually when Rose sees daylight in these situations, it's over. But not this time. Haslem met him just beneath the free throw line, allowing Bosh to recover from his fall. Haslem had been shading off of Taj Gibson, who was standing just inside the perimeter.
“That is a veteran warrior who has the awareness, the quickness and the guts to make a read like that," Spoelstra said of Haslem.
Haslem rotated to wall off the paint and impede Rose's path. But he didn't just slow down Rose; he stopped him in his tracks when he'd normally swerve around en route to the rim.
But notice who was wide open in the corner. That was Hamilton again as Wade roamed underneath the rim.
Like, wide open.
If this sounds familiar, there's a reason. Last season in Chicago, the Heat were burned in a similar late-game situation where Rose kicked it out to Deng in the corner after penetration. Wade roamed too far underneath and Deng hit the game-winner from the corner.
This time, Rose didn't kick it out to the corner shooter. Instead, he appeared to be thrown out of rhythm by Haslem's rotation.
"I saw an open lane [for Rose]," Haslem said. "It looked like he was coming down the lane and with him being a superstar, I felt like he’s going to try to make the play to try to win the game."
Interesting words from Haslem. This is where the macho, hero mentality that consumes our crunch-time conversation might actually be a disadvantage. Was Rose playing predictable basketball? Haslem banked on his intuition that Rose wanted to make the game-winning shot rather than make the game-winning pass. To be sure, Rose has made that pass before, but not on this occasion. Haslem's feeling proved to be critical, as it allowed him to sag deep in the lane and make the stop.
Wade was right behind Haslem on the play. He, too, assumed Rose was going to penetrate and try to win the game.
"We knew the ball was going to be in his hands," Wade said. "UD did a great job of stepping up, and making him change his mind on where he wanted to go."
With Hamilton waiting in the corner and the clock winding down, Rose spun around on his pivot foot after his impact with Haslem, giving both Bosh and LeBron just enough time to contest the shot.
As Haslem crashed to the floor, Rose took his shot without a whistle blown by the referees. Haslem wanted the call, but it didn't matter.
"Regardless of whether we thought it was a charge or not, it knocked him off his timing so he couldn’t get to the floater and couldn’t get to the rim," Spoelstra said.
You'll notice Shane Battier at the top of the key. He was glued to Kyle Korver on the perimeter. Battier couldn't watch the play because he had his back to the ball. But he did see the play develop in his mind before he stepped out onto the floor; Spoelstra drew it up in the preceding timeout.
As one of the top charge-takers in the game, Battier knows a thing or two about when to take a charge. With the game on the line, do defenders like Haslem ever get that charge call with only a few seconds left?
"Never," Battier said. "You have to commit an act of violence maybe involving an animal or something deviant for them to call a charge there."
So if Haslem was never going to get the call, he was wrong to take the charge, right?
"See, that’s the misnomer," Battier said. "The charge is effective because it puts doubt into the offensive player’s mind. Is the ref going to call it? No, but Rose stuttered and any doubt you create is a win for the defense."
Of course, Rose's shot attempt didn't go in, thanks to the preparation of Spoelstra, the heads-up play from Haslem and of course, some luck. Rose had hit a bunch of those shots earlier in the game, but missed it when he needed it most.
"It’s a great shot," LeBron said of Rose's floater. "He just came up short."