How Dwyane Wade got loose in Game 5

How good was Dwyane Wade in Game 5? Beckley Mason of HoopSpeak lays it out:

Last night Wade needed only 19 shots to score 34 points. That total could have been closer to 40 if Wade hadn’t missed seven free throws, but what was more telling than the amount of points he scored was that he managed to shoot 15 free throws and attempted 14 field goals within 15 feet of the hoop.

The Celtics defense hardly ever gets punctured for so many points in the paint, so how did Wade do so much damage? Certainly he had his share of individual heroics, but the Heat also did a fantastic job as a team of creating opportunities for Flash to exploit his marked advantage in foot speed.

Mason classifies Wade's tactical exploits into three general areas:

  • Curl Cuts

  • Ball Screens

  • Freaky Stuff

I'm grateful Mason formalized the third category because it's been sorely missing from the basketball nomenclature. Those of us who like to break down possessions can't always find a handy category for what NBA players do. Often, it's not a pick-and-roll or a flare screen or a single-double. Sometimes it's just freaky stuff.

Go watch the three videos Mason has assembled over at HoopSpeak, but pay special attention to the first ("Curl Cuts"), which might be the most important. Ball screens are staples of any offense and if the Heat play Chicago in the Eastern Conference finals, they're going to confront a team that defends the pick-and-roll as well as anyone.

Freaky stuff tends to be improvisational, the kind of magic Wade and LeBron James produced on Wednesday night -- and it usually defies rational basketball thought.

But those curl cuts in the first video demand a combination of timing, patience and precision from the Heat:

After spending most of his career as the Heat’s de facto point guard, Wade has developed into the perhaps the most devastating cutter in the league.

In this series, the Heat took advantage of Boston’s propensity to overload the strong-side of the court with defenders by stashing Wade in a corner, then unleashing him into space by setting simple curl screen. Long, fast strides and broad shoulders give Wade a distinct advantage on these actions, but he and the Heat have also improved the timing and execution of these cuts.

Watch the first possession on the clip. It's a play the Heat call "Elbow Double." The point guard passes the ball to a big man at the elbow (usually Chris Bosh), then cuts to the opposite corner to set a screen that frees up Wade. When Wade comes off that screen, he gets a second screen from the other big man at the other elbow (hence "double"), as he curls back up top to catch a pass from Bosh on the move.

The second possession features another variation of the elbow set, with Wade set up on the strong side this time. The action is similar: The ball goes into Bosh at the elbow, then Bosh hits Wade curling from the corner.

As an aside: Know how Erik Spoelstra often says that the Heat run their offense through Bosh? Or that Bosh facilitates the offense? This is precisely what he's talking about.

The Heat run several variations of this basic play call -- sometimes for James and sometimes for Bosh. In the first half of Game 5, we saw Bosh attack off the dribble without much hesitation when he was fed at the elbow.

Why do the Heat rely on these sets so much? Because they put Wade and James on the move without the ball, which is a terror for defenses.