The Heat-Sixers Chess Match

The NBA Playoffs are a coaching chess match after each game teams are going back to their lab dissecting the game film like it is the Zapruder film, devouring every possible statistic to figure out what worked, what didn’t and what can they do to gain an edge. Game one went to the Philadelphia 76ers when Brett Brown changed his lineup to start the second half, Spoelstra has answered by taking game two with a new defensive game plan.

The very first adjustment the Heat made was how they defended Ben Simmons who had a jaw-dropping playoff debut in the game with 17 points, 14 assists, and 9 rebounds. Reviewing the game one film, Simmons got wherever he wanted on the court during the game without much resistance. The Rookie was introduced to playoff basketball in game two, the Heat was much more physical with him, in particular, Justise Winslow.

Space is something Simmons had grown accustomed to as teams would back off him since he lacks a jumper, but that was not the case when Winslow was all over him. It wasn’t just smothering Simmons that was the adjustment but picking him up full court put more pressure not just on Simmons to get the ball but forced other players who aren’t accustomed to bringing the ball up in an uncomfortable position. Winslow hounded him, drew a charge and just made sure Simmons felt him every chance he got.

The other adjustment was their relentless pursuit of the Sixers shooters, in particular, JJ Redick who led all scorers in game one with 28 points and was 4-6 from three. Josh Richardson did a great job of chasing Redick all game but in particular on this play just follow the spotlight as he runs through screens and handoffs to stay with Redick and gets a block.

The Heat also turned Simmons into a scorer, the thought being if he’s their leading scorer then their shooters are not getting shots, in game one his 14 assists led to 36 points but in game two that number dropped to 23. Lanes magically open up for Simmons that wouldn’t normally, like in transition when Goran Dragic would normally stop the ball as he is the first line of defense, just stands for a second and then sprints to Redick at the three-point line leaving Simmons a wide open lane for a layup. It is better to give up a two than a three and passing lanes were not as open as they were in game one.

There were defensive lapses, as when James Johnson didn’t pressure Simmons and just gave him too much space that allowed Simmons to get downhill and run him off a brush screen set by Marco Belinelli. This is the exact opposite of what it was like when Winslow was on him.

The Sixers did take advantage of the full court pressure on an After Timeout Play (ATO) when they basically had Simmons run a post route off a Robert Covington screen and a beautiful bomb from Dario Saric that would have Nick Foles jealous.

It was a great play call but the Sixers will have to find ways to get the defensive pressure off of Simmons. Now it is Brett Brown and his staff’s turn to make adjustments, they have to find ways to relieve the full court pressure the Heat plan on bring on Simmons, have to reopen those passing lanes with more cutting and put him in a position to make those plays, and they have to work tirelessly to get Redick open. Of course, a lot of things will change when Joel Embiid but it is unclear when that may be and that cannot be what they hang their hat on.

The chess match between Erik Spoelstra and Brett Brown has begun, Brown made the first move, Spoelstra countered, and now it is Brown’s move.

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