For years now, the Heat have paralyzed the Knicks' offense -- no matter the season and the personnel -- with fronts in the post. We've seen Miami win a whole playoff series with that as their best weapon. And it remained a problem the Knicks couldn't solve in two games against the Heat back around Thanksgiving:
The Knicks want to get the ball into the weak post (often to exploit an apparent mismatch), the Heat create a barrier between the ball and that man, and the Knicks are stumped nine times out of ten.
Let's look at that last play in particular. Kristaps Porzingis has a big height advantage over Luol Deng, so he wants the ball in the post. That'd be a good one-on-one match-up. Deng has long arms and expert timing, though, so it's tough to loop the ball over him, and even if Kristaps were to collect a lob entry, he'd be pretty far in the corner with his back to the basket and Hassan Whiteside creeping over to trap him. What a creep!
I circled Robin Lopez so you can see what he's doing, because this will be important later. He's setting a fine screen on Goran Dragic to give Jose Calderon a little space. That could have paid dividends later in a sound possession, but it does not solve the immediate problem of beating this front. Anyway, Melo doesn't throw his lob high or far enough, and Deng intercepts it.
Now look at an identical play from the fourth quarter Wednesday night:
Same deal! Melo wants to get the ball to Kristaps so he can beat a mismatch in the post. The undersized defender, Dwyane Wade, fronts to make that a difficult pass -- too little and he'll pick it off, too much and he'll trap Porzingis in a sandwich between Wade and the creepin' Whiteside.
THIS TIME, however, Robin Lopez flashes to the middle to catch a pass from a superior vantage point and quickly redirect it around the front in to Porzingis, who's in good position to draw contact and score inside.
Lopez's passing angle is way easier to execute than Melo's window to lob the ball inside.
Look, here it is again a couple minutes later to draw a foul:
The defensive strategy is simple -- and it's something we've seen from many other points. The way to beat it is also simple, but requires vision and timing -- things the Knicks are starting to develop. (And I'll add that New York's had some fine moments beating fronts on the strong side of the Triangle offense as well, by making a similar pass to the corner.)
Now! Teams will see on film how the Knicks adapted and they will adapt to defend that adaptation. And then the Knicks will have to adapt to that adaptation to their adaptation. (Look around the floor above and you can see how they could make different reads or engage the guards if the post guy gets swarmed.)
That is basketball strategy! It's nice to see the Knicks moving some pieces around on the chessboard and unraveling a competent opponent's defensive game plan.