The Miami Heat have been criticized many times this season for seemingly turning on and off their intensity and believing that it will be there when they need it.
Well, it certainly was there for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, when they closed out the Indiana Pacers Friday night with a 117-92 thrashing.
Most significantly, that intensity was there on the defensive side of the floor. For as good as Miami has been during its run of three straight trips to the Finals (now four, of course) and back-to-back NBA titles, much of the credit is heaped upon their wealth of riches on the offensive end with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
But people forget about what they do to opposing teams with their defense.
In 2010-11, the first year the James-Wade-Bosh trio was together in Miami, the Heat were fifth in the NBA during the regular season with a defensive rating of 100.7 points per 100 possessions, a figure bested only by the Chicago Bulls, Boston Celtics, Orlando Magic and Milwaukee Bucks.
In the 2011 Playoffs, which culminated with a six-game loss at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals, Miami’s D-rating was 100.3, only slightly better than their regular season mark. Their offensive rating, on the other hand, fell from 109.3 (third in the NBA behind the Denver Nuggets and San Antonio Spurs) to 104.0.
The Heat got even better defensively in 2011-12, finishing fourth in the league with a 97.1 rating that trailed only the Bulls, Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers. Their offensive rating tailed off to 105.3 (sixth in the NBA).
When the postseason rolled around, the Heat got better on offense, with a rating of 106.9 and while their defensive rating swelled to 98.5, their 8.4 net rating was the best in the playoffs and Miami dispatched Oklahoma City in the Finals in five games.
Last year, the Heat showed some signs of defensive indifference (to borrow a baseball term). Their defensive rating was 100.5 and they fell out of the top five in the league down to seventh. Offensively, however, they improved to a 110.3 rating, best in the NBA.
In the playoffs, Miami’s defensive rating was 99.8 to go with an offensive mark of 107.7 and they won back-to-back potential elimination games at home to steal the title from San Antonio in seven games.
The Heat’s defensive erosion continued in 2013-14, with a rating of 102.9 that just did get Miami into the top 10. They tied for the second-best offensive rating at 109.0, trailing only the Los Angeles Clippers and matching what Dallas did.
In the playoffs so far, Miami has also been somewhat indifferent defensively as a whole, with a 105.3 defensive rating coupled with a 113.7 offensive rating (the highest by any team in the postseason).
Against the Charlotte Bobcats in a four-game sweep in the first round, the Heat posted a D-rating of 99.6, but against the Brooklyn Nets in the conference semifinals, that shot up to 108.2.
Meanwhile, for all the criticism the Indiana offense was getting during the conference finals, the Pacers were scoring at a 110.5 points per 100 possessions clip through the first five games of the series.
But then Game 6 came along.
The Pacers’ effective field goal percentage of 53.6 was actually better than their 52.2 mark from the first five games. But after posting an offensive rebounding percentage of 28.6 in the first five games, Miami did the work on the boards, holding Indiana to just four offensive rebounds (a 12.1 percentage) and actually outrebounding the bigger Pacers 37-28 overall.
What did Miami do to the Pacers in Game 6? They made quick decisions on rotations, anticipated as often as they were forced to react.
That anticipation allowed the Heat to be in the right position to contest shots and, most importantly, clean the defensive glass.
Shane Battier said after Game 6 that there were a few concerns over whether or not the Heat could flip that switch.
“There’s always doubt, because defense is about habits and we made very poor habits for a long time,” Battier said. “But we seemed to scuttle those in this series.”