Just three days ago, there were about 500 words dedicated to the team defense for the Atlanta Hawks, and how they had the impressive feat of being the only team in the NBA to hold each and every opponent under 50% shooting… then Monday night against the Miami Heat happened.
In the 101-92 loss in Miami, the Heat shot 58% from the field on the night, shattering the previous high of 48.6% which, not so coincidentally, was against Miami in their previous meeting on November 9th. After a season full of effective field goal defense, my first reaction was to write this performance off as a fluke, but when taking a look at the more advanced/detailed numbers, a few things jump off of the page. First, Miami was only able to take 17 shots at the rim, but they also converted 16 of them for an absurd 94% clip. This isn’t a drastic number of shots to allow at the rim, but the troubling story is the lack of contesting and/or shot-altering from the Hawks’ front-line on this night. Secondly, Miami was able to convert 10 of 19 shots from 10-23 feet on the night. This is, statistically, the worst section of the floor to shoot from and teams routinely shoot in the 30-40% range from this distance, so a 52.6% showing here really undid the Hawks team defense. Last but not least, Miami converted 9 of their 21 three-point attempts on the night for a 42.8% output and an effective field goal percentage of 64.3% on those shots. This is also unacceptable, but because 42% isn’t out of the normal range for a team with shooters like Miami, it wasn’t the biggest culprit.
There are a lot of statistics in the previous paragraph, but they are all leading to this. Effective field goal percentage is a statistical measure that weighs 3-pointers differently than 2-pointers when calculating overall field goal percentage. This makes complete sense because 3-point attempts are worth 50% more than normal field goals, so the eFG% represents a much more accurate feel of a team’s overall offensive efficiency with regard to shooting. That said, the highest eFG% that Atlanta had allowed this season (before Monday night) was 54.1% against Cleveland on November 30th. On Monday night, Miami’s effective field goal percentage was 64.9%. That’s not a misprint, and the fact that Atlanta only lost the game by 9 points on the road is a testament to their own ability to score points due to an uptick in offensive rebounding and a quality free throw shooting night at 19-20.
After all of that, I do want to say this. Miami is probably the best offensive team in all of the NBA. They are currently 3rd in the league in offensive efficiency, but at this point, we can assume the defending champs present a unique challenge to opposing defenses that no one else can match on a nightly basis. Dwyane Wade and Lebron James combined to shoot 21-29 from the field including 2-3 on threes, and that in itself (based on volume) accounts for a significant amount of the overall damage. I didn’t think that Atlanta’s team defense was woeful by any stretch last night, but it does remind us that this team wasn’t supposed to be a defensive juggernaut, and that any lapse in concentration and/or effort can lead to disastrous results, even against lesser teams than Miami. This game is simply one of 82, and because it occurred on December 10th, it will soon be forgotten, but the hope remains that these defensive numbers were simply an aberration.