Upon watching the clip above, many put sole responsibility and blame on Kyle Lowry for allowing Dragic to get an open corner three. While Lowry’s Game 1 performance was sub-par across the board, he should not be taken to task for this crucial three pointer. This is a team breakdown.
The play starts with Dwyane Wade being guarded by Cory Joseph above the arc. Wade seems to have a clear strength advantage in this matchup but is able to leverage his quickness to force Joseph below the arc, which will become crucial.
The reason this is so important is because this leaves less room for Joseph to maneuver under screens if the Heat go that route. Wade, along with Miami’s other offensive threats, tend to thrive in tight quarters by utilizing herky-jerky dribbling to work their way to the rim.
Although this is true, nothing is fundamentally wrong with the play defensively, but that will change quickly.
Wade uses a crossover dribble to transfer the ball into his right hand, at which point Joseph over reacts and turns his hips to be parallel with Wade instead of perpendicular. If Joseph kept his initial positioning, he would be able to deny Wade use of the upcoming Whiteside screen and keep Wade outside of the middle of the floor. This is known as “ICE Defense” (which I explained extensively here.)
Here’s a brief clip to show what Joseph should have done:
By transferring his hips and shoulders to square up with Wade, Joseph now must defend around the screen.
Unfortunately for Joseph and the Raptors, he is unable to slide under the screen as he is out of regular position and is caught off guard, as well as being shoved near the free throw line which makes the task of going under a screen more difficult. As a result of this, Joseph is forced to trail on Wade’s hips and has allowed his assignment the deadliest area of the floor – the middle.
Valanciunas, the screener’s defender, is now forced to step up towards Wade to impede his progress to the rim and stop a layup. This triggers a domino effect defensively.
As seen above, Lowry now leaves Dragic in the corner to “bump” the roll man in Whiteside. He does this because without his help, Whiteside would have a free lane to the rim which could easily end in a alley-oop pass. To combat this, most teams send weak side help to disrupt the path to the rim for the big man – in this case Whiteside – which forces Lowry to pick-his-poison.
Wade, being the cold-blooded ball handler that he is, hangs in the air to bide his time while the defensive decisions unfold. Any half-step difference in the defense could have lead to him leaning in for a floater or tossing the ball up for a lob. In this case, Wade’s awareness allows him to find Dragic for a killer corner three.
Hopefully, this clears up the events that unfolded on this crucial defensive possession. Joseph very rarely makes defensive errors as devastating as this, but by not denying Wade the middle of the floor, and subsequently not going under the ball screen, he put Lowry in a no-win defensive situation.
Of course, none of this matters because the Heat collapsed, the Raptors made an unfathomable half court buzzer beater, which was then followed by a Raptor collapse. Sometimes things just happen.