On Friday night, the Miami Heat buried the Indiana Pacers under a barrage of 3-pointers, taking Game 6 by 25 points and advancing to the NBA Finals for the fourth consecutive season. The Heat were 11 of 26 from behind the 3-point arc (the third game in this series that their 3-point makes hit double-digits). Outside shooting is a central pillar of Miami’s offense, but the degree to which it used these shots to beat the Pacers was surprising.
The Pacers had one of the stingiest defenses in the NBA during the regular season, and defending the 3-point line was one of their biggest strengths: the Pacers both discouraged 3-point attempts and held down their opponents’ 3-point accuracy. The Heat, meanwhile, were one of the most frequent and accurate 3-point shooting teams during the regular season.
With a great defense matching up against a great offense, competing strengths dancing around a specific facet of the game, we would expect the results to fall somewhere in the middle.
Not so much. In the Eastern Conference finals, the 3-point battle was won, emphatically, by the Heat’s offense.
The Pacers didn’t limit the Heat’s 3-point attempts. The Heat took more. And those 3-point shots weren’t forced. They came within the framework of Miami’s offense; the Heat even pushed their accuracy past their own regular-season mark.
The Heat’s 3-point shooting from the corners was particularly important. Other than a shot at the basket, no other location, on average, yields a higher expected value than a corner 3-pointer. Against the Pacers, the Heat took nearly twice as many of these shots as the Pacers’ defense allowed during the regular season.
This 3-point bombardment came from just about everywhere. Six different Heat players made six or more 3-pointers in the series, and six different players made at least one corner 3-pointer. Six different Heat players assisted on a 3-pointer. In short, the load was shared in making and facilitating these shots.
In their half-court offense, the Heat almost always have their eye on an open 3-point look. The Heat’s opponent in the NBA Finals is still to be determined. Both the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder present stout defenses. But the Thunder were roughly middle of the pack in the regular season in limiting 3-point attempts and makes. The Spurs, on the other hand, were among the league’s best — similar to the Pacers. Of course, the Heat have just shown they can get the shots they want against an elite defense keyed toward stopping them.
Correction (May 31, 8:00 p.m.): A previous version of this post incorrectly counted the number of Heat players to make seven or more 3-pointers and at least one corner 3-pointer in the Eastern Conference finals.