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Miami Heat have one recurring problem late in games

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Disappointing finishes have become the norm to the chagrin of Heat fans.

Miami Heat v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

The Miami Heat had a crushing fourth-quarter meltdown versus the Cleveland Cavaliers, much like the one against the New York Knicks last January. One pattern is emerging on how teams defend the Heat as a game wears on.

Teams are denying passing lanes and one number illustrates this: the assist to turnover ratio. The number of turnovers compared to assists usually increases dramatically over the course of a game for the Heat.

The average AST/TO Ratio for all Heat games this season is 1.72, which ranks 13th in the NBA this season. But when broken down by quarter the number paints a picture of how teams adjust to Miami’s schemes on the fly.

AST/TO Ratio by quarter and ranking

  • first quarter: 2.51 (best)
  • second quarter: 1.73 ( 13th rank)
  • third quarter: 1.40 (28th rank)
  • fourth quarter: 1.37 (25th rank)

On average during the first quarter Miami has the best Offensive Rating 121, second best Net Rating 14, best assist ratio 22, best rebounding percentage 54%, fourth lowest turnover percentage 12%, best effective FG% at 58.5%, and the top true shooting percentage at 61.6%.

By the fourth quarter the comparable numbers are OffRtg 106 (27th), NetRtg -6.4 (28th), Ast Ratio 17 (10th), REB 51% (8th), TOV 17% (worst), EFG 54% (6th), TS 57% (9th).

The figures indicate the passing is timely and crisp at the beginning of games, but deteriorates later as the Heat’s passing becomes sloppy and predictable. For a team that depends on quality assists, taking those away can be harmful for the final score. Just by the eye test alone the quality of ball movement deteriorates late in games.

While the EFG% and TS% dropped modestly in the average fourth quarter, the TOV% skyrockets to worst in the NBA and NetRtg goes from second best to third worst. The denied passes leading to turnovers lead to Heat getting pressured on the defensive end.

In a way disorganized offenses lead to disorganized defenses. Many times Heat are arguing with referees about fouls in live ball situations or get dejected after missed baskets while running back on defense. Maintaining the same verve and energy as the first quarter seems an elusive goal as of late.

The effort may be there for the Miami, but keeping the passing lanes open for quality assists presents a problem. As opponents clog the main routes, detours become necessary to prevent congested arteries. The Heat’s success depends on ball movement, and other teams know it. How to outfox the scouting reports is a tough problem to solve.