Five Takeaways from Heat’s Win Over Celtics in Game One

The Miami Heat kicked off the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night, and it didn’t start in ideal fashion.

As I will discuss, things weren’t clicking on both ends of the floor in the first half. Emphasis on first half.

The second half was an entirely different game. Gabe Vincent to Max Strus to Jimmy Butler.

The Heat took off, and well, they didn’t look back. They now are up 1-0 in the series, during a game that they looked like they had no business winning for 24 minutes.

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So here are some takeaways…

#1: The problematic trend of the Heat’s interior defense in the first half, tied to off-ball switching,

When watching this first half for the Heat, a lot of what happened was kind of expected. Choppy offense in the half-court, switches bothering Miami, plus more. Yet, the defensive issues weren’t expected one bit. The Celtics were owning the Heat in the paint, shooting 15 of 19 at the rim in the first half, which added up to 42 points, two shy of a postseason record in one half. But that leads into a question: why was that happening? Well for starters, Jayson Tatum was basically blowing by that initial perimeter defender any chance he got. But the true issue was the off-ball switching on the weak-side. Gabe Vincent often found himself in the corner with Danie Theis spaced in the corner after an off-ball screen forced the switch. Now he dives, and it’s an easy bucket down low. That was the formula, and the storyline of the Heat’s first half defense.

#2: So, Tyler Herro is back.

Although the issues were the topic at the half for the Heat, Tyler Herro clearly found his groove. The one major surprise was that once he entered, the Celtics shifted into drop. And well, he couldn’t have asked for a better coverage change. As he says all the time, he loves drop coverage. So he began finding his mid-range pull-up early against guys like Williams and Theis, which quickly blended into some high PnR reps. Now it’s decision time for the defense, since the two outcomes are either a blitz or a triple. Herro looked both energized and comfortable with the ball in his hands right out the gate, but they still needed a bit more. But aside from everything, this type of confidence booster after the last series was all he needed to open himself up moving forward.

#3: PJ Tucker goes down for a few, Caleb Martin steps up. But something stood out about that early.

Walking away from game 7 between the Bucks and Celtics, there was a similar sentiment on Grant Williams after he caught fire. Early in the game, he struggled badly, leading into him passing up good looks. And the thing about that: it hurts your offense even more than taking the shot. The reason I bring that up is because Caleb Martin had moments like that. They’re going to dip off him when he’s off the floor, but if the shot clock is under 10, that shot has to go up. PJ Tucker went down in the second quarter with an apparent leg injury, but he didn’t stay down for long. He re-entered to start the second half, but the point about Martin still stands. We know what he can provide defensively in this series, but that’s something to track.

#4: The third quarter turnaround.

As much as I touched on the early defensive struggles, the Heat began to turn it around to begin the third. For one, Bam Adebayo sparked the entire team with a defensive masterclass. Denial on Brown at half-court, 7 seconds on the shot clock, Brown drives by, and Bam catches up to stuff it at the rim. Then Butler begins to join the defensive party, by getting back to back steals in the passing lanes for transition buckets. But more than anything, they began to find themselves offensively. Fearless Gabe Vincent got going as an on-ball creator, which blended into some scorers getting some relief buckets. What was once known as the turd quarter, became a pretty strong 12 minute stretch in game 1 of the ECF, scoring 39 points to the Celtics’ 14.

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#5: Jimmy Butler: elite of the elite.

As this game began, it felt like he was drifting a bit. Miami couldn’t get into their usual actions, and Jimmy Butler was doing just enough to casually get by. But then he gradually started picking it up. As Miami finished the third quarter with a 17 point lead all of a sudden, Jimmy Butler found himself with a 31 point stat-line on 13 shot attempts. Simply, he dominates in some fashion. It isn’t highlight step backs or street ball crossovers, but he gets the job done with timely slots and a calculated foul drawing process. But the scoring wasn’t the story there. As I illustrated before, he turned the defense up midway through the third with back to back steals off pure passing lane dissection. He waits for the big to turn, then sprints. He’s one of the highest IQ defensive players in this game, but he’s also an elite leader as seen on this stage right now. And it took game 1 of the ECF for the national public to realize probably.

 

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The Miami Heat-Boston Celtics ECF Preview

So, the Eastern Conference Finals are officially set.

A rematch of the bubble ECF between the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics will kick off on Tuesday in Miami at FTX Arena. But you aren’t here for location updates, I’m here to get right into the specifics of the series.

Before the game 7 was played between the Bucks and Celtics, I made sure to highlight one thing, since even Tyler Herro hinted at it at practice. The Celtics would favor Jimmy Butler, the Bucks would favor Tyler Herro. And if you’re going by that comment, maximizing your best player is the way to go.

Speaking of Herro’s comment at practice, he just slightly hedged in the direction of saying one coverage would be easier for him to operate in, which would clearly be the Bucks. Yet as good of a defense that the Celtics are, there are ways to change that for him…

Tyler Herro Beating the Switch

Before talking about guys like Butler and Adebayo, it feels like some need a calming start on Herro, due to the fact some are worried about this match-up for some reason. Saying the Bucks defense opens things up more doesn’t mean he’s going to be eliminated against the Celtics.

It just presents different challenges.

One of those challenges is switching a ton instead of finding pockets against drop. And before I even dive into the fact that drop openings will be there against this team as well, how will Herro deal with the switching wings and guards?

After watching those 3 clips above, there’s one primary takeaway: no screen, no blitz. Yes, I know we get caught up in the fact that Herro does need screens to get into his most comfortable play-style, but there will be times where he needs to just go.

Either getting a Payton Pritchard switch, or putting a bigger wing on their heels before stepping back, that has to be step one.

Seeing the amount of blitzes he saw against Philly, it was clearly a learning experience. Other teams watching that might say, ‘Hey, should we do the same?’ But at the same time, Jimmy Butler’s saying, ‘Okay, then I’ll do the same.’

It’s pretty much pick your poison, and the Celtics are such a sound defensive group that the focus won’t be on one guy, but if they do elect to start doubling, this can’t be the answer:

A blitz from this team will be much different than a 76er blitz. This team is lengthy, quick, and connected throughout.

I already know one of the main points that will be harped on starting tomorrow during film session will be Herro getting the ball out early when this is seen. Keep this Celtics group moving, since when you begin to slow down and hold the ball, they’ve already beat you.

But once again, me starting out this piece pointing out what Herro might have to deal with is not saying this isn’t his series. Actually, it’s saying the opposite.

They’re going to need a high level half-court scoring Herro in this series, and he’s had success against them on the big stage referring back to that 37 point bubble performance.

But if you’re worried about the switches onto him, what if his counter isn’t to deal with switches?

The DHO series?

To tie in the previous points, the Celtics still have versatile bigs who will dip back in drop, while also containing at a high level. The Bucks may give up a lot of threes, but the Celtics rely on a lot of perimeter screen chasing against a Heat team that is constantly moving.

And what is the product of many of their movement sets? Well, a dribble hand-off.

Looking at the first clip above, Al Horford is in drop and Jaylen Brown goes over the screen. That’s a win for the Heat.

2 on 1 for Bam and Herro leads to a lob pass, ending in a Bam dunk. The point of this is that using Bam as a screener for Herro will be even more important than usual. There’s another combo that I’m going to discuss next, but the Bam-Herro PnR may be back in action for another round.

Just like in the third and final clip above, it isn’t a hand-off that’s being run, but it’s an empty corner PnR for Herro. Not to sound like a repeat of games 1 and 2 of last series, but providing less abilities to help over on Herro is the main goal.

Now the defender goes over, and it’s a Herro floater.

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But this isn’t all about Herro, the hand-off element is about the shooters collectively. Jimmy Butler averaged the most points a night against the Celtics for the Heat this season at 22 PPG, but do you know who was right behind him?

Max Strus.

He scored 21 PPG, including a pretty memorable 3 block 4th quarter the last time these teams faced off. But most importantly, the hand-off dissection will be an important element from him this series, which is actually something he worked on a ton in practice Sunday morning.

This type of stuff is the add-on element, but now, the stars are the main dish at this stage.

Jimmy Butler: slip, slip, slip

Sitting here in a preview talking about Jimmy Butler’s foul drawing, inside scoring, and post-up turnarounds feels rather obvious after watching 11 games of it already.

So, what is the adjustment for him specifically?

Well, look out for him being used as a screener.

It makes it a little bit more tough if the team is without Kyle Lowry, since there aren’t many people better suited for finding Butler on the roll than Lowry, but there will still be advantages.

In the clip above, knowing the Celtics are going to switch, Butler slips, Lowry lobs, and it ends in a bucket down low. That will be there constantly, but I guess the question will be if Gabe Vincent can make that pass consistently.

(And I have a feeling Lowry will be in Vincent’s ear a ton about making that read)

We know what Butler is at this stage. We know what he’s going to provide on the offensive side of the floor. The one thing we don’t know, and what opposing teams don’t know, is where he’s going to generate those points specifically.

Butler will be Butler, but beating switches with a slip will be a focal point.

Bam Adebayo: Watch for Advantages

When some were predicting that the Bucks would take it against the Celtics in game 7, a consistent thing was being thrown around: Brook Lopez and the need for Adebayo’s jumper.

The traumatizing state of last year’s playoffs had people worried about that specific match-up, since it’s undeniable that Bam’s jumper was going to be needed.

Now that the Celtics advance, I’m not sure that’s as primary a focus as we originally thought.

Yes, he indeed has to be aggressive, but in a much different fashion. As I’ve portrayed over and over in this piece, the Celtics are a heavy switching defense. With that said, if Bam begins to get smaller wings or guards on his back, that match-up can’t be neutral.

It simply can’t.

Looking at the clip above, I wouldn’t say that’s the best example with the way he faded away on the post up, but the point still stands. If a Jaylen Brown-type is on his back in that low post, the shot must go up.

His defense is so valuable that it almost cancels out his offense at times, but now that this Heat team finds themselves 4 wins away from another trip to the NBA finals, they’re going to need their second best player to be an offensive threat.

Simply, a threat that’ll capitalize on advantages.

Defensive Match-Ups

Before I talk about game-plan, let me address some individual match-ups that I would expect to see. A lot of this is pointless with Miami’s switching, but this is something I’d look for out the gate:

Marcus Smart -> Gabe Vincent

Jaylen Brown -> Jimmy Butler

Jayson Tatum -> PJ Tucker

Grant Williams -> Max Strus

Al Horford -> Bam Adebayo

Yes I know that Robert Williams coming back will change things, but considering the five we saw from Boston today, this would be my expectation. Placing Tucker on Tatum feels like an obvious conclusion, but like usual, Bam Adebayo is the defensive X-Factor.

Something the Heat did a ton of the last time they played Boston was use him as a weak-side action wrecker instead of the pure switch guy. That meant the corner three would be sacrificed at times, but Brown or Tatum wouldn’t have an easy driving game once boosting by that perimeter defender.

Aside from Erik Spoelstra finger-pointing, I think we see exactly what we saw from them defensively against Philly. You may be wondering, why in the world would they keep the same game-plan?

Well, they wouldn’t. They would just be combining the approaches from games 1 to 6.

Nothing was consistent on that side of the ball for Miami all series. Soft switching in game 1 blended into pure drop coverage by game 6. I think this is a series where you can get away with the switching at times, which Miami will rely on a ton, but they now have a counter in their back pocket.

Keeping Bam closer to the rim in drop showed very positive results in terms of keeping the ball in front of him. He can be very impactful in the switching scheme, but now that it is adjustment time in the playoffs, teams like to find ways to pull him all the way to the deep corner to eliminate him.

But now, they have options.

And speaking of options, there’s one minor schematic focus that’ll be seen. If the ball isn’t being worked through Tatum or Brown in the primary action, Jimmy Butler will free-lance.

Once the Celtics begin to operate in the middle of the floor through their bigs, Butler will be smirking on that back-side since he knows he will probably have 2 points on the other end if he times it right.

This may not seem like a major deal, but I’m sure it’ll be noticed throughout this series.

Some Underrated X-Factors

Lastly, I’d like to highlight two Heat players that can end up being high level, yet underrated, X-Factors in this series.

We know about the need for Butler, Bam, and Herro as talked about earlier. Shooters will be important generally as well. But who will be the guy to get those shooters going?

Well that guy is former All-Star Victor Oladipo.

He silently had a killer series against the 76ers last round even with the teams’ ups and downs, and this is a match-up that could favor him even more. Aside from matching up with guys like Brown or pressuring full court on the defensive end, he could be the piece to bend this Celtics defense.

The first element is rim pressure that we bring up so often. Butler provides a ton of it. So much that defenses like the Celtics will over-commit, leading to a kick to an open guy as the rotations begin for the defense.

Swing-swing-swing, and oh, the defense recovered. Do you know how that is bypassed? A second rim pressure threat. Swing-swing-swing becomes swing-swing-drive, and the outcome looks a whole lot different.

Other than that primary factor, switches could mean more reliance on Oladipo as a shot creator. We’ve gotten flashes of his bag off the dribble, and I think we see more of that in this series. Or at least, it’ll be an offensive focus to increase the frequency of it.

My other X-Factor in this series, though, is actually Caleb Martin. Lowry most likely being out means Vincent will be starting, which also means the Heat either shrink to 8 or look for that 9th guy.

Now that we’re nearing the end, a lot of guys will see slight decreases in their minutes, but Caleb Martin will be a useful tool in this series. With all of the Celtics lengthy wings, throwing Martin out there to pressure them seems like a clear option.

Some may say that Duncan Robinson could be utilized, hinting back to my section on the DHO surge, but I personally don’t see it. At this point, it’s no secret that this series will be a defensive dog fight, and they aren’t going to look to counter that with one-way players like himself.

Aside from the X’s and O’s, this should be a fun series for basketball lovers. Two high level defenses going at it, while coaches on both sides send counter punches in opposite directions.

Looking at the Bucks falling short as Giannis Antetokounmpo sat on the bench breathing heavy as time expired in game 7, something stood out majorly: a one man show of arguably the best player in the world couldn’t take down this Celtics team.

The Heat are going to need everybody.

 

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Bam Adebayo: The True Definition of Defensive Versatility

The Miami Heat officially finished off their series against the Philadelphia 76ers in 6 games, but there were pretty much 3 mini series within this match-up.

The first two game slate was its own adventure. No Joel Embiid meant the total focus was on the perimeter guys in James Harden and Tyrese Maxey, which fell right into the Heat’s hands at the time.

Or should I say, it fell right into Bam Adebayo’s hands.

There simply wasn’t much worry about DeAndre Jordan or Paul Reed on that backside, meaning they felt comfortable switching everything. And well, I mean everything.

Adebayo found himself out on the perimeter against Harden very often, which usually led to weak-side swing for another guy to go to work. That led to the Tobias Harris scoring trend, but the Heat were very comfortable allowing that to be the release valve.

Plus when Adebayo guarded Maxey in this series, he shot 4 of 13 from the field. Off first glance, holding a player of that caliber, and with that speed, to 31% shooting is a win in itself, but the true win is that he was only willing to take 13 shots through 6 games while he defended.

Now onto the second part of this mini series, the two game slate back in Philadelphia was a completely other challenge. Aside from the shooting taking a total dip, Embiid now returned to the floor, meaning it was no longer about controlling and blitzing the perimeter. The pressure was all about Embiid in the middle of the floor.

Even though the 14 of 65 shooting from three was the story for many, Erik Spoelstra came out after those games and said it was more about the defense. For the public, that’s just one of those cliche sayings that coaches like to harp on, right?

Wrong.

Adebayo did his job even in those games, while the Heat bothered Embiid enough, but the back-side help had become problematic. With all of the switching, Jimmy Butler or PJ Tucker would find themselves fronting Embiid as Adebayo blanketed the perimeter.

Why is that important? Well, although Butler and Tucker did a good job of that, if Harden dropped that pass over the top, guys like Max Strus, Kyle Lowry, or Gabe Vincent were the back-side help to stop Embiid off the catch. Clearly, less than ideal.

So an adjustment has to be made. The series is even at 2-2, and Philly has all of the momentum. You can say it’s just about making shots heading back home, but what is the schematic counter to this comfortable Philly offense?

Well, Erik Spoelstra found just that in game 5.

Adebayo was no longer making highlight mixtapes out on the perimeter, locking up a guy like Trae Young 5 steps beyond the three-point line. The switching was eliminated. It was all about guarding your yard, fighting through screens, and simply, going drop.

(And yes, now that the series is over, I can talk about it exclusively without this happening)

Going away from the switching is basically a way to say, ‘I want Bam Adebayo near the opposing team’s best player at any cost.’ And yet, Adebayo didn’t really leave Embiid’s side in games 5 and 6.

 

Front, deny, contain, repeat. It was a simple “process” for Adebayo and the Heat, all due to the fact they trust Adebayo so much even when facing an MVP caliber player. And yes they sent plenty of doubles, but this base allowed them to operate much looser.

Whenever you hear about things that don’t show up on a stat-sheet with Bam, just watch the clips above for reassurance. That’s essentially three different turnovers that he forces due to his battles down low with Embiid, yet no credit for that is shown anywhere on paper.

His entry pass denial is something I’ve talked about nonstop all season, since I believe it’s probably the most underrated part of his defensive toolbox.

Not only can they not get it over his physical build, but just seeing him in fronting position leads to constant weak-side swings to get the ball away from that action.

He’s an action wrecker. But more importantly, he’s Erik Spoelstra’s mobile key-card on the defensive side of the basketball.

Now, this is still Joel Embiid. You can’t deny him every play, so what happens when that entry pass is made?

For Adebayo, it’s a spin in containing position, waiting for his face-up attack, and just reacting to it all. He keeps his hands active, his feet moving, and makes jump shooters uncomfortable even when measuring 7 feet tall.

Please, just take 1 minute out of your day to watch the clips in the video above to see his contests.

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Not only was he forcing misses, the shots from a guy that finished second in MVP voting weren’t even close. (His injuries were also a major factor, but Bam deserves most of the credit here.)

In the two games that Miami shifted to drop, which included games 5 and 6, Bam held offensive players to 34% shooting, while also limiting Embiid to 11 of 29 shooting throughout the entire series.

Those numbers aren’t normal, but we accept them as such whenever discussing the game of Bam Adebayo. This Heat defense as a whole deserves an enormous amount of credit, but the Heat exploding in the final two games of the series to clinch their way into an Eastern Conference Finals appearance was spearheaded by two people: Bam Adebayo and Erik Spoelstra.

I would like to mention as well that it wasn’t all about drop coverage and fighting through screens. In the limited minutes that Adebayo played when Embiid was off the floor, Miami went right back to the soft switching.

Bam’s guarding Paul Reed, yet quickly switches onto Maxey. But Maxey does what every offensive player does when that switch is made: swing it right back to that weak-side away from Bam.

Harden begins to take Oladipo off the dribble, but Bam is there at the nail. He’s able to do that freely since his recovery speed on close-outs is a personal advantage of his. Now Harden fumbles the ball, picks it up, and starts over again doing the same exact thing as Bam recovers to Maxey.

But well, Bam is coming right back again. Harden crosses inside, Bam swipes perfectly to strip the ball, and it heads in the opposite direction for a Herro lob and a Bam (semi) dunk.

It’s clear that he dominates the defensive side of the ball with his complete physical gifts to be able to swiftly cover every inch of the floor, and every player on the floor.

But as much as this is the focus, don’t overlook his defensive IQ and overall reads on that side of the floor.

The 76ers set up a flare screen for Niang to fly off, as Strus elects to blitz Harden and recover. But Bam is sitting there lurking like a corner-back in the flats, and picks it off for a dunk due to the lazy Harden pass.

Should I say it again? This type of stuff is special. Jimmy Butler has carried them to the finish line in this series. Tyler Herro has been the focal point of the offense in terms of grabbing a hold of the defense’s attention. Role players like Max Strus, PJ Tucker, and Gabe Vincent keep coming up big whenever they’re needed.

Yet, in my opinion, Bam Adebayo was the story of this series. He was 5 of 5 last night from the field, yet that doesn’t seem to matter. All of the talk was about this overwhelming offensive big man looking to dominate the interior, and Bam showed up big.

And now, he’s going from dominant force in Embiid, to potentially a dominant force in Giannis Antetokounmpo. Yet, nobody on this Heat team feels some type of way about that match-up. Bam can handle it, and Spo will put him in those spots to be successful.

 

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Five Takeaways from Heat’s Closeout Win in Game 6 vs Philly

The Miami Heat are in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Behind Max Strus and Jimmy Butler in game 6, the Heat ran away with the game to come away with the win.

But the true factor: the defensive masterclass from Bam Adebayo and Erik Spoelstra exclusively.

Anyway, here are some takeaways from this closeout win…

#1: Max Strus entering the conversation: the illustrated definition of a rhythm player.

Walking away from game five’s domination from the Miami Heat, there was one thing that heavily stuck in my mind heading into game 6: Max Strus’ performance wasn’t just a needed night in front of the home crowd. It was a rhythm builder moving forward. The role players have been a predictable trend in this series, where the home crowd basically boosts them to another level, while the road role guys struggle majorly. And well, Strus was the headliner to breaking that trend. We can talk about sets being run for him such as the normal pin-downs, but he was the key to the opening unit clicking. Out of the PnR against drop, they need to work that drive and kick with that release valve shooter, and Strus was just that. He also had some nice drives off the move to bend the defense, which is very promising for both this team and him individually.

#2: The Heat’s notable adjustments early on.

Aside from Erik Spoelstra finger pointing, the defensive approach from game 5 carried into game 6. They weren’t switching everything, meaning there was a good mix of drop coverage to keep Bam Adebayo as the fronting man on Joel Embiid. This doesn’t just go for Bam/Embiid though. The Heat are doing the same exact thing off the ball, leading to Miami planting Butler on Maxey and fighting through screens. Now, the adjustment we’ve seen is that they found a counter to the mismatch hunting. With Thybulle in for the injured Green, Herro found himself planted on Thybulle in the weak-side corner a bunch. But like they usually do, they immediately send him up as a screener to pick on Herro. The Heat’s adjustment: blitzing those sets. Herro immediately got his hands on a Harden pass for a bucket since it surprised, but even if the pass was made, Thybulle wasn’t a threat. While the talk is all about Embiid, they had a good defensive set-up in that first half.

#3: The Tyler Herro shift.

Tyler Herro has been through blitzing as a PnR ball handler. He’s been doubled as an off-ball threat. He’s been blanketed in corners as a spacer. So well, what was the next card to play? They could’ve just continued letting the other 4 attack in space, but it seemed like Spoelstra found something early after a Max Strus dish on the wing. They were going to get Herro off the move a lot more, specifically off curls to give him a runway off the catch. He rubs shoulders with Adebayo as he gets to the top of the key, and Strus leads the pass. Herro doesn’t slow down, and gets to the basket while finishing with the left hand. There were a lot of factors to the Heat’s offense clicking on the road in this game, but I’d like to state that Herro finding his way while not being the flashy offensive threat is important. He wasn’t usual scoring Herro, but he was the focus that got others going.

#4: Bam Adebayo doesn’t care about your box score opinions.

Aggression. Shot attempts. Scoring. It’s something that’s always linked to Bam Adebayo, and sometimes for good reason as I point that stuff out plenty of times along the ride. But right now, he can transcend a 0 point number in the scoring column. That’s how absolutely elite he has been defensively. It’s been a series of constant turns for Miami’s defensive approach. No Embiid in games 1 and 2 meant they went to a bunch of switching all over the place, bothering James Harden. Games 3 and 4 ended in losses, but nothing came easy for Embiid, as Adebayo was looming as a helper after switching out yet again. Then game 5 hit. No more Bam switching, just drop, contains, and rotations. Looking at tonight specifically with that scheme carrying over, he carried over dominance. His clamps on the perimeter make highlights, but his fronting and contests on bigs like Embiid don’t get enough credit. Butler is the series’ story-line, but Adebayo deserves his flowers.

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#5: The Miami Heat find themselves in another Eastern Conference Finals.

The Miami Heat are sitting in the Eastern Conference Finals, essentially meeting the expectations that the regular season provided. Not that this is the ceiling, but the floor has been reached. Anything less than this would’ve been a disappointment, but now it’s time to make that final push. Kyle Lowry’s battled injuries. Jimmy Butler has been a top 2 player in this post-season and I’m not sure he’s 2. Bam Adebayo has taken over defensively to make any offense scared to face. Tyler Herro’s skill-set has scared opponents so much that they’re placing all of the focus onto him. The role players have shown up: Max Strus, Gabe Vincent, PJ Tucker, and many others that have contributed. And lastly, Erik Spoelstra has put together a masterclass of a game-plan: first stifling Trae Young in unthinkable manners and now bothering Joel Embiid and crew to this degree. But now they’re here, waiting to see if it is indeed the Milwaukee Bucks that they face yet again. It’s 1-1 over the last two season. This will be the true test.

 

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Five Takeaways from the Heat’s Game 5 Win Over Philly

The Miami Heat entered game 5 against the Philadelphia 76ers with a lot of pressure. Almost game 7 like in terms of the winner of this game being close to series deciding.

And well, they rose to the moment. All rallying behind Jimmy Butler yet again, and now they lead the series 3-2, 1 win away from an Eastern conference Finals appearance.

So here are some takeaways from this one…

#1: Jimmy Butler: the energy, the scorer, the force.

Coming into this game, you could sense nerves from Heat fans. This felt like a game 7 with the winner of this one most likely dictating the rest of the series, and Jimmy Butler was doing just that: dictating. From the moment they announced his name in the starting lineups, his energy was incredibly high, which blended into production. Fast-break scores to inside dominance on smalls to empty corner actions, he was laying it all out there. But more importantly, he was a complete force. The 76ers don’t have anybody to slow him down, they just have someone to deter him at the rim in Embiid. But when shooters are hitting, the floor widens for the Heat’s superstar.

#2: Victor Oladipo has answered the call.

Rewinding back to game 4, the focus was obviously the negatives. But aside from Jimmy Butler’s dominance, it should be noted that Victor Oladipo was the team’s second best player. And tonight, he was as offensively dominant as ever yet again. His usage is spiking since the ball keeps finding him at the top, and things are flowing at an extremely high level. For one, his zone presence has been crucial. Out of all the guards, he’s the most talented at getting to the middle of the floor to put stress on the defense, plus capitalizing on that short jumper in the lane. But something that really was clear is that his change of direction with the ball in his hands is pure. He was huge at pressuring full court in the press, but he’s still a complete offensive talent. We just keep seeing more flashes the more he plays.

#3: Bam Adebayo playing bigger, plus defensively utilized at the basket.

Another household name from the first half in this game was Bam Adebayo. Not because he did anything out of the ordinary or went off as a scorer, but all due to the fact that he played bigger than he is. That’s the key. Making his presence felt down low instead of shying away from the basket the more Embiid dares him to is so important in this series. While on the other end of the floor, the Heat’s defensive schematics allowed him to play bigger. One of the keys entering game 5 was finding a way to insert Bam into the Embiid action, either as the guy fronting or the backside help. The way to do that is a) drop or b) fight through screens. Miami elected to fight through those screens much more often, allowing Bam to deny. They needed him closer to the basket in those minutes instead of constant switching, and they adjusted.

#4: The gradual Heat offensive tweak: more empty corner actions.

Once Joel Embiid hit the floor in game 3 in Philly, what sparked Jimmy Butler back into this elite scoring mode? Well, aside from rising to the moment, they altered the offensive approach. To eliminate help, they edged more and more to empty corner actions in which Bam Adebayo was screening. You’re basically putting Joel Embiid on an island to either play higher, or allow the jumper. As I talked about before this game 5, that was the counter for Herro against the blitzing. But Erik Spoelstra took it one step forward: Herro didn’t increase those reps, every ball handler did. They were making those cutoffs baseline and driving hard, which means the weakside guys have to peel down. That’s the element that bleeds into shooters getting going, but I just had to mention the gradual increase in this action that holds high importance for the scoring success.

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#5: It’s no surprise at home, but the role players stepped up back in their own building.

As they always say in the playoffs, the advantage goes to the home team when comparing role players. Even with a team like Philly with no depth, we saw what happened to guys like Danny Green from games 1 and 2 to games 3 and 4. And well, the same goes for guys like Max Strus, Gabe Vincent, etc. Yet while the conversation over the past 48 hours was that those guys weren’t performing in the biggest moments, they showed up. To kick off this game, Max Strus was incredible. Transition play, vocal energy, and well, shooting. He was hitting the release valve buckets, pulling with confidence, and looked as good as ever. Gabe Vincent had a slow start too with only 7 minutes played in the first half, but had a very good third quarter stretch. Scoring at the rim, getting them into their sets, and the shot began to drop. This has been a team all year that revolves around role players, and that doesn’t end here.

 

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The Tyler Herro Counters Coming Against Philly

Physicality, blitzing, elimination. Those have been the primary keys from the 76ers in terms of stopping Tyler Herro after he dominated in games 1 and 2.

It has now turned into a best of 3 series, since it’s the first team to grab two wins. The formula appears to be rather simple: don’t shoot 17% from three over 3 quarters and a half. Plus limiting a 49% 3-ball on the other side will be a good start.

But as much as the two games in Philly have been about hitting open shots, it’s clear that an adjustment is trending for the 6th man of the year winner, Tyler Herro.

Looking through the film of the Heat’s game 4 loss, some things really jumped off the screen when he was leading an action. The 76ers have thrown their punch at him, so what is his counter punch heading back down to Miami?

Well, let’s take a look at just that…

For starters, I must begin with the soft spots of Philly’s defense since Joel Embiid returned. The main one has been that the 2-3 zone has to be an indication to feed Herro the ball.

I will get into the blitzing of the PnR coverages, but the zone provides the most simplicity when Herro has the ball in his hands. Wait for the screen, get to the middle of the floor, and make a play with either your jumper or your gravity.

Embiid isn’t playing too high in the zone, yet Herro reacts anyway by pulling right after Matisse Thybulle is eliminated by the screen. Quick pull, quick bucket.

He had some opportunities in this game just like this that he didn’t capitalize on, but you’ll take these shots over and over make or miss. As Jimmy Butler said after the game, “We’re gonna take the same shots next game, and they’re gonna fall.”

That may be a positive outlook on the situation, but for Herro specifically, that must be the mindset.

The other release valve since Embiid returned has been to play like you did in games 1 and 2, when the opposing lineup looks like it did in games 1 and 2.

By that I mean Herro and Adebayo have proven to elevate their games when Embiid is off the floor. Adebayo begins to attack a bit more, and Herro doesn’t see the same on-ball pressure that Embiid provides.

Looking at this play in particular, some scramble switches allow Herro to flow into a hand-off with a double screen, getting probably his best look of the night. There are openings within both the zone and Paul Reed minutes, and he must take advantage.

But it isn’t about seizing the good times. It’s about overcoming the rough times.

A lot of this will have to be reaction based, since as much as Philly’s game-plan is to speed Herro up, the game-plan from Herro individually has to be: wait for them to make a mistake.

Looking at this play, Embiid hedges left on the screen as if Herro will refuse it, as Tyrese Maxey simultaneously goes over on the high PnR instead of under. Now Herro finally has some running room to operate in some type of an open floor.

Slight hesitation allows Herro to slip by Embiid to get to the rim, utilizing a flashy up and under on the right side while using the rim as protection. When they’re in regular drop, it’s a win for Herro and Miami. He can get to his spots, he isn’t being sped up, and they’re the ones dictating.

But the issue is that’s the Philly adjustment we’re discussing. This specific type of drop hasn’t been seen often against Herro.

Herro walks the ball up the floor and finds himself trapped right inside the half court line and the sideline. Embiid hedging the screen to eliminate a hard push right from Herro, while Maxey leads him right into it.

Bam rolls, Embiid slides back, yet the angle stays the same. They want to funnel Herro into a crowded lane.

He changes direction as he crosses left, and Embiid stays consistent with the ball again. Yes Herro’s getting to the middle of the floor, but so are 3 of the 76ers’ defenders. A kick-out is the outcome, which ends in a contested Oladipo three.

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He wasn’t getting an overwhelming amount of PnR ball-handler reps in this one, but the ones he got looked rushed. Like I said, they were speeding him up, which trends into stuff like this…

Screen. blitz, back-side tag, turnover. PJ Tucker in that corner is pretty much the open slot when this is seen, as Harden is forced to drop down on the rolling Adebayo, but Philly will live with Herro having to make that pass all night.

But what do you believe is the main issue with this play?

Butler not backing up to catch the retreat pass? Bam not finding an open gap? Herro picking up his dribble?

Wrong. It’s actually the spacing within the action for Herro, specifically in the strong-side corner. How can Miami throw the counter punch at Philly’s constant blitzing at Herro? Well, you turn that bundled up strong-side action into an empty corner.

Now things are spread, Embiid has more ground to cover, and Herro can potentially find an angle using the baseline to his strengths. The problem with the recent blitzing isn’t the two in the action itself, it’s actually the helper.

Here’s a quick example: Tucker in the weak-side dunker spot, Oladipo in the corner, Lowry on the wing. Herro makes the entry pass to Butler with Embiid defending him, then flows into the hand-off on that wing.

This isn’t much of a blitz like before, but Embiid is still forced to play higher in that drop. Now Herro has more room since there’s no help defender to hedge at him, and a baseline leaner is the product of it.

The same would go for a blitz in this situation. Then it’s just about Herro beating Embiid to the spot baseline and making a play off the attack. There are many counters to the blitzes, but it’s going to start with empty corner pick and rolls over the next few games of the series.

That’s the primary element to watch for.

Yet while that’s the focus of the side pick and rolls, there still must be a way to alter the deep blitzes at half-court when they flow into a high pick and roll.

One of the major shifts that feels kind of important: setting the screen a bit lower. Usually when we talk about Herro, you say setting the screen higher is more effective to stretch out the floor North and South, giving him more room to operate.

But right now, the higher the screen, the more they’re forcing him into East and West movements due to that blitzing we’re discussing.

So, what does setting the screen lower do when Embiid is in the action? Well, if they blitz, it gives you more room for a retreat dribble. The reason turnovers are more willing to happen is due to the passing coming in tight windows. Retreating back a step before making the pass creates chaos on that back-side once the pass is made, since the court just got a lot bigger for the 4-on-3.

In the play above, Herro just picks up his dribble. That allows Embiid to circle back and recover, yet when Herro swings, it’s basically a total reset. The dribble must be kept alive, and stop allowing the 76ers defense to get back to home-base for them.

Lastly, when a team is mixing up coverages this often on a certain player, miscommunications will occur. Right here Embiid drops back as Thybulle thinks he will stay high. Herro finds himself much more open than he could’ve imagined, yet couldn’t capitalize.

Those are the shots that will begin to fall, especially at home.

But if I can just punch this point home one last time, the clear-out by Oladipo to the strong-side corner in the play above is the reason I talk about the empty corner stuff.

Once he plants in that corner, Herro is forced to pick up his dribble since there’s no room to operate off an attack. There are plenty of actions that’ll be run, and I’m just looking under a microscope of one player at the moment, but this will be the key.

Guys will begin hitting shots from deep, and 7 of 35 from deep will most likely be an outlier, but this team is going to need a high level Tyler Herro to win the next 2 of 3 games.

They’ve gotten elite level Jimmy Butler. But it appears that he needs that second scoring punch to overcome the rough shooting from the supporting cast. Herro can be the one to get that done, and frankly, he may need to in order to comfortably close this thing out.

 

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Five Takeaways from Heat’s Loss to Philly in Game 4

The Miami Heat played a pretty similar ball game in game 4 that they played in game 3, in terms of the outside shooting from the supporting cast.

Jimmy Butler was outstanding in all departments, but simply he was it for Miami through most of this game.

Now, it’s all tied up 2-2 heading back to Miami for game 5. Yeah, definitely a series now.

Here are some takeaways from this one…

#1: The lop-sided three-point shooting display early on.

56% three point shooting compared to 22% shooting? Yeah, that’s a pretty big tell on how a game is going. Yet for Miami, other components kept them in it even with what those numbers would seem to portray. The Heat crunched the rotation down to 8 to begin the night, which went down to 7 as Vincent only played 3 first half minutes due to foul trouble. But among those 7 guys, they couldn’t find that hot hand from the outside. Herro’s getting different treatment, Strus couldn’t find himself beyond the arc, and Lowry was 0 for 4 at that point. While on the other side, 56% shooting is pretty absurd. That’s kind of what happens when you have to focus 2 to 3 defenders on an MVP caliber player at all times. This is a 3 point shooting team that needs that label back, which had all people calling for #55 at the half.

#2: So, what are the 76ers doing different defensively to Miami?

I’ve talked a lot about schemes from Miami over the last 3 games played, but I wanted to take a second to discuss what the 76ers are doing to the Heat, in particular on the perimeter. For one, it should be noted that this is a team that has revolved heavily around overplaying so far this series, which is surprising that we haven’t seen them working more back-cuts. Aside from that, Doc Rivers has noted the one focus on Miami has been Tyler Herro. They wanted to be more physical, while also limiting space for him as much as possible. So, they’re blitzing out on him extremely hard, while rotating middle on that specific shooter. What does that mean? That weak-side corner is the release valve, which means two things: can Herro make that pass and can that shooter take advantage as I noted them shooting 22% from deep in the first half.

#3: Miami’s first half offense kept afloat by Butler’s run, Oladipo’s attack, Bam’s second unit aggression.

While I focused on some of the negative elements early, it’s also important to note that the Heat still stayed above water offensively while struggling that much from deep. The first reason was that Victor Oladipo’s aggression was glaring. He was making it a priority to make his presence felt around the rim, getting to the line at an incredible rate, due to going right at the body of Embiid in that deep drop. Bam Adebayo followed that up with a very strong stretch once Embiid went to the bench. We saw games 1 and 2 flashbacks against Paul Reed, being utilized both on the roll and the post. And finally, as the game was really getting away from Miami late in the second, Butler gave a counter punch. Hitting tough jumpers, getting to the rim, playing physical. That one takeover mode saved Miami in that span. All 3 of these aspects have something in common: inside play. All that was missing, to tie my previous points together, was that one hot shooter.

#4: I’ve touched on Lowry not taking the open pull-up, but this hamstring seems to be very restricting.

When watching Kyle Lowry in this game specifically, he just doesn’t look right. He had 2 breakaway layups where he had to sprint down the floor, and both had him limping back down the floor on defense with his left hand planted on that left hamstring. Clearly, it’s a bothering injury. He continues to struggle to shoot the basketball at the second and third level, but I don’t think this formula is too complicated. This isn’t one of those excuse statements, it’s just the truth. That hamstring is limiting his lift and jumper overall. He continued to play through it, but just something to keep track of moving forward. He can keep it moving in this one, but that thing will most likely tighten up over the next 24 hours. And one thing to note about on-court play: he’s getting to the rim, but not shooting at the rim. Once again, that stuff can be costly.

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#5: You know what, I’m talking about shooting again.

As the 76ers made their 4th quarter run to kick off the quarter, finishing off with a James Harden transition three to take a 12 point lead, you probably did the same thing as I did. Went over to look at the shooting numbers t that point in the game, and they weren’t surprising, but equally as mind blowing. One team was shooting 48% from deep, while the other was shooting 17% from three. Yeah, that’s pretty much the game, right? To go one step further into that 5 of 30 three-point shooting at that point, taking away Butler’s deep ball, they were shooting a whopping 12%. When the percentage drops that much when taking off* Butler’s three-point numbers, that’s usually a tell. It really doesn’t get much deeper than those numbers, but I do believe the looks on both sides were apparently different. Robinson was sitting there for use, but not utilized, which felt like a bit of a head-scratcher for stretches.

 

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Five Takeaways from Heat’s Loss to 76ers in Game 3

The Miami Heat came out flat. Let me rephrase: the Miami Heat came out extremely flat.

They did a good enough job defensively, but the offense caused Philly to overtake Miami in game three.

Jimmy Butler came out a little rough, but turned it around for a pretty complete game overall. But as I’ll touch on to finish this piece, the Lowry-Bam PnR caused the collapse late…

Anyway, here are some takeaways from this one…

#1: So, let’s talk about the offensive struggles.

Well well well. The topic of this Heat game when reflecting at halftime was just discussing the abomination status of this Heat offense. They scored 17 points in the first 15 minutes of game-time, and it was clear from the start it wasn’t their shooting night. For starters, every shot seemed to be short from player 1 to player 9 in the rotation, and Jimmy Butler especially didn’t show to have his legs under him. But schematically, it didn’t look like the offensive possessions were too layered. They weren’t getting awful looks early on, but missing good looks quickly transitioned into a game-plan of screen-roll-jumper. No off-ball movement, no flares on the weak-side, no overpowering ball movement. And that’s the biggest thing for me. Being short on your jumper happens, but not executing half-court sets completely in that first half is the difference maker.

#2: This is who the Heat are: balancing shooting struggles with superior defense.

Now that I touched on the Heat’s shooting struggles and offensive execution, it should be noted that this is who the Heat are. They’re contenders even when having offensive rough patches, just because of the superior play on the other end. Miami was somehow in this game even with that showing, since the game-plan on Joel Embiid and company was executed perfectly. Doubling down low, sending a fluctuating door of help baseline, fronting Embiid, funneling the ball into the correct match-ups. The Heat did it all. Aside from a few off-ball blown assignments, which happens when you’re rotating at the frequency of this Heat team, it somehow always felt like the Heat had a fighting chance even when down as much as they were. Once again, this is who they are. We know they can have tough patches in the half court, but the defensive abilities counter that into contending status. But still, that needs to be cleaned up as stated in the first section.

#3: The five-man shot creation lineup?

We spent game 1 talking about the lineup shift of Herro-Oladipo-Butler playing together, which simply didn’t look great in that opening stretch. The convo after game 2 was that the combination looked much better after some extra reps, and Spoelstra even stated after the game they’ve been working on that in practice behind the scenes. But now that Kyle Lowry returned tonight in game 3, we got an even different look. Lowry-Herro-Oladipo-Butler-Adebayo, which could also be known as: the creation lineup. All 5 guys can create for themselves and others, plus all can put the ball on the floor. But well, that clearly has some work to do as well. You can have an excessive amount of shot creation all you want, but the only way for it to work as that movement that I discussed earlier. Two-man action with the other 3 guys standing and watching won’t cut it. I believe it can work, but on a night where there’s zero spacing being provided, it just wasn’t the most effective grouping.

#4: The third quarter run: Jimmy Butler finding his game.

I touched on Jimmy Butler being a headliner of the short on jumpers club in game three, but he began finding himself in the third quarter. There were gaps to attack the basket for him early on, specifically with Joel Embiid in the action. He was oddly playing really high in the drop coverage, that Butler had to turn a single corner and it was a free lane, happening on two occasions in that first half. But as Miami was in a terrible offensive start, Max Strus sparked a run with two threes, then Butler took it from there. Instead of being a constant action handler, he turned into an off-ball mover for a few plays. Lowry found him off the baseline roam for an and-1, which was the turn. He began using his size advantage against opposing wings to body his way to the basket. And that right there is what makes Butler so tough to guard.

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#5: The Lowry-Adebayo PnR ultimately hurting Miami?

We can sit here and talk about the offensive struggles in a 48 minute stretch or individual lack of shot making, but a specific two-man action was clearly not the effective punch they wanted it to be: Kyle Lowry and Bam Adebayo. Fast forwarding to the fourth quarter, while the story-line was the physicality with techs flying for PJ Tucker and others, the Heat were spamming the Lowry-Bam pick and roll. And well, it wasn’t going anywhere. You had Lowry coming off the screen every play with an open pull-up jumper sitting there, yet he wouldn’t take it. Instead, it was a feed to his roller, Bam, in a very tight window, who immediately looked for the next kick or total reset. Spamming a set with two guys unwilling to shoot over a certain span is never the answer. There were improving signs in the second half run, but it stalled. And this exact topic didn’t help that.

 

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Five Takeaways from Heat’s Win Over 76ers in Game Two

The Miami Heat came into game 2 with a similar mindset, and closed it out in a similar fashion.

Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo copy and pasted dominance. Jimmy Butler playing master facilitator. And the Heat defense swarming at all times.

So, here are some takeaways from this one…

#1: Bam Adebayo in early attack mode is always a welcoming sign.

As much as we sit around and discuss the fact that Bam Adebayo has a favorable matchup against the 76ers, Bam himself is very aware of that internally. Entering these games, he knows that he will have advantages, especially after the PnR dominance with Tyler Herro, and he came out attacking yet again. Herro kept feeding him in that high pocket to give him a runway, and not only did that lead to positive offensive, but it put him in a position to consistently get to the line. Once he gets some early foul calls, you always see that mental shift where he begins to drive more. Plus it should be noted that his defensive willingness was felt. No matter who he switched on, the immediate reaction was to clear. He creates a 4-on-4 match at times, which is a special trait.

#2: Heat going more zone, Philly going less zone.

Heading into this series, one of the main things I highlighted in my preview was the “battle of the zones.” Both had very valuable reasons to utilize it, and the 76ers obviously got the first real crack at it. In the second quarter of game one, it gave Miami real trouble. Nobody was flashing middle, they weren’t able to get into the primary actions, and it allowed certain matchups to not be exploited. But now, the Heat were waiting to adjust. They consequently went to it less to begin this game, but Miami increased the frequency on their end. Pressuring with Oladipo and Martin in the 2-2-1 which blends into the 2-3. Usually the release valve was that Tobias Harris gets into a post up on the low box, which was okay with them as he shot 3 of 11 in the first half. Never should it be gone to for too long, but it’s something to monitor in this series.

#3: Tyler Herro continues to love the matchup and coverages.

Looking at Tyler Herro in the first half of this game, I could pretty much copy and paste most of the stuff I said in game 1. High PnR dominance, making the right reads and passes, and scoring whenever he chooses as he eyes the back line defender. The only difference though tonight, he was eyeing the initial defender a bit more often. Instead of focusing on the next read, he keyed in on the current one. That usually meant a quick pull up off the screen, a snake dribble inside once Jordan began playing higher, etc etc. The point is that we’re aware he can score the basketball at a high level and can exploit this defense, but mixing up reads isn’t easy at his age. But yet, he’s a natural in that space.

#4: Jimmy Butler controlling the game through every lens.

After as dominant of a first round series as humanly possible for Jimmy Butler, he seemed to fully hand the keys to Bam and Herro in game 1 against Philly, for obvious reasons. But in this game, his scoring around the rim was coming much more naturally than it did in game 1. Yet, I’m not focused on the scoring. We know he can get to his spots and dominate most matchup advantages on the floor. But without Kyle Lowry, he stepped up big time in terms of total control. Halfway through the third, he had 10 assists logged and it was all on the natural flow of the offense. And looking away from schematics and into natural fandom, as a Philly fan behind us at the game chanted at the team all game, it flowed into “We still love you Jimmy,” late in the third. He can have that hold on you I guess.

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#5: Victor Oladipo combinations steadily improving.

Looking at game 1 under a microscope, the Victor Oladipo combinations were a bit different than we’ve seen. Instead of running his own lineups when Butler was out, he found himself running next to both Butler and Herro pretty often. They were a bit shaky to start since he was being used primarily as an off-ball threat in the corner, but they blended him on the ball a bit more in this game tonight. This offensive flow won’t just click over night, but the thing about it: it doesn’t have to. We can hone in on that all we want, but the truth is that his defense on top players makes any combination work. When you can do to James Harden what he did in this game, it’s clear something is going right.

 

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Five Takeaways from Heat’s Win Over 76ers in Game One

The Miami Heat kicked off round 2 against the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday night, and although there were minor bumps in the road, they really took care of business.

After struggling in round 1, Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo really took control of this game. Together.

But as much as they’re the focus, PJ Tucker put them in this position under the radar.

Anyway, here are my takeaways from this one…

#1: The early, early offensive approach for Miami: Herro-Bam high PnR.

Before I discuss the offense in the first half big picture, I must first address what was working. After Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo had rough first round series, it was clear coming into this one that this match-up could favor them greatly. The drop is there for Herro to attack, and Adebayo has the size advantage over anybody not named DeAndre Jordan. So, Miami quickly evolved into high PnR madness with those two when Jordan or Paul Millsap were sitting in that drop. Herro’s able to create attention through his drop instinct once passing the three-point line, which transitioned into open lanes for Bam as a roller since nobody could stick him. That was when offense was peaking. But then, it declined. Rapidly.

#2: The offensive drought that followed…

Now, to enter the problematic parts of this Heat offense, it went from executed offensive sets that were clearly intentional heading in, into a whole lot of randomness in that second quarter. Miami began blending into forced drives and more forced drives until an open man was found. Yes, that’s the complete recap. They were no longer looking at Adebayo roaming baseline who would find a perfect deep seal. Combine that with shooting 25% from three in the first 24 minutes and you have yourself an issue. Butler had the jumper fall early with back to back mid-ranges when they went under the screen and a standstill three, but that turned into tough fade-away jumpers with wings guarding him. That’s fine against Maxey, but forced against others. It was clear at that point, adjustments were needed coming out of the half.

#3: Should we take a second for extra PJ Tucker appreciation.

In the first round against the Atlanta Hawks, after Butler, PJ Tucker was the most important player in the series. And well, he wasted no time in this one. Immediately picking James Harden up full court, switching and helping down low, while dominating as that weak-side help guy at the nail. When looking for the answers to Philly’s early scoring trouble, it was all PJ Tucker. But the reason I bring up the word appreciation is that while his defense was evident, he played a big role offensively. Yes he was 2 of 6 from the field with 5 points at half, but most of the Heat’s first half runs included him providing second chances and playing the “Bam role” at the 5. Then to start the third, it was even more Tucker. Forcing turnovers, creating for Bam off the slip and dime, hitting tough shots, and most importantly, getting them second chance opportunities. He’s been outstanding.

#4: Bam Adebayo showing up big time.

As I hinted at before when I mentioned the Herro-Bam dynamic, this could potentially be a Bam series before the Embiid return. There are mismatches all over the floor, for both face-ups against slower guys like Jordan or post-ups against smaller guys like Millsap. After being utilized a ton early than disappearing in that second quarter since they weren’t finding him, he began to be found to start the third when they went on their run. The point is not to harp of Bam’s shocking scoring punch in this one. It’s to showcase that he needs to be used like a top player on this team on the offensive side of the ball. I can understand aggression conversations, but there’s a point where he should be consistently have sets run for him. Whether it’s on the ball with guards screening, or backdoor stuff to feed him with mismatches down low, it’s the key to Miami taking that next step on this playoff run.

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#5: The real reason the Heat are true contending threats.

When looking at this Heat team in the first round, there were glaring holes. Herro wasn’t himself, Adebayo wasn’t being used, Lowry going down changed things. Moving onto game 1 tonight, Butler wasn’t great, shooters were inconsistent, Oladipo lineups were in the mud frequently while finding themselves. Yet through all of that, the Heat keep finding ways to win. How? Well, I’m glad you ask: this Heat defense is stifling. They can go through a second quarter span where they forget how to run offense, yet still come out even. They have enough bodies to throw at any position 1 through 5, created a helping scheme due to the team being elite with rotations, and found a way to stop top talents. So, back to why this team is a true contender. Combining a defense that is elite of the elite with an offense that can go on wild runs is a good enough to be in that top tier.

 

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