Five Takeaways from Heat’s Loss to Boston in Game 2

Well, the Miami Heat lost to the Boston Celtics in game 2.

From poor defense to awkward shot selection to wild Celtic runs, I cover it all here…

So here are some takeaways from this one…

#1: Oh, so a run happened.

60 to 21. When hearing those numbers, you may be thinking, what do those numbers mean? But if you watched the first half of Heat-Celtics, you already know what that is: the Celtics went on a run. A big run. The offense from Boston was pretty simple, which I’ll talk about next, but the disposition of the Heat was very poor. Late on close-outs, everywhere on rotations, and just short on jumpers on the offensive end. Jayson Tatum got going, Jaylen Brown contributed when Tatum went to the bench after his second foul, and the role players wouldn’t miss. 60 to 21. That’s a hard number to look past when evaluating a game, which is why that’s where we had to start.

#2: The Celtics three point shooting early, coming from the Heat’s game 1 nightmares.

Now peeling back some layers on what was happening, how were the Celtics shooting at this insane level in the first half including 12 triples? Well, other than my points about lazy rotations and close-outs, they were a bit scarred from the first half of game 1 it seemed. By that I mean, the Celtics almost set a postseason record in game 1 with 42 paint points, due to Miami overplaying the perimeter so an easy slip was there for Boston. Now in this game, the Heat weren’t allowing that to happen. Off-ball switches would occur, a mismatch on the block is found, and the Heat have already sent that weak side guy down. Eliminate those paint points and you’re in good shape, right? Wrong. Swing, swing, three was the Celtics’ consistent process due to that over-helping, sparking that run that I discussed previously. Plus, there’s the element of a team just not missing from deep.

#3: The death of the primary action for the Heat’s offense.

Sometimes life is simple for the Miami Heat on the offensive side of the ball. Tyler Herro-Bam Adebayo as shown against Philly: bucket. Jimmy Butler straight line drive ball as shown in game 1 against Boston: bucket. But how about when those initial options or sets are taken away? That’s what turned on the scoring end for the Heat upon that early run. Something was run, the help was there, and the 3 others on the floor for Miami stood and watched. And well, if there’s any team to not do that, it’s the Heat. They generate all of their looks off constant movement, backside screening and actions, and tons of added layers. It can be slightly labeled as not making shots that they regularly would, but there’s no doubt that the process was off. Adjustment time.

#4: The Heat need Bam Adebayo in this final four.

Aside from this game tonight, the Heat’s blueprint is clear. Jimmy Butler will be Jimmy Butler most nights. Tyler Herro can give that boost against drop when the time is right. Role players can shoot above their heads enough in these playoffs. Yet, more than anything, this team needs Bam Adebayo in this series: the offensive version. Coming from somebody that values Adebayo’s defense as much as you can, there just comes a point where the second best player must be just that. With the ball in his hands, utilizing a face-up attack or letting the jumper fly. At this stage, the post game isn’t an option in my opinion. Watching the Celtics switch Jaylen Brown onto him and the unwillingness to get a deal seal is obvious. He has a home base, but he doesn’t go to it enough in these moments. It should also be noted that Bam is always the first person that is looked toward in games like this, which isn’t ideal since he isn’t the reason they lost. But it’s clear to win this series, they’re going to need a serviceable offensive version of himself.

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#5: Big picture time: chill.

I’ve talked enough about the negatives in this game 2, so now it’s time for some perspective. In all honesty, I wouldn’t say there’s a ton to be over worried about with this series as a whole. It’s 1-1 in the series, and there are clear adjustments that must be made, but this was kinda the expectation on this series. This didn’t have a 2-0, 2-2 feel to it where both teams protect home court. Both of these teams are inconsistent on the offensive end with coaches who are throwing counter punches in both directions. Anything can happen, home crowd or not. Now it’s time for the Heat to head up to Boston to get one of these themselves. So I’ll end this piece with the word I previously mentioned: chill.

 

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5 Takeaways from Panthers Game 2 loss to Lightning

SUNRISE –  Facing a 0-1 series deficit, the Florida Panthers were back on home ice Thursday night, trying to even the series before the two-game trip in Tampa. 

 

What was a close game for most of the night ended in heartbreak for Florida as Tampa scored the game-winning goal with 3.8 seconds left in regulation. Tampa would take this one 2-1.

 

Florida goes to Tampa down 0-2 in the series and truly have an uphill battle waiting for them if they want to advance in this postseason.

 

Onto the takeaways.

 

The Lightning power play strikes again

Game 1 was a nightmare for Panthers’ fans, especially if there was a Lightning power play involved. Tampa went 3/6 on the PP in Game 1.

 

In Game 2, Tampa wasted no time getting back into the power play groove. With the game scoreless, Brandon Montour was sent to the box for hooking Ross Colton of the Lightning. 

 

Less than a minute into the power play, Corey Perry scored his second PP goal of the series after deflecting a Steven Stamkos shot past Sergei Bobrovsky. 

 

Through two periods, that power play goal was the only time Tampa saw the back of the net. They’ve actually scored more goals on the power play this series than when they are even strength (Two even strength, four power plays). 

 

But in a close game like tonight, that one power play goal was enough to be the difference. Tampa took advantage of at least one power play opportunity tonight, Florida didn’t.

Luostarinien and Forsling  didn’t let yesterday’s World Championship result get in the way of their tying goal

When Sweden and Finland faced off yesterday in the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, the Swedes bested the Finns in a shootout. 

 

For supporters of both countries, they’d be happy to know that Florida’s tying goal was set up by a Swede, Gustav Forsling, and finished by a Finn, Eetu Luostarinen.

 

Enough about the friendly international hockey rivalry, it was a great two-man play by the pair.

 

Forsling led the rush into the Lightning zone and dropped the puck off for Luostarinen, who was waiting atop the blueline.

 

Lusotarinen leaned into a slapshot and it found its way underneath the body of Andrei Vasilevskiy, tying the game at 1.

 

This was a great setup and nice finish, however, it would be the only time Florida found the back of the net all night. 

 

Let me write about the power play… again

Yes we are going to talk about it. The power play struck out again tonight, going 0/4 on the man advantage.

 

Florida is now 0/7 in the series and 0/25 in the playoffs through eight games. 

 

The worst part about tonight’s power play was the fact that Florida had an opportunity to take the lead with under three minutes to go in the game. Instead, Florida failed to convert on their fourth power play of the night and Tampa would make them pay minutes later, winning the game with 3.8 seconds left off a Ross Colton goal.

 

I said in the pregame show, if Florida doesn’t score on the power play, they are going to lose the series. Well, they are two games down, lost both games on home ice,  and are still goalless on the power play. 

10 seconds is all it takes…

With just seconds remaining in the third, overtime was looming in Sunrise. 

 

The Lightning just killed off another Panthers power play but the crowd was still energetic for what seemed to be another Panthers OT appearance. 

 

Tampa had possession in Florida’s zone with 10 seconds left in the third. Lightning forward Nikita Kucheerov was with the puck behind the Florida net when Gustav Forsling approached him from the right side. His D partner MacKenzie Weegar simultaneously approached Kucerhov from the left, leaving the front of goal unaccounted for. 

 

Kucherov slipped a behind the back pass to Ross Colton who was in alone of Sergei Bobrovsky. 

 

Colton fired the puck over Bobrovsky, giving the Lightning a 2-1 lead with 3.8 seconds left in the game. 

 

This goal would be the game winner, giving Tampa a 2-0 series lead.

Two series against Tampa, back-to-back 0-2 deficits

Last season Tampa came into Sunrise and made their presence felt, taking Florida’s first two home games of the playoffs from them. 

 

This year, the same exact thing happened. Florida being the higher seed had home ice advantage. Well, it was supposed to be an advantage before they lost both home games in round 2, going down 0-2 in the series. 

 

Looking back to last year, Ryan Lomberg and his OT heroics in Game 3 kept the Panthers in the series after they were down 0-2 on the road. Now the Panthers are in the same situation down two games heading to the defending champions barn. 

 

This team has shown all season that they can do the unthinkable, whether its comeback wins, or not scoring on the power play but winning a series. But this will be the most difficult task to date, trying to steal games from the back-to-back champions in their home arena. 

 

Game 3 is Sunday and Game 4 is Monday. Yes, a back-to-back in a playoff series.

Inter Miami CF

Player Ratings: Inter Miami vs the Philadelphia Union

Inter Miami keeps one foot in the playoff door with a 0-0 draw vs the Philadelphia Union.

The Union is one of the top teams in MLS, and thanks to the heroics of Drake Callender, Miami was able to hold back their high octane offense to see through a draw.

Here are the player ratings from Inter Miami’s draw against the Philadelphia Union.

*Anything under a six is below average/poor. A six is average and or good. A seven through ten is great and or excellent.*

Goalkeeping

Drake Callender – 8.3: Another excellent game from the 24-year-old. He had eight saves and was in total command of the penalty box. Callender is making a serious case to stay the team’s first-choice goalkeeper.

Defense

Chris McVey – 7.3: Another solid performance by McVey. Despite playing in every game of the season, his incredible work rate and ability to play multiple positions across the backline make him undroppable.

Ryan Sailor – 7: Started a bit shaky, which is understandable, but slowly grew into the game. Had several great headed clearances and fancies a line-splitting pass. Will be interesting to see how he settles into MLS play as the season goes on.

Damion Lowe – 8.2: An outstanding game for the Jamaica international. Another tremendous defensive display by the center back. Played well alongside Sailor and had a commanding presence on the backline.

Victor Ulloa – 6.3: Unfortunately, Ulloa was the odd one out vs the Union. Through no fault of his own, he was shoehorned into a position where he didn’t look natural. He had moments on the overlap but his connection with right winger Indiana Vassliev looked forced.

Midfield

Bryce Duke – 8: One of the best players on the field for Miami. His boundless energy, technical ability, and agility to evade defenders give the midfield some real bite. Got himself into good spots to score but couldn’t finish them off. Ended the game with two chances created, 10 recoveries, and two clearances.

Gregore – 7.9: Put on a brave performance for the Herons. Had the most tackles in the match (five) and was the perfect anchor to deal with the Union’s midfield diamond. Finished the match with eight recoveries, and two blocks.

Jean Mota – 6.8: One of the underperformers in Miami’s midfield, Mota had flashes quality but they were few and far between.

Attack

Robert Taylor – 6.5: Looked slow and sluggish. Had a couple of good one v. one moments but couldn’t capitalize on too many. He ran his legs off and looked visibly gassed after the game.

Leonardo Campana – 6.7: Was isolated most of the match, and didn’t have too many chances. Still managed to get a couple on target, but without a true creator in the middle, he was always going to suffer vs a direct team like the Union.

Indiana Vassilev – 7.2: Looked hungry and dangerous. His left foot prove to be valuable as he cut inside several times to pull Philly’s defense out of shape. Ended the game with a 93% pass completion percentage and two chances created.

Subs

DeAndre Yedlin – 6.3: Provided some spark, but was out of the game rhythm. Did well to see out the draw.

Ariel Lassiter – 6.2: Much like Yedlin, looked out of rhythm and struggled to connect with his teammates. Was solid on defense to help Miami keep the point.

Gonzalo Higuain – 6: Looked motivated and was that creative spark Miami need to get three points. Unfortunately, a lot of his ideas didn’t connect and fell flat.

Emerson Rodriguez – 6.2: Didn’t do much during his cameo off the bench. Had some flashy moments but didn’t make a real impact.

Coaching

Phil Neville – 6.8: Another solid tactical match from the Englishman. Got the starting eleven spot on except for the inclusion of Ulloa. McVey could’ve slotted over to right back and Joevin Jones could’ve started on the left. Besides that, Miami’s attack had plenty of chances and more possession. As the season continues on, expect Neville to build upon the counterattacking 4-3-3 they’ve stuck with.

 

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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Inter Miami CF

Player Ratings: Inter Miami vs DC United

Inter Miami couldn’t wash out their opponents on a rainy Saturday evening, as they settled for a 2-2 draw against DC United.

With arguably the best first half of football the club has played this year, carelessness at the back saw the lead slip through their hands.

Besides the defensive blunders, Miami’s attack on the other hand looked balanced, fluid, and had real intent in the final third.

As Miami’s schedule begins to get even more congested, dropping points at home will only hinder their playoff chances.

Here are the player ratings from Inter Miami’s draw against DC United.

*Anything under a six is below average/poor. A six is average and or good. A seven through ten is great and or excellent.*

Goalkeeping

Drake Callender – 6.5: Tried his best to keep a clean sheet. Had a couple of solid saves and had a good command of his penalty box.

Defense

Kieran Gibbs – 6: Injury issues continue to plague his season. Didn’t look 100% and it showed in his performance. Shouldn’t have started the match if his condition was that poor.

Chris McVey – 6.5: “Steady Eddy,” once again. Other than the nasty yellow card he picked up in the 2nd half, McVey had a decent game. He was also integral in getting Miami’s first goal as well.

Damion Lowe – 8.3: The best game he’s had all season. He was strong, had a good presence on the back line, and got his first goal of the year.

DeAndre Yedlin – 6.2: Had a bad game, and it was probably due to fatigue. Miami doesn’t have a backup right back at the moment, so Yedlin is forced to play in almost every match. With the team’s fixture list becoming even more congested, expect him to rotate a bit more.

Midfield

Jean Mota – 7.5: Another very good performance from the Brazilian. Was the perfect box-to-box midfielder to compliment Gregore and Bryce Duke. Ended the game with an assist and created three chances.

Gregore – 8.5: A metronome. Dictated and controlled the tempo very well. Stepped his game up in attack as well. Ended the game with a 90% pass completion percentage, three chances created, and seven recoveries.

Bryce Duke –7.3: Young, brave, hungry. The exact type of player Miami needs during this period of transition. Duke has the mind of an attacking midfielder and the work rate of a number six. He did well to balance out the Brazilian duo behind him. He also showed some good physicality.

Attack

Ariel Lassiter – 7: Played much better on Miami’s left wing. He was a constant threat on the counter and provided an outlet for the team in case they were under pressure.

Leonardo Campana – 7: Was anonymous for large parts of the first half. Got back on the score sheet with some slick passing and good positioning. He has six goals in the league this season.

Robert  Taylor – 7.5: Put Brad Smith on skates all game. Nifty on Miami’s right wing. One of the team’s most dangerous players.

Subs

Ryan Sailor – 6.7: Did a good job on the defensive side, but had some moments of shakiness at times. Cleared his lines well, and was great in the air.

Joevin Jones – 6.5: Working his way back from injury and put in a decent shift.

Indiana Vassilev – 6.5: Came on and tried to make something happen. Technically excellent on the ball, but couldn’t get into a good area in the final third to have a big enough impact.

Gonzalo Higuain – (n/a): Had a few good touches but nothing too threatening.

Coaching

Phil Neville – 6.5: Got the timing of substitutions in the 2nd half wrong. Arguably the two most dangerous players on the pitch in Robert Taylor and Bryce Duke were taken off too early. It’s no shock that Miami conceded just two minutes after that. Besides the questionable timing, in the first half, Miami was well-coached and tactically disciplined. The wingers hugged the touchline and the midfielders were active. Miami also had more possession of the ball compared to previous matches.

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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Florida Panthers win first playoff series since 1996, defeat Washington Capitals in six games

The Florida Panthers finished off their first-round playoff series on the road in Game 6 on Friday night, defeating the Washington Capitals 4-3 in overtime after Carter Verhaeghe scored his second OT winner of the postseason.

 

After trailing 2-1 in the series, Florida rallied back to win three straight games, all being comeback wins, taking down Washington in six games.

 

This is Florida’s first series win since their run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1996, when they beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Conference Finals. That was on June 1, 1996.

 

This series win breaks the longest postseason series win drought in the NHL, with Florida not winning a series in nearly 26 years.

 

Florida now awaits the winner of the Tampa Toronto series, which is set to conclude tomorrow as the two teams will face off in a Game 7.

 

The Panthers, who finished the regular season with the best record in the NHL, will have home ice for the second-round, with Games 1-2 being at FLA Live Arena in Sunrise

 

Dates for the second-round are yet to be announced.

5 Takeaways from Panthers 4-3 OT win in Game 6 over Capitals

The Florida Panthers held a 3-2 series lead entering enemy territory tonight in Washington, DC.

Sixty minutes wasn’t enough for this back and forth Game 6; the two sides went to overtime for the second time in the series. 

 

Despite giving up a late goal in the third period, the Panthers won 4-3  in overtime from a goal by… you guessed it, Carter Verhaeghe.      

 

Florida is moving onto the second round and will face the winner of tomorrow night’s Tampa Toronto Game 7.

 

Onto the takeaways.

Florida continues to play from behind 

In four of the six games this series, Washington scored the first goal of the game.

 

Now, the Panthers are no strangers to giving up the first goal or playing from behind, they’ve proven to recover well this series and all season while facing a deficit. They lead the league with 29 comeback wins, with Game 5 being their sixth three-goal comeback (regular season and playoffs).

 

Two of their three wins in the series heading into Game 6 came after giving up the first goal of the game, now it’s three out of four.

 

Tonight, once again they gave up the first goal of the game. They were able to tie it at 1-1 but the Capitals broke the deadlock again, making it a 2-1 game early in the third.

 

Florida was able to get a result once again after being down twice tonight and they didn’t let a late Washington goal bring them down.

 

The Cardiac Cats don’t make it easy on themselves having to play from behind.

Carter Verhaeghe, Panthers legend

Carter Verhaeghe, what can we say about number 23.

 

After being a game time decision, he got the green light for Game 6 and boy did he deliver.

 

He had five points last game, he won Game 4 in overtime and he did it again tonight, getting the OT winner to send the Cats to the second round.

 

Verhaeghe had 12 points in round one, he was the best player on the ice all series, for both teams.

 

Remember the name, Carter Verhaeghe.

The power play woes continue 

Florida’s powerplay entered the game 0-16 in the series. They finished the series 0-18. 

 

They are the only team in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs to not score at least once on the power play. All other 15 teams have at least two goals on the power play. 

 

The Cats only had two chances on the power play tonight, striking out on both. 

 

Washington’s penalty killers didn’t have to do much short handed. Even with extended zone time on the PP for Florida, most of the puck movement was to the outside of the circles. The Capitals didn’t have to break their box PK setup since there was rarely any movement between the hash marks by the Panthers. 

 

It’s extremely impressive the Panthers won a series without scoring once on the power play.

Next man up, activate the Lomberghini  

Anthony Duclair has struggled this postseason, not recording a single goal through the first five games of the series. 

 

As a result, he watched the game from the press box tonight as Ryan Lomberg jumped into the lineup. 

 

Lomberg hasn’t appeared in a playoff game since Game 1, being a healthy scratch in the last four. 

 

The Lomberghini didn’t waste his opportunity to shine after getting the nod in Game 6. 

 

With the Panthers being down 1-0 early in the second, the Cats got a jump off the rush and fired a shot off the pad of Ilya Samsonov. Lomberg crashed the net hard and fired the rebound past the Capitals goalie, tying the game up. 

 

He got his chance and capitalized.

 

Ekblad and Chiarot battle through early injury scares 

The Panthers started the game with six defenseman and finished with six, however, there was a time in the first period where they only had four defenseman (two on ice, two on the bench) after a pair of injury scares to their top pair. 

 

On the first shift of the game, Aaron Ekblad got run to the ice by Capitals’ captain Alex Ovechkin. Ekblad appeared to fall on his backside from the hit, he hobbled to the locker room after that. 

 

Later in the period, Ben Chiarot was taken into the boards by Garnet Hathaway; both players fell to the ice, with Hathaway landing on top of Chiarot’s leg. 

 

Both defenseman went to the dressing room at the end of the first period, leaving Panthers fans worried about the amount of healthy defenseman they’d have ready by the end of the intermission.  

 

Thankfully for Florida, both guys were back on the ice in the second and whatever was bothering them didn’t seem to affect their play. Ekblad was able to set up Claude Giroux for the 2-2 tying goal in the third period, getting the primary assist.

 

FINAL TAKEAWAY: Second round here they come.

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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