The Miami Heat finished off the first half of the regular season with a win over the New Orleans Pelicans, getting them to .500 before the All-Star break. A late-game Jimmy Butler takeover led to Miami pulling away, and an Andre Iguodala slam sealed it under a minute to go. So, here are five takeaways from this game…
#1: The Kelly Olynyk show early on.
As I’ve discussed many times in the past, Kelly Olynyk finds himself on one of these takeaway pieces once every few games, since he always has that one breakout game where he can’t miss. And well, that game was tonight. The scoring obviously must be noted first, since he exploded early on, scoring 13 points in the first quarter while the entire Pelicans team scored 15. As I noted before the game, Olynyk was going to have an advantage on the perimeter against the Pelicans’ drop coverage, especially since Steven Adams was dropping. And as expected, he had plenty of open opportunities to begin the game. Instead of discussing his scoring tonight, his passing must be mentioned as well. With Bam Adebayo out, they missed the facilitator in the middle of the offense who can hit back-door cutters in stride, but Olynyk became that guy quickly with high arcing passes time and time again for Miami’s offensive flow.
#2: A smooth running offense is the Jimmy Butler effect.
Coach Erik Spoelstra mentioned after Miami’s strong first quarter that the spacing was looking good. And the reason for that was Jimmy Butler, plain and simple. The last game against the Atlanta Hawks proved that offense can’t flow without a downhill presence and their primary play-maker, in Butler, which bounced back as soon as the ball was tipped. Other than his effortless 11 points in the first half, his 7 assists in that span speak major volume. Miami began to get into their drive and kicks once again, which allowed even more open threes for guys like Olynyk, due to the drop coverage collapsing completely on Butler when attacking. The offense was running quite smoothly on a night without Bam Adebayo, which pretty much proves the amount of impact Butler can have just by his presence.
#3: Precious Achiuwa getting thrown in the fire off the bench, blending in quite perfectly.
It’s not easy to be a starter from middle school to high school to college, then get thrown into the NBA without a Summer League and get placed into a bench role. But well, that’s been the situation for Precious Achiuwa this season, and the adaptation he’s made to that role continues to be very impressive. As soon as he enters the game, his presence is felt as a constant energy and rim runner, while putting major emphasis on runner since he never stops moving. Another thing is that he is totally locked in on his individual job as a screener and roller, while never straying off into other areas in a fast paced game, which most young players tend to do. That point right there highlights his mindset and focus to understand who he is as a player and what benefits the team, and that continued bench role benefits this Heat team majorly.
#4: The natural KZ Okpala roller coaster game.
There’s a lot to dive into when discussing the young career of KZ Okpala. He’s had a few stints throughout the season, and the same negatives and positives continue to pop out. On the negative side of things, the lack of playing time has led to his hesitance in the offense. Almost every time he receives the ball, he doesn’t even almost look toward the rim to try and score. Now, that has a lot to do with just trying to fit in, instead of playing in a free and natural way. But although he may think that unselfish play will lead to increased playing time, it may be the complete opposite. That takes us to the positives in his game, which always come when he avoids that hesitance. The third quarter showed that when he came out immediately and shot a contested three, which although it missed, it’s clear coaches or players got in his ear about it. That led to a very impressive side-step three in the corner, and a nice up and under layup in a solid spurt on both ends, which showcases an expected roller coaster on a nightly basis when he takes the floor.
#5: The non-Butler minutes a worry without Adebayo, which leads to more Dragic.
Non-Jimmy Butler minutes and Goran Dragic pretty much go hand in hand. He’s always been the trusted guy to keep his unit afloat while Butler takes a breather, which is what he did early in the fourth tonight once again. Three-pointer to mid-range jumper to getting to the free throw line. He’s a guy that has been incredibly good at finding mismatches, which is even easier to do against this Pelicans team. On a night that Tyler Herro struggled again, Dragic was going to be needed to get downhill and generate offense, and he did just that. Crafty pump-fakes and footwork around the rim when the defense collapsed, occurred possession after possession. There’s only so much that he can do in those non-Butler spurts, but it’s very promising to continue to see him step up in those spots, then handing the keys back over to Butler to close. And well, he took the keys and drove this team all the way home.