To kick off game 1 of the NBA Finals, the Heat were just a step behind.
Struggled shooting, trouble stopping Denver’s different offensive weapons, and led by the offensive attack of Bam Adebayo and…oh Haywood Highsmith.
Some takeaways from this initial loss…
#1: Dealing with the Nuggets’ offense…yes, a problem.
The big question to start this game was how Miami would schematically deal with this high powered Denver offense. Attention at Jokic? Murray? Well, Aaron Gordon was the early issue, as he attacked Miami’s lack of size in that matchup in the post. He was in double figures immediately. Nikola Jokic just sat at that elbow in full play-making mode, carving things up per usual. Jamal Murray was also 8 of 12 from the field with 18 points in the first half, which is another clear issue. You have to pick your poison with this Nuggets squad, but it felt like they were getting it all in that first half of game 1. As I always say, game 1 sets the table and the following games are coaching adjustments, but man will those shifting pieces be needed against this team.
#2: Bam Adebayo looking comfortable.
One thing about the Miami Heat’s offense in that first half was they were getting great looks for their standards, yet they just could not capitalize for extended pockets of that initial 24 minute stretch. The one guy consistently capitalizing ended up being Bam Adebayo. As I said before the series, much of the offense will be on the shoulders of Bam for a few reasons. He can attack 4-on-3’s on the roll if they send 2 on the ball, plus Jokic will force Bam into open mid range jumpers. But Adebayo had a great mix in his shot profile to start, as he got the dotted line jumpers to go, found some comfort in the paint on his turnaround hooks against different matchups, and the drives to the rim are much cleaner than that Eastern Conference Finals against Boston. So if there was a good sign as they trailed by 17 at half, it was that the formula is there for him to be a major factor in this series on the offensive side of the ball.
#3: From a role player show to a role player need.
In the recency bias of this Heat team, it’s been a lot of the Heat’s role guys stepping up big time as the top dogs, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, struggled to score consistently. Yet as game 1 of the Finals opened up, it felt like those two things can just never align. As mentioned before, Adebayo had it going, and while Butler could’ve been more aggressive, he was getting great looks. As for the other guys, man we’re they struggling to convert. Max Strus was 0 for 7 at halftime with a ton of wide open threes, while Caleb Martin’s recent run landed him at 0 for 5 shooting. As a team they were shooting 24% from three, and well, it’s hard to keep up with an elite offense like Denver when those numbers look like that. The reason I bring this up is because it’s important to monitor throughout this series, but to be completely honest, the offense doesn’t worry me. The defense deserves all of the focus.
#4: So what does Miami cook up next for the Murray-Jokic PnR?
As I noted, the defense for Miami is the main substance here for this series. To dive a little deeper, the Jamal Murray-Nikola Jokic two man game, as we all know, is the beginning to all of their problems on that end. Yes, Jokic playmaking at the elbow can hurt, or normal post-ups, or even Murray isolation work. But Miami can live with portions of that. As for that pick and roll combo, we saw a few different things. Adebayo stayed mostly in drop with Caleb Martin chasing over the screen: 2-on-1 with Bam containing and the pull-up available. When they shifted Butler to Murray, Miami was able to switch some of those actions, yet is that always the right answer? Now Jokic can back down Butler, the help shades down, and there’s another skip pass to the corner. They key to the Heat’s defense is usually helping off a number of guys who aren’t consistent three point threats. But there just aren’t many of those on the floor right now at this stage of the playoffs. The one shift that we need to see: more of Haywood Highsmith on Jamal Murray. That was their best look.
#5: High PnR actions effective for Heat, and a certain Heat player’s return is looming.
As the Heat’s deficit started to grow early in the fourth quarter, Kyle Lowry found some sweet spots. High pick and roll, pull-up at the three point line above the break, repeat. Gabe Vincent saw similar looks that dropped, while the set-shooters Max Strus and Duncan Robinson didn’t have it going for it to be effective. Either way, those shots are sitting there. It’s even more of a weapon on night’s like this when Bam Adebayo is highly effective as a rolling scorer. Yet with the recent reports of Tyler Herro’s return looming around game 3, or even possibly game 2, you can’t help but think that his looks would be as clean as he would wish. The issue is that they would be perfect for a healthy Herro, since we just have no clue how he will look following surgery on his shooting hand. There won’t be reliance on him, but possibly a decent spark. No matter what we see, high PnR sets will be made a priority.