The Heat came off a loss in game 3 to go down 2-1 in the series, but bounced back in demanding fashion in game 4.
Big time play from Jimmy Butler, elite level defense, and overall positive flow on both ends.
They now find themselves up 3-1 in the series, so here are some takeaways from this one…
#1: Jimmy Butler benefiting early from shifts in the lineups.
There were plenty of shifts in this game overall, from rotations to lineups to schematic sets. But the reason I’d like to start with the shifting lineups was that it impacted the team’s best player in very positive fashion. Other than putting in Victor Oladipo, which I’ll touch on later, they went small with lineups like Vincent-Oladipo-Strus-Butler-Tucker, which changes the shot profile of Butler down low specifically. They wanted to stagger the minutes of Butler and Adebayo anyways without Kyle Lowry playing, but this just furthered that point. Due to the extra space, Butler went to work in that first half with 19 points, even after struggling to begin the game. Interior post work, hunting guards, and pure takeover mode is what we’ve seen Butler lock into in this series, and man it’s pretty promising.
#2: Zero turnovers? Taking care of the basketball without their point guard in.
The Miami Heat went through the first half of basketball without a turnover. Another thing they were without in that first half was their steady point guard, Kyle Lowry, who is mainly responsible for taking care of the basketball. To add onto that, the Heat have never played a half of playoff basketball without a turnover. Well, until now. Simply, that’s not a normal occurrence, and the fact that they can do it without a true set-up guy is special. Some of that means they aren’t making those risky passes that Lowry likes to make, and it’s much more volume of insert passes and cuts, but still a very valid accomplishment. It’s next man up mentality, with a guy like Vincent stepping up into his spot, but the beauty of this team is that the front-court can make up for the lack of a point guard. Referring back to the Butler-Adebayo point.
#3: Can we talk about PJ Tucker again?
Looking back at the half, there were plenty of storylines. Two that I touched on with Butler and the zero turnover mark, the big run in the second quarter, Victor Oladipo minutes, and going through 24 minutes of play with 6 bench points. But you know who stood out to me in that span? PJ Tucker. For starters, he was the second leading scorer behind Butler with 10 points, and those buckets are the relief points that are talked about so often. Defender dips down, corner three. Defenders play high in an action, slip and floater. But let’s forget about the scoring for a second, and even more-so, let’s look away from his defensive presence. Looking back to my point about going smaller, the reason it’s a possibility is due to Tucker rebounding at such a bigger size. He had 8 boards at the half, and he was deep into the double digits in quality box-outs. Spo and Riley always talk about how outstanding he is in that area, but it truly allows for team versatility.
#4: Oh yeah, this Heat defense is legit.
We know what the Heat have done against Trae Young this series. Throwing different bodies at him, doubling high, picking up full court. But the job this team has done as a collective group must be discussed again. Under 2 minutes to go in the second quarter, ball in the hands of Young coming down the floor. Tucker pressuring all the way down, in a fashion that he just crosses the half court line at 17 seconds left on the shot clock. High ball screen comes, and some guy named Bam Adebayo switches onto him. Young immediately eyes his right, calling for yet another screen. His wish is granted, oh and now it’s Jimmy Butler who finds him on the right wing. He kicks under pressure, and Adebayo locks up Bogdanovic at the top for an empty Hawks possession. That is this Heat defense. It’s suffocating, it’s switchy, and it’s as versatile as ever. Spoelstra has some weapons moving forward on this playoff run.
#5: Victor Oladipo minutes.
Before this game, my idea of the rotation without Lowry was pretty consistent. Gabe Vincent would get the start, Caleb Martin would be next up off the bench, and the Victor Oladipo card is if they’re lacking shot creation or that extra initiation. Well, that’s exactly how that played out. The Heat’s offense was pretty stagnant for moments early, so they quickly transitioned into Dipo over Duncan Robinson. Immediately, it should be noted that his defensive presence was felt. He was switching and guarding isolations pretty well, which was something to keep an eye on when he returned from injury. The offensive side of the ball included a lot of off-ball reps, which is expected when playing his minutes next to Butler or Herro at all times. His best moments always come in the open floor, which makes me think more high PnR reps will be next for him in the half-court. Either way, he played his role well as the filler.
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