The Miami Heat are now down 3-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Continued struggles offensively, Jimmy Butler hitting a wall potentially due to injury, and others not playing up to their abilities.
So, here are some takeaways from this game…
#1: No Tyler Herro means troublesome bench. Or just the opposite…
The Heat’s bench in the first half of game 5 scored a total of 18 points, the same amount the Heat starters put up in all of game 4 in Boston. The offense wasn’t clicking to start this one either, but it was the same thing for Boston. All of a sudden, Victor Oladipo and Gabe Vincent trot into the game for Max Strus and Kyle Lowry, and well, things flipped quickly. Oladipo provided the shot creation they were missing, and Vincent provided the missing point guard element of somebody willing to shoot and bend the defense. Caleb Martin stepped into the mix as well, and he was vital. Corner threes, put-backs in the lane, smothering defense on Jayson Tatum. He might’ve been the most impressive of them all, while Duncan Robinson rounded out the 4 man bench unit. And we shouldn’t look past his gravity that was harped on so often. He created a ton of space for Miami’s weak half-court looks, and he deserved some credit early too. But much like all of this, the word “early” was a crucial element.
#2: The rotational adjustment many were waiting for.
Dewayne Dedmon has struggled as of late. Now that Miami found themselves tied 2-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals, there’s less room for error. Yes, he may get a 6 to 8 minute stint, but that could flip a game. Consequently, many have been clamoring for some Markieff Morris minutes at the back-up 5, for both spacing and a bigger body on the front-line. Yet while I had many present that option to me, I had the same answer to it all: PJ Tucker should be the back-up 5. With so much on the line right now, minutes need to increase. And if Bam Adebayo sits at 42 minutes, give Tucker the other 6 to play next to Jimmy Butler and Caleb Martin to spark a space-ful run. Tucker was fantastic in that role early on, as his rebounding comfort was obvious from the jump on both sides. They may have fell short, but this was the correct rotation shift.
#3: Bam Adebayo has found the mismatches since game 1, but there’s inconsistency in capitalizing.
How did Miami counter the rough start yet again to kick this game off? Well, it was simply Bam Adebayo’s aggressive mind-set off big time put-backs at the rim, one over teammate Jimmy Butler. But other than that, it wasn’t looking good for Bam’s offensive impact for the first few minutes. Every set was being run through Butler and Tucker, while Bam was down low watching. That blended into Miami doing nothing about the mismatch of Brown on his back, til it clicked. The Heat began growing much more intentional in that space to get him the ball, and Bam responded well. Strong attacks in the post, activity on the offensive boards, and energy when the ball wasn’t in his hands for screening. With Butler struggling and Herro out, they needed him to begin this game, and he answered the call. But then the phone hung up. The Heat began to stall out beginning with Butler’s struggles, and Bam couldn’t create something out of nothing. Those advantages are there, but the lack of a go-to restricts the consistency of his attack.
#4: Third quarter trouble strikes back.
4 for 23. That was the Heat’s shooting numbers in the third quarter, and if you were watching the game, that wouldn’t be shocking. As much as I gave the bench unit props, that was equally highlighting the starting lineup issues. Jimmy Butler just didn’t look right. They’re throwing length on him any chance they get, which neutralizes him without the usual burst and attack to the rim. The third quarter sum-up for the Heat’s offense: it appeared they hit the wall. The Celtics did a good job of utilizing Robert Williams again, and Miami didn’t have the answer to him that I was expecting. He was everywhere as a shot blocker, just wrecking havoc on every perimeter shooter for the Heat. And once he rattled those guys, everything trickles from there.
#5: So, what now?
When I said Heat in 7, I’ve been pretty much aligned with what has been happening in the series. A 1-1 split followed by a 1-1 split, while it eventually bleeds into a game 7 in the Heat’s house. But when I pictured game 5, I didn’t picture this. To be completely honest, it felt like each team would get one at home, but as Miami lost Tyler Herro, and Jimmy Butler in many cases, the Heat’s offense stalled even more-so. But what now? The Celtics now lead 3-2 in the series heading back to Boston. We often hear about culture and mental toughness with this Heat team, and that’ll be tested to the ultimate degree Friday night. I can sit here and discuss film adjustments or rotation changes, but this is mental now. Can the Heat overcome the shrugged shoulders and short jumpers? I don’t have the answer to that right now, but it’ll be tested completely in game 6.
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