The Miami Heat go down 2-1 against the Denver Nuggets after a disappointing game 3.
Brutal shooting, lack of energy due to that inefficiency, and well, it all blended into the defense of allowing Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray do their thing at a high level.
So, some takeaways….
#1: Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo aggression definitely not the early problem.
The offense for the Heat in that first half wasn’t pretty. Not because the Denver defense was flattening them out time and time again, but instead due to the missed bunnies in the lane that could’ve swung stretch of the first 24 minutes. When it comes to the aggression topic that we often have, that was not an issue tonight. Butler got up 16 shots in that first half, yet only made 6 of them. He felt most comfortable when he got the right switches, since Jamal Murray or Christian Braun meant an immediate mid-post possession with his back to the basket. The floaters against drop was where the efficiency issues were. As for Bam Adebayo, he was extremely active yet again to begin this game. Jumpers, face-ups, and a ton of activity on the boards. Once again, they were aggressive.
#2: Round 3 of dealing with Jamal Murray-Nikola Jokic actions.
There’s been a lot of talk about defensive formula after game 2, due to the trend that Nikola Jokic as the scorer never really seems to be a bad thing. If you can limit both Jamal Murray and Jokic’s passing, it shrinks things for them. Yet it was pretty much the exact opposite in this game 3. Murray was finding all the right slots out of their usual two-man action, and the Heat couldn’t make him uncomfortable. They had to stay mostly in drop to contain things, but mixed in the occasional switch or blitz as well. The issue was that he reacted really well to all of that on his way to 20 first half points on 8 of 13 shooting. The only thing that forced any avenue of discomfort was the 2-2-1 press, since it essentially cuts their clock in half. As for the half-court stuff, it was clear the Heat needed to find answers at half.
#3: Caleb Martin finding his moments again.
As I mentioned the Heat’s top guys efficiency not meeting their aggression early in this game, they needed a role player breakthrough. Seeing Caleb Martin look healthy again following his sickness was a good sight, and man was he rolling in that second quarter. Let me start by saying they are defending him much differently than they started with in game 1. He wasn’t being helped off at that point, and saw a good amount of doubles on his rim attempts. Tonight, it was back to the defense reacting to Butler heavily and Martin feeding off. He had a pair of threes in a row due to exactly that, capping the run off with a transition run-out for 8 straight points. A bit later, Butler receives in the mid-post and the entire Nuggets defense shifts over. Martin one pass away finally gets it, sends a shot fake, and swings to the wide open Max Strus for three. Yeah, that’s what they need from Martin right now.
#4: Third quarter question marks…
As the Heat walk into the third quarter down 5, it felt like the needed an energy pick-up. But they also needed a shot making pick-up following that first half display. And well, things went from missing easy bunnies to losing sight of the offensive picture. As the Nuggets expanded their lead to 19 at one point, I still was leaning most of my focus on the Heat’s offense. Why? Well it’s been pretty clear that they should have solid openings in this defense to attack, which they found in Denver, yet it was thrown completely out the window for 12 minutes of play. Now that puts an immense amount of pressure on the defense to do the heavy lifting, which is a tough spot to be in against this offense. At this point in the year, you can’t have those lapses.
#5: Is it time for a rotation shift? Or is it time for a pattern shift?
As the Heat look for answers at this point following an ugly game 3, we could point to some things rotationally. No this doesn’t exactly fix the offensive issues I discussed previously, but a Haywood Highsmith insertion would feel useful at this point. Let him bother Jamal Murray for an extended stretch, and possibly ending the Cody Zeller minutes? That’s the main element that many have been waiting for, but how can Spo do it exactly? Well, that’s where the pattern shift comes into play. The Heat can get away with Highsmith at the five lineups due to Denver’s smaller front-line off the bench, but the issue is that Adebayo’s early exit in the substitution pattern throws things off. Now it may be time to just mirror Bam Adebayo with Nikola Jokic. The Heat like to be the ones to dictate, but now I believe it’s time to react. Let’s see if a change-up ends up coming…