The Heat lose in a back and forth in Denver. Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro both played very well, but ultimately couldn’t generate enough stops to walk out of that building with a win.
But here are some takeaways from this one…
#1: The Heat’s first half offense: short jumpers and rough offense.
The Heat struggled to begin this game in the half-court, as the high altitude was clearly a bother. A little past the midway mark of the second quarter, the Heat were shooting 33% from the field, as Jimmy Butler was 1 for 5, Bam Adebayo was 2 for 8, and Tyler Herro was 1 for 6. Miami ended up running off 12 points in the final two minutes of the second quarter to juice up their numbers a bit and give them momentum. At the same time as those Heat stats, the Nuggets were shooting 61% from the field and 53% from three. How was this a game? Well, the Heat had 9 offensive boards to begin the game to the Nuggets 0. They also forced double the amount of turnovers in that first half. So, that was basically the blueprint.
#2: Max Strus providing the necessary spark.
As I just addressed that 12 point run by Miami in the final two minutes stretch before the half, Max Strus had 8 of those points. He got in the lane for a left-handed scoop to get Miami on the board out of the timeout, but the threes flowed in shortly after. A Kyle Lowry pick and roll on the right wing masked a weak-side hammer screen from Adebayo to give Strus a wide open three in the left corner. But the key wasn’t the process, it’s Strus actually finding his way as an efficient shooter again. With the recent rough patch, he has needed moments like this to get him back in a rhythm. And well, he’s still never seen a shot contest in his life, as he will fire over just about any close-out.
#3: Bam Adebayo adjusted back into drop coverage against Nikola Jokic.
If I can present that same question I threw out there earlier, how was Miami in the game early even with all of those one-sided stats? Well, minor adjustments like this one changed the pace. The Heat’s defensive activity really picked up on that second quarter specifically, but that was due to the fact they could double and recover much more freely with Adebayo glued to Nikola Jokic in drop. We saw some switches early, but they settled back in that drop after realizing they needed to mirror the minutes of Jokic with Bam. Now, Jokic did have 7 assists at the half, but that was mostly due to the fact Bam was forcing him into that role. More hand-offs and PnR’s means the Heat’s point of attack defense has to screen navigate. We saw some counter matches in this one, but Bam in drop against elite centers is always the answer. Just go back to the second round series against Joel Embiid and Philly.
#4: The third quarter: the Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro show
Through the first 8 minutes of play in the third quarter, the Heat scored 23 points. All 23 of those points were from Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro. The Heat changed up the substitution pattern a bit with Jimmy Butler exiting early, meaning a heavy dosage of Herro-Bam PnR. Herro found both his pull-up three and the floater in the in-between game after a tough start to the game. Bam was playing with some real energy as a roller and out of his face-up, as many of his points simply came from getting to the line consistently in Butler fashion. That’s one of the most important elements when watching Bam offensively: just getting a friendly whistle. Anyway, having these two lead the way for a giant chunk of time in this environment is promising.
#5: Fourth quarter summary: Butler’s adjustment to Nuggets forcing a certain switch to Herro ball late to stalling out.
Jimmy Butler was being a menace on the defensive end all night. Getting into his usual free safety antics by hitting passing pockets, but his eventual offensive recognition in this game is what truly stood out. Early in the fourth quarter, Adebayo and Herro went to the bench, so Butler could run with the second unit. In that same sense, DeAndre Jordan was the opposing big in this stretch. Butler recognizing, just kept attacking Jordan in drop coverage as he should. But the reason it stood out was because he played it perfectly. We don’t see Butler floaters too often, but he was spamming it in this period. Jordan exited, Jokic entered. Yet Bam was still on the bench. Shortly after he walked to the scorers table, but that short stint can flip a game, which it did in a sense. Into late-game stuff, the Nuggets were forcing a Kyle Lowry switch onto Aaron Gordon possession after possession, giving them a real offensive base. Now down to the three minute mark, Herro began getting into his bag. Isolation into pull-up. Catch and shoot three. Drawing fouls. He was great, but everything else began falling apart. The offense somewhat stalled, but they just couldn’t generate a stop lat with Jamal Murray surging. Nuggets shooting 59% from both the field and from three just won’t cut it.