The Heat played their last home game of February on Monday night against the Nuggets, and oh look at that, another clutch game.
The Heat had their moments in this game, but they were just too under-manned for Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets.
#1: A shift in the offensive base for the Heat.
As the Heat walked into the locker room at halftime, 62 points scored is a pretty solid baseline when taking into consideration the rotation tonight and the way this offense has generally looked. Part of that reason was getting aggressive Bam Adebayo in his spots early, and Jimmy Butler was heavily engaged in the half-court offense. Part of that engagement meant mid-post touches into kick-outs, which we saw an uptick with due to the fact this team was missing most of their perimeter guard play. No Tyler Herro pick and rolls to rely on, meaning more Butler/Bam in the mid-range. Butler had 7 assists at half for that very reason. As I’ll get into next, part of this should credit the hot three-point shooting, but his set-ups deserve credit.
#2: The battle of three point shooting…
Looking at the stat sheet after 24 minutes of play, you would notice a very different number next to the Heat’s 3 point shooting: 10 threes made on 48% shooting. Like I said, that’s almost double the usual number. The only problem with that: the Nuggets were simultaneously shooting 57% from three, mostly behind the automatic jumper of Michael Porter Jr. As I’ll discuss next, there’s only so much you can cover against this Nuggets team with Jokic’s ability to hit shooters. Aside from that, Max Strus and Gabe Vincent just simply weren’t shy about the shot attempts with 13 combined at half, which the coaching staff most certainly gave them elevated numbers as a goal number. When they shoot well, this offense reminisces the one of last year.
#3: The challenge of Nikola Jokic.
Nikola Jokic vs Bam Adebayo is as fun of a match-up you can get on the surface, but much of the time the Heat aren’t allowing it much screen time. When it comes to guarding Nikola Jokic, you must balance the over-committing doubles and strong close-outs when he throws a fast-ball to the opposite corner. A main element of that balance is trying to sustain single coverage as much as possible. We saw some points where they would switch, per usual, and that’s all he needs. He has a legit skill of sealing down low for quick insert passes and lay-ups. The other part of this is you really can’t go zone against him for obvious reasons. Bam Adebayo and company were giving him trouble when he was outside of the paint, but Jokic was winning the low interior battle.
#4: This Gabe Vincent starter thing isn’t going anywhere.
When it comes down to takeaway’s on a night to night basis, I seem to always walk away saying ‘yeah, Vincent’s role isn’t changing again.’ From the perspective of front office decision making, it makes the most sense to see what you have in a contract year. giving him the maximized opportunity. Yet from the basketball perspective, it most definitely makes the most sense at this current stage. It’s not that he’s having these eye opening performances, but he’s doing PG1 things. Taking control of the offense when needed, hitting spot-up triples, and bringing a certain defensive intensity. It’s hard to see this and say he’s going to be bumped back down to bench role player when everybody comes back. This is here to stay.
#5: The fourth quarter:
The Heat finally looked like they hit a wall heading into the fourth quarter. They went on a small 4-0 run to finish the third, but the game-plan seemed to be running out of gas. But well, they caught some energy. Ignited by a fading Strus three and hop step in the open floor, the Heat gained some momentum. A couple minutes later Strus catches in the corner, jabs to his left, then sprints baseline into a tough up and under. He was feeling it. The Nuggets made a run mid-way through the 4th, extending it to a 7 point lead with 5 and a half minutes to go. The Heat chipped away with some scores off defensive plays, along with Bam Adebayo getting to the line. 2 minutes to go, 6 point game. Adebayo began getting into his bag a bit on Jokic for a nice floater, followed by an insane block at the rim. With a chance to really put a stamp on this comeback, Strus took a contested floater that got blocked. Nuggets ball, down 4. And well, that pretty much sealed it after Butler missed a bunny to cut it to 2.