The Miami Heat faced the Raptors in Toronto on Wednesday night, and well it was your typical Heat-Raptors game.
If you looked at a stat sheet, you would say Miami had no business being in that spot. Turnovers. Bad. Rebounding. Worse.
They stayed around even through that, but those things were the overarching issues.
So, here are some takeaways from this one…
#1: Nikola Jovic getting his moment.
With Bam Adebayo being ruled out tonight in Toronto, it raised an eyebrow for their big man room. Dewayne Dedmon was the sole big ready to play it seemed, and he was questionable up until tip-off. Yet Spoelstra did what he does best, make the unexpected move: Nikola Jovic as the starting five. And well, he had about as great of a start as you could expect from him. They were purposeful in getting him involved in that first quarter: pick and pops, dunker spot re-positioning, quick dives to the rim. He had 11 points in that opening quarter, but the bigger point was that he fit in. They were able to successfully run a 5 out offense, while his drop on the other end was solid with straight up contests. This was his first true showing in the regular season for Miami, and it definitely won’t be the last. He’s impressive.
#2: Max Strus’ offensive diversity stands out as he catches fire.
Max Strus walked into the second quarter with 0 points, while Miami knew they needed something from a shooter to create positive half-court offense. And he ended up finishing that quarter with a total of 15 points, including 2 triples and 5 free throws. Not the usual Strus shot profile, but that’s what stood out here. There was diversity in the sets they were running for him as the Raptors overplay with a ton of length and solid defenders. Curls, hand-offs, pick and rolls, paint touches, catch and attacks. You just didn’t know what was coming from possession to possession, and that’s why I say he’s improved more than anybody on this team. The guy literally threw down a poster dunk in the second quarter as well. He’s elite as a simple shooter, but we just have to quit stopping there.
#3: The take-away mid-way through this game: the transition and pace game.
When entering this game, the biggest X’s and O’s story-line for me was the battle of pace. The Raptors are the best team in the league in that transition department, meaning you just have to turn down turnovers and you’ll be in a good spot. If you allow them to get out and run, it becomes problematic for a few reasons: 1) they generate both rhythm and points when entering this mode and 2) once they start getting out and running, it’s almost contagious. In the second quarter, we saw Miami pushing pace in unnecessary fashion at times, simply falling into their play-style a bit. Kyle Lowry deserves a ton of credit for settling Miami in this one, which partly has to do with his familiarity with the Raptors, but they needed him to calm down the kids who were playing freely. A lot of the turnovers were the league sending an apparent memo to referees about travels (lol), but Miami also can’t produce this many against teams like this. It’s the main reason they dropped this one.
#4: The Raptors game-plan was simple for their 21-0 run: picking on a Heat big.
The Raptors went on a 21-0 run in the third quarter. For more perspective, the Heat didn’t score for 7 minutes straight. But I’m not focusing on the offensive issues right, since they were just playing high to not allow Miami’s shooting to redeploy. As for that 21 point spree by the Raptors, they played bully ball. Not by being physical, but because they were just picking on the Heat’s Dewayne Dedmon. As he entered the game in the third quarter, Toronto got ready to inbound. VanVleet yelled at Anunoby walked down the court to call out a play, which was essentially a curl to operate 2-on-1 with Dedmon. An easy bucket. Shortly after they went to that well for a bit, VanVleet entered his favorite mode: pick and roll against drop. They found a match-up they liked and went to it. This isn’t to just pile on Dedmon, since he actually got some buckets in that second half that were needed, but that was just Toronto’s perspective on offensive game-plan.
#5: An interesting style on the surface for Jimmy Butler usage.
As I said earlier, the Heat were without Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro tonight, arguably the team’s second and third best players. But well, they still have their best player to generate a good amount of usage, right? Wrong. As I went through early in this piece, the Heat’s box score was pretty spread around. Good start for Jovic, good second quarter for Strus, Martin and Vincent played very well offensively. Yet Butler only had 4 shot attempts halfway through the fourth quarter. And once he’s out of the mix in the offensive rhythm, it feels hard to just merge him back into things on the fly. Let me also add something of significance: Toronto was basically sending 3 guys every time Jimmy touched the ball. Hard to look past that. As the Raptors pulled away, Lowry was the one to keep piecing things together by getting to his spots, but it’s just an intriguing base on a night without two primary guys.