This was a bit of a weird one for the Miami Heat in this late start against the Golden State Warriors. Aside from Miami’s strong fight with a short-handed roster, they also may have just lost Jimmy Butler for some time after he went down and into the locker room in the third.
So, here are some takeaways from this one, as well as a bit of a look forward as well…
#1: Miami’s microscopic issues out the gate on both ends.
Aside from the repeated unnecessary turnovers from the Heat early on, there were some clear issues that led to a lopsided score in the first quarter. For starters on the defensive end, there were once again just some clear miscommunications that led to easy looks for Golden State, which they didn’t always capitalize on. But the main problem on that end was over-helping. Now that doesn’t count flying two to Stephen Curry at the head of the offense, but instead sending two to Draymond Green in the mid-post, while many other mismatches like Lowry on Wiggins were all over the floor. On the other side of the floor, it’s pretty clear this is a tough match-up in general with their switching ability, which is something that should be focused on. Spamming certain screeners who are being defended by Gary Payton ll just isn’t the right call, and they found that out quick.
#2: The Kyle Lowry second quarter run.
After Miami’s first quarter, I said on Twitter the only way their offense could be saved is if it turned into Jimmy Butler or Tyler Herro time. I was wrong. It turned into Kyle Lowry time. After trailing 28-40 in the 2nd, a 9-0 run quickly followed due to the excellence of Lowry. He began with some dribble penetration that was missed, mostly toying with a sticking big on the baseline before getting some good positioning for easy flip layups. He also got guys going with his usual passing, full-court touchdowns to Herro, and continued pick and roll connection with Omer Yurtseven, who looks most comfortable in that space with Lowry. He’s not the type of guy to flip the momentum in the same way Butler or Herro can, but guys just see him lead by example and others quickly follow. What I saw from Lowry tonight, almost foreshadows some playoff level expectations with him.
#3: Jimmy Butler’s first half flip.
Jimmy Butler wasn’t his usual self on the front-end of the back to back against the Sacramento Kings, and it slightly carried over into the beginning of this one. As I said early on, he almost looked like he was coasting yet again, flowing into offense with too much ease. But well, then things flip, like they usually seem to do. Late in the second quarter, Butler got into hunting/attacking mode, in a way that makes you wonder what took so long. Free throw line trips increasing, three-point attempts decreasing. Seeing him get to his usual spots on the floor from the mid-post to left or right box is a true tell, where he can survey and inevitably draw two almost every time. But the Butler conversation got much more complicated in the third quarter, as he limped off the floor with an apparent right leg injury. Achilles is the first thing that popped into my head when I first saw it, but that’s just speculation. A little bit later, the Heat listed it as a right ankle injury, which is much better in that sense.
#4: Caleb Martin making more of a rotational case, night after night.
I’ve spent so many of these post-game pieces touching on the Heat’s two-way find Caleb Martin this season, even dissecting his December stretch in a recent article. But he just continues to shine from a night to night basis, and more importantly, in a role to role basis. In this game alone, high flying put-back dunks, big time corner triples, Stephen Curry hounding. It was all on display, but we need to key in on that “role to role” point a bit more. They’re down a few bigs, put Martin at the 5 and it works. They need a power forward plug-in without PJ Tucker, just throw in Martin. And well, as Spoelstra has said in the past, when Butler goes out, he’s the lite version to jump into that spot. As much as this is a positive thing that he can continue to shine, the issue is the circumstances. As I said before, with the new injury for Butler, Martin’s spot opens up again in another area of the starting lineup.
#5: The PJ Tucker reliance begins again.
On the positive side of things, PJ Tucker returned to play in this one off the bench as he worked his way back in, and we saw glimpses of what was missed. The biggest thing is defensively with his communication and overall deferring ability on and off the ball, but the offensive task rises again. Tonight we saw more of the usual Tucker role with corner spacing, some screen and rolls, and hand-offs. But with no Butler or Adebayo, the role I talked about before he was injured returns. We saw a play-making surge from him at that point, and they will begin to shift him back into that wing post three position, where he can trigger back-side actions. And the major part about that working is getting some shooters back. To maximize that role, you need weak-side killers which begins with Max Strus returning on Wednesday since he’s now out of the health and safety protocols.
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