Well, that was a game.
Heat steal game 1 in Milwaukee. Wild Jimmy Butler performance, unfortunate injuries, and a major win by Miami.
#1: My early primary takeaway: the Heat’s defense and shot forcing stands out.
Well, the Miami Heat came out swinging offensively. And that wasn’t even the main thing that stuck out to me: it was the defense. Erik Spoelstra stayed with the usual starting lineup as Max Strus was guarding Brook Lopez to start, and man were they getting the shots that they wanted. Lopez wouldn’t even walk past the three point line, falling right into the Heat’s hand. When it came to their helping, Miami was helping over off corners and the Bucks just weren’t hitting consistently from deep. The Bucks still found ways to score inside, but they needed to add layers. Kevin Love showcased one of those layers, which is positional defense. He was active, taking charges, and the Heat’s rotations were crisp. Lean offense all you want, the defense is the bigger factor.
#2: Playoff Jimmy Butler.
He says it’s not a thing, but I disagree with Jimmy Butler himself: playoff Jimmy is real. All of the talk is about the schematics of Milwaukee’s defense not meshing with the skill-set of Butler, but I have news: Butler doesn’t care about your scheme. He still finds ways to get to his usual spots all across the floor. Bursting by the league’s best perimeter defender in Jrue Holiday, taking it strong on Brook Lopez, and hitting all the in-between jumpers he found. 24 points on 11 of 17 shooting in that first half. Pure control and dominance. Once he gets into that mode, it’s hard to get him out of it. The next step late in the second quarter was the Bucks’ added help, which led to kick outs with some Heat 3 balls falling. Just reacting and capitalizing.
#3: 84 games later, the Heat pushing pace?
When it comes to Miami Heat themes, transition play and pace pushing is not one of them. For one, it’s not an Erik Spoelstra thing, and secondly, this Heat team usually has no clue *how* to do it. Yet to open this game 1, everybody was running. Four vertical plays calls to Butler, Caleb Martin playing on-ball for some transition control, and operating in the early clock. Like I said, yes they were getting in transition, but the key is not playing with your back against the clock time and time again. They had control, which usually means more of a rhythm to take those quick shots within the possession.
#4: Battle of injuries…
How quickly a series can change. Early in the game, Giannis Antetokounmpo flies down the lane for a layup with Kevin Love ready to take the charge right underneath. He hits the floor hard on his back, and he kept going back and forth from the locker room to the game. Finally he took one final trip to the locker room before being ruled out, which is just an absolute killer. Fast forward to the final minutes of the second quarter, the Heat took a shot of their own. Tyler Herro dove on the floor for the loose ball, coming up clearly in pain. He was holding his right hand, gameplay still going, the ball finds him in the corner, and he takes a shot with a broken hand. Yes you read that correctly, a broken hand was the official diagnosis. Once again, how quickly a series can change. Twice.
#5: The fourth:
Let’s be honest: this was a must win. We didn’t say that heading in, but we did say that heading into halftime. Antetokounmpo out, the Heat in a rhythm: this is the one to get. Heat up 108-100 with 8 minutes left, but Bucks keep fighting back. Adebayo looks for a handoff, Vincent finds him, and pulls it for a three to extend it to 11. Needed shot. Fast forward to a 9 point lead with 6 minutes left, the offense was burning out. Butler-Bam run a high PnR, Butler hits the elbow, and knocks down a pure pull-up jumper. The next possession, we see a Strus-Bam PnR, Holidays stays glued to Strus, hits Bam in the pocket, and another pull-up middy is the result. 115-102. Bucks cut it to 10 with just under 4 minutes to go, and Heat in need of another score. Brook Lopez camped under the rim, Bam handling, finally building the courage to flow into a pull-up. Book it. The Bucks answer with an and-1, as Heat counter with a Caleb Martin corner triple. Heat walk out after stealing a game in Milwaukee.
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