The Miami Heat completely took care of business in game 3 from start to finish.
Jimmy Butler looked as healthy as ever, Bam Adebayo held a major impact on the outer lines, and Erik Spoelstra just out-coached the Knicks in this one.
#1: Erik Spoelstra opens things up with the adjustments…
The Heat put up a 58 point first half in game 3, and we can walk up and down the roster to talk individual players and how they were utilized. But nothing shined more to me than the Erik Spoelstra game-plan. For starters, we saw a defensive shift in match-ups with Jimmy Butler now on RJ Barrett and Gabe Vincent on Jalen Brunson. They cut off the Knicks early game-plan and fed off their stops. As for the offense in that first quarter, they just simply abandoned the three ball. They shot 1 for 5, but it just felt like a focus to attack the paint more. It wasn’t even just Butler: Adebayo was decisive and Max Strus was rushing the paint. Things were just clicking. As they shrunk the court a bit, that set up some early second quarter success from deep. A blitz on Lowry found Robinson an open three, into a Highsmith triple the following play. Spoelstra didn’t sit back and react: he pressed up.
#2: Kyle Lowry just keeps stabilizing.
As I talk about some of that first half offense from the Heat, it felt like there was somebody that needed to be discussed a bit more: Kyle Lowry. It was clear in game 2 that they needed more, and man did he come out with some burst in this game 3. Getting to the basket, reading the defense, and really setting up others in the process. The more intriguing part of that was the lineup he was in: Lowry-Robinson-Martin-Highsmith-Zeller. That five man unit was getting extended run in a conference semis playoff game, and it looked good. Zeller deserves some credit for his solid minutes of rebounding and rim diving, but it just comes back to Lowry with the way he was setting him up. That version of him makes them look different. A good different.
#3: Jimmy Butler’s ankle looking good, his game looking great.
The big question heading into this game was how Jimmy Butler would look following that ankle injury. Getting almost a week off felt like a big deal in his recovery process, but would he be moving in pre-injury form? Some may argue he looked even better after he decided to go up for a double clutch reverse dunk after the whistle. But all jokes aside, he just kept getting to his spots yet again. The only thing he wasn’t getting was the usual foul calls on many of his contact drives. For some reason, they were letting them play a bit, which is fine once it’s consistent. But as I said after game 2, the biggest change would be on the defensive end. Not only the shifting match-ups, but some of the plays he was making on-ball with contests. There’s also the helping element at the nail that they missed to counter Brunson. Either way, his ankle looked good and he looked great.
#4: Bam Adebayo stepping up in a different way: doing the dirty work.
Bam Adebayo has been a hot topic in these playoffs for the Heat, mostly in the opposite manner of Jimmy Butler. Adebayo’s name keeps coming up due to his offensive production tailing off to start this post-season. With back to back similar defensive looks to start the playoffs, his shots are essentially coming from the same spot on the floor every night. So aside from his high level defensive impact, where can he make his mark? He answered that in game 3. Doing the dirty work, scrapping down low, and absolutely fighting on the boards for extra possessions. When talking impact, he was just flying around out there wherever the ball bounced. As the offense isn’t flowing as smoothly as it once was for him, finding ways to really create positive scoring opportunities is huge. He did that in this one.
#5: Oh, so they don’t need 3 point shooting?
As the Heat hold a 20 point lead early in the fourth quarter with the offense still clicking, one stat would jump off the page while scanning it: the Heat’s 3 point shooting. They were at 27% shooting from deep at that point, and not once did that seem problematic. They had some timely open threes that were created off the constant paint attacks, but this shot profile simply doesn’t make much sense. The one way to add some context is the Knicks on the other end were just taking some horrible shots. That blended into the defense at times, but Heat were dictating at all times no matter the offensive creator. Game 3 can be a big swing in these situations, and man did Miami come with the necessary fire. Onto game 4.