The Miami Heat go up 3-1 in the series, now 1 win away from the Eastern conference Finals.
Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo lead the way.
#1: Early game offense for Bam Adebayo to kick things off.
For all of the stat sheet watchers out there, Bam Adebayo is probably getting your nod of approval. On top of the usual dirty work stuff and being a defensive anchor, the Heat’s early offense included a heavy dosage of Bam down low. He kept finding slots where he would have a mismatch on his back, yet kept converting. Why is that interesting? Well, there are normally two issues with that: 1) Adebayo actually backing down his mismatch before looking to score and 2) his teammates actually getting him the ball down there with the correct spacing and enough time on the clock. Both were clicking. All of the guards kept feeding him perfectly, and he was playing extremely strong on the offensive end. Plus his isolation play in the middle of the floor was looking good. A crucial start from him and the Heat.
#2: With all of the adjustment talk, the Heat “run it back.”
If you’ve been keeping track of some of my content, you would know I’ve been tracking the adjustments from the Heat so far. (And well, Spo would know that too). The question was what the next adjustment would be. Game 1 they came out looking for RJ Barrett to beat them, as Butler took Brunson and Vincent took Barrett. They liked their chances, and it worked out. Game 2 with no Butler was a simple outlook: zone, zone, and oh wait, more zone. Fast-forward to game 3 on Saturday night, that was the big change. They stalled New York by flipping the game 1 assignments: now as Butler guarded Barrett with Vincent on Brunson. And well, the Heat came out the exact same way as game 3. The only different was Grimes inserting in for Hart meant Strus couldn’t play his help role as much. Either way, they forced good looks.
#3: I’m still monitoring the weird-ness of the Heat’s bench five.
Not only did the Heat’s bench have trouble scoring this season, they had even more trouble scoring together when they shared the floor. Non-Butler/Adebayo minutes were dreaded, yet add Tyler Herro into that fold and that’s the group that starts second quarters in the playoffs. The Kyle Lowry-Duncan Robinson-Caleb Martin-Haywood Highsmith-Cody Zeller unit walked into the game after the first quarter with only a 1 point lead. Two minutes later, Adebayo was entering for Zeller, who had a tough opening stint, and the Heat were holding onto a 4 point lead. They just keep finding ways to be positive in that time period, which anything we’ve previously learned tells you the complete opposite. Credit to Lowry mostly for keeping everything organized and taking the necessary shots.
#4: The Max Strus impact continues.
Max Strus has been having some strong starts to games as of late, as the natural reaction to the Heat’s early offense is to shade help at Jimmy Butler. He consequently found some gaps, but that’s not the only reason. This team gives him air space in a way that not many teams do, which has allowed him to get into a rhythm. The other part of his game today is the way he has been attacking these close-outs, since that’s what is opening everything else up. Lastly, he just hits the timely shots when it seems the Heat need it most. As the Knicks cut it to 4 late in the third, the tide was sort of turning. Butler comes down, runs a handoff with Strus, who confidently rises up for 3 to extend it to 7. That quickly, momentum gone. He’s even holding up on the defensive end and keeps making plays, mostly since they’ve simplified his role on that end. His production has been big.
#5: Heat playing the Knicks game late.
A primary chunk of the Knicks offense has solely been owning the offensive boards. They may not be super efficient, but they will get extra possessions for their group to capitalize on. Yet when looking at the Heat to start the fourth quarter, that exact description fits. They could not buy a bucket in the half-court, yet they kept getting saved by the energy. Caleb Martin spearheaded it with some crucial offensive boards, but everybody was fighting down there. Just a scrappy bunch of guys truly inheriting that label. The Knicks made a run back with 7 and a half to go, cutting it to 6, mostly due to that continued run of shots not dropping. Out of that timeout, Butler answers with an up and under inside to pull momentum again. The point is that when it felt like the Knicks could make a true run to an even margin, the Heat played New York’s game to hold them off.