The Heat faced off against the New Orleans Pelicans once again, and it definitely wasn’t as smooth as the first match-up.
In the mud offense, defensive spike, and a late Lowry scoring run.
But here are some takeaways from this one…
#1: Well, that was some ugly first half offense.
There’s a tough watch when it comes to half-court offense in the NBA, and then there’s the first 24 minutes of Heat-Pelicans. If it wasn’t for a hot defensive stretch for the Heat, that I will dive into heavily next, They would’ve been in the mid 30’s through two full quarters. Everything is a grind when it comes to this team’s slow-paced approach. Teams try to eliminate the top players: Butler sees mid-post doubles, Bam sees extra help on the role, Herro sees great defenders with the occasional blitz. Teams want Lowry/Martin types to obtain heavy usage. We can continue to look at the shooting or certain elements, but there are simply too many moments I sit back and say ‘what are they trying to accomplish on that end right now.’ Maybe a good chunk of that is the need for extra talent, but it looking that ugly when healthy can’t be the case by any means.
#2: It all starts with the defense.
Bam Adebayo switches, Orlando Robinson blitzes. Early in this game, the defensive coverages weren’t much flashier than the offense since it was getting pretty bland. Good players like CJ McCollum can see right through that. Then the final 2 minutes of the second quarter hit. Here were the last 5 defensive possessions of the quarter: Kyle Lowry hits the weak-side passing lane for the steal, Jimmy Butler doubles high and gets a hand on the ball for a steal, Victor Oladipo blitzes and rips the ball away and onto the break, Heat force a turnover off good rotations due to a travel, and finally, Butler doubles at the nail for yet another steal (as Lowry nails a non-counting full court shot). This half-court offense is atrocious at the moment, so the defense holds all the wait. If they can force turnovers and get easy baskets over a stretch, that’s their outlet. Plus, it’s an eventual energy boost to the offense on the other end.
#3: A continued look at the Jimmy Butler usage.
Jimmy Butler’s first field goal attempt came with 3 minutes to go in the first quarter, and it was on an open break. As I discussed after that Dallas game, the blueprint to defending Butler and the Heat was being laid out on national TV. And well, it’s clearly a new add to teams’ scouting reports. Off every mid-post catch, the Pelicans were sending that double to Butler. He loves playing with his back to the basket to eventually attack, plus it’s one of their biggest triggers in the half-court. Double, swing, swing. Now it’s a late shot clock heave. But aside from the focus on the actual double teams, his usage has been off as of late. A lot of screening and rolling, to simply make up for the fact his on-ball stuff on the perimeter is being taken away. It’s good to find alternatives, but the ball needs to be in your best player’s hands a good bit, especially when struggling in the half-court like they did to start. That’s exactly what they did more of in the third quarter, but still something to monitor.
#4: Tyler Herro finding his rhythm.
It has been no secret that Tyler Herro has been having some three-point trouble as of late. With that, he’s found his rhythm in these two Pelicans games by finding his spots inside the arc. Floaters, pull-ups, paint touches. That’s where he was generating most of his points to begin this game, while every three-pointer that drops feels like a sigh of relief for him on the floor. But there was something else that happened that was cool to see. Herro being guarded by McCollum, screaming at Butler on a certain possession to play for the switch. Butler turns back toward Herro to listen, gives him the ball, and screens. They get the switch and Herro feeds him, leading into a foul at the rim. This offense needs a lot, but communication is a decent start. Take any advantage you can find.
#5: Late game lay-out…
With under five minutes to go, we got a continuation of the last topic, as Herro knocks down a tough corner three to give Miami some more life on that end. After a Butler pump-fake and forced whistle, the Heat found themselves up 86-84. Adebayo blitzes McCollum on one end to force the turnover, into forcing a switch on him on the other end. Lowry feeds him, and he lays it in. 88-84. With under four minutes to go, I don’t have any answer to how in the world they were flirting with 90 after the disastrous first half offense. But well, those Bam type blitzes is what created buckets in this one. An eventual Lowry step back wing three pushed the lead to 91-86, flashing a moment we haven’t seen in some time. Pelicans answer, but so does Lowry. A pump-fake, up and under move gets him the bank shot in the lane. But then, McCollum comes right back with a catch and shoot three. This exact dialogue continued. Lowry scored 9 straight points, but the Pelicans kept responding. Heat up 98-96, Pelicans had a shot. Heat double, they feed down low to Nance, and it goes through his hands with Oladipo coming up with it. He went 1 of 2 from the line, going up 98-96, as the Heat force a 5 second violation on the potential game tying inbound. Heat counter with their own inbound trouble, using two timeouts and a forced jump-ball, giving the Pelicans another chance. McCollum misses the 3, Heat escape.