The Heat didn’t seem to be in a great spot early on against the Toronto Raptors, yet fought back with an impressive win behind a bunch of guys.
Tyler Herro played a complete game, Max Strus provided the spark, and Victor Oladipo came up huge.
So, here are some takeaways from this one…
#1: Heat having trouble stopping this lengthy, quick Raptors team early on.
While the offensive end is always looked to first, it was clear that Miami’s defense had to be the focus when reflecting at the half. For one, Fred VanVleet was just able to go to work possession after possession, going for 17 first quarter points to kick off the game. But the true issue is those surrounding VanVleet. We talk about this Raptors team’s length being a defensive thing, but they provide hard things to defend on the opposite side of things. They love to run a single PnR to draw that smaller defender, then go full clear-out mode. Guys like Barnes or Siakam were able to get decent looks in that mid post area, which leads to Miami’s weak-side wing defenders edging down. Now that slight double comes, and the kick-out is made. Their offense was simple, but when they’re shooting at that level over a certain stretch, it looks much more complex.
#2: Tyler Herro’s counter to so many different coverages is a unique approach.
Evaluating Tyler Herro against a team like the Raptors is a good benchmark in terms of tracking his individual success. As I’ve mentioned all year, length is one of the best counters to his high level offensive display. But when there’s quick and switchy length, it makes it even tougher. You can’t effectively drive to the basket with them lurking, but they also play high in the PnR since they can switch basically everything. So, what’s Herro’s move from there? Well, it isn’t a schematic shift that is made. It’s simply tough shot making. Time and time again, that’s his relying force as a scorer. Weaving in that mid-range, taking tough step-backs, or working that transition pull-up 3 due to the fact it’s the only shot that won’t see a contest. We know everything Herro provides, but being able to have that elite level tough shot making label is impressive.
#3: Victor Oladipo minutes, Victor Oladipo production?
With Miami lacking Jimmy Butler, PJ Tucker, Gabe Vincent, and Dewayne Dedmon, plenty of slots were opened in the Heat rotation which includes Victor Oladipo. His early offensive success was that release valve three, as many of his minutes came next to Herro and one of Bam or Lowry. But more specifically with Herro, the Raptors were making sure to send two at him no matter the circumstance. That meant open looks were presenting themselves for Oladipo, which he took advantage of in his first stint. We know he can have moments, but the common question is if he can have consistent moments. Yes he can knock down wild step back triples through pure skill, but we’ve also seen that turnovers have been linked to him at times by rushing on-ball creation a ton. That comes with the fact that he hasn’t played many basketball games due to injury recently, but that would be the ability that’d push him into comfortable rotation status. But with the big time shot making displayed tonight, he’s inching closer and closer to that state.
#4: Max Strus: the ignitable piece.
As Miami seemed a step behind entering the second half offensively, it was clear there were only certain players who could push them into winning position: Max Strus or Duncan Robinson. The common denominator there was that they needed one of their primary shooters, who had yet to make a three, to bend the defense a bit on the perimeter. And well, that guy was Strus. After not attempting a shot in the first half, he exploded in the third quarter for 14 points and 4 triples, which helped Miami basically get over the hump. It’s not about Strus’ 14 in itself exactly, but it’s what those shots open up. The move to put him in the starting lineup felt like a placeholder, but it’s feeling more and more like a sticking point. As Spoelstra always says, it’s his ignitability that makes him so special, and when a guy has the potential to win you a playoff game, you go with that player.
#5: Scrapping their way into one of their grittier wins of the season.
In terms of big time gritty wins this season for the Heat, this game is up there. Their offense was flattened out, Lowry mentioned his emotions would be everywhere, and Toronto’s size was causing problems. Yet, they battled through. I talked about both Herro and Strus previously, but there needs to be context of them together, specifically in the 4th. Strus kept getting more looks and kept capitalizing, but it’s not crazy to say that Herro was the reason. He continued driving and attacking, meaning Toronto kept sending bodies at him and helping down. Therefore, Strus took advantage. The other guy I already touched on who took advantage late was Oladipo. A big dunk got the team into it, and one deep three put Miami over the top. What felt like a statement game from Lowry turned into a statement game from Oladipo, leading to some interesting conversations late in the season.
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