The Miami Heat entered game 5 against the Philadelphia 76ers with a lot of pressure. Almost game 7 like in terms of the winner of this game being close to series deciding.
And well, they rose to the moment. All rallying behind Jimmy Butler yet again, and now they lead the series 3-2, 1 win away from an Eastern conference Finals appearance.
So here are some takeaways from this one…
#1: Jimmy Butler: the energy, the scorer, the force.
Coming into this game, you could sense nerves from Heat fans. This felt like a game 7 with the winner of this one most likely dictating the rest of the series, and Jimmy Butler was doing just that: dictating. From the moment they announced his name in the starting lineups, his energy was incredibly high, which blended into production. Fast-break scores to inside dominance on smalls to empty corner actions, he was laying it all out there. But more importantly, he was a complete force. The 76ers don’t have anybody to slow him down, they just have someone to deter him at the rim in Embiid. But when shooters are hitting, the floor widens for the Heat’s superstar.
#2: Victor Oladipo has answered the call.
Rewinding back to game 4, the focus was obviously the negatives. But aside from Jimmy Butler’s dominance, it should be noted that Victor Oladipo was the team’s second best player. And tonight, he was as offensively dominant as ever yet again. His usage is spiking since the ball keeps finding him at the top, and things are flowing at an extremely high level. For one, his zone presence has been crucial. Out of all the guards, he’s the most talented at getting to the middle of the floor to put stress on the defense, plus capitalizing on that short jumper in the lane. But something that really was clear is that his change of direction with the ball in his hands is pure. He was huge at pressuring full court in the press, but he’s still a complete offensive talent. We just keep seeing more flashes the more he plays.
#3: Bam Adebayo playing bigger, plus defensively utilized at the basket.
Another household name from the first half in this game was Bam Adebayo. Not because he did anything out of the ordinary or went off as a scorer, but all due to the fact that he played bigger than he is. That’s the key. Making his presence felt down low instead of shying away from the basket the more Embiid dares him to is so important in this series. While on the other end of the floor, the Heat’s defensive schematics allowed him to play bigger. One of the keys entering game 5 was finding a way to insert Bam into the Embiid action, either as the guy fronting or the backside help. The way to do that is a) drop or b) fight through screens. Miami elected to fight through those screens much more often, allowing Bam to deny. They needed him closer to the basket in those minutes instead of constant switching, and they adjusted.
#4: The gradual Heat offensive tweak: more empty corner actions.
Once Joel Embiid hit the floor in game 3 in Philly, what sparked Jimmy Butler back into this elite scoring mode? Well, aside from rising to the moment, they altered the offensive approach. To eliminate help, they edged more and more to empty corner actions in which Bam Adebayo was screening. You’re basically putting Joel Embiid on an island to either play higher, or allow the jumper. As I talked about before this game 5, that was the counter for Herro against the blitzing. But Erik Spoelstra took it one step forward: Herro didn’t increase those reps, every ball handler did. They were making those cutoffs baseline and driving hard, which means the weakside guys have to peel down. That’s the element that bleeds into shooters getting going, but I just had to mention the gradual increase in this action that holds high importance for the scoring success.
#5: It’s no surprise at home, but the role players stepped up back in their own building.
As they always say in the playoffs, the advantage goes to the home team when comparing role players. Even with a team like Philly with no depth, we saw what happened to guys like Danny Green from games 1 and 2 to games 3 and 4. And well, the same goes for guys like Max Strus, Gabe Vincent, etc. Yet while the conversation over the past 48 hours was that those guys weren’t performing in the biggest moments, they showed up. To kick off this game, Max Strus was incredible. Transition play, vocal energy, and well, shooting. He was hitting the release valve buckets, pulling with confidence, and looked as good as ever. Gabe Vincent had a slow start too with only 7 minutes played in the first half, but had a very good third quarter stretch. Scoring at the rim, getting them into their sets, and the shot began to drop. This has been a team all year that revolves around role players, and that doesn’t end here.
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