Losing Jimmy Butler Meant Losing the Fall-Back Plan

Coach Erik Spoelstra looks down the line to make his usual Jimmy Butler substitution in the second quarter, but there was one issue. Butler was back in the locker room with a sprained ankle, ruling him out for the rest of the game.

We’ve seen this Heat team without Kyle Lowry in Indiana. We’ve seen this Heat team without Bam Adebayo in Memphis. But after seeing them without Jimmy Butler, it’s clear he creates the biggest team gap.

Even though Miami really feel apart in Indiana without Lowry, that wasn’t just due to the lack of his presence. Nobody on Miami had it going that night, including Butler, which just meant it was “one of those nights.”

The main thing they did lose in that game without him was that increased speed in spurts to get out and run on the break. The current rank of this Heat team’s pace may surprise you with how low it is, but the Lowry minutes are clearly much different.

But, as much as that increased speed is important to this team with Lowry, the ability to slow it down with Jimmy Butler may hold even more importance.

Late in the fourth and overtime, the Heat seemed to be in a bit of a rush. Do we force the ball into the hands of Tyler Herro who is being blanketed by Avery Bradley? Do we await the Kyle Lowry scoring stretch that never ultimately came? Or do we ride it out with Bam Adebayo?

If Butler was playing, these questions wouldn’t be looming.

Lowry would still be creating a ton, but the initial action wouldn’t be the pocket pass to Adebayo for the defense to hone in on. It would be some off-ball actions which eventually lead to a Butler drive with an empty corner, giving Miami some diversity and change of speed.

Looking at the trajectory he was on in this game, the free throw line was going to have his foot print all night. Through that quick early stretch, he went 5 for 5 from the charity stripe, which was actually Miami’s only outlet before Tyler Herro really started rolling upon entering.


Now, while Miami lost that specific game speed fall-back plan, they quickly looked to Bam Adebayo in a way they haven’t all season through a full quarter. And the fact that it was the first time we’ve seen that is slightly problematic.

Adebayo received one Lowry lob to kick off the third quarter, and exploded from there. As I said after the third, it was by far the best all-around quarter from him that I’ve seen all season. Scoring 14 points in a multitude of ways through self creation, hitting back-door cutters in space like it was nothing, and absolutely swarming Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook all night.

I’ve seen some scrutiny in his direction after this one, but it shouldn’t be. Obviously the evaluation of Duncan Robinson seems to be the total focus after this one, shooting 3 of 13 from beyond the arc, which is more aligned with this game than the Adebayo discussion.

Bam was the one who gave them something they missed without Butler. Not just through his usual scoring. Not just due to his 6 steal night in Butler fashion. But instead the way he put pressure on the rim, which they had none of without Butler.

Settling for perimeter ball swings and spot-up threes on a night where you shot 27% from three, and 17% excluding Herro, is quite the choice. But yet again, it’s the elimination of the fall-back plan without Butler.

Yes, Lowry is hugely important to this Miami Heat offense in terms of getting all of the other guys in their spots, but in a tight game down the stretch, it isn’t just about getting the defense back and crossing the half-court line with 22 seconds on the shot-clock.

Some Butler perimeter scanning with the ball in his hands is the usual late-game go-to, and as much as some criticize him settling for jumpers in many of those situations, it’s a much more trusted way to operate.

In a game where the opposing team didn’t have their best player as well, in LeBron James, means that this isn’t the reason they lost, but it’s something to truly keep in mind moving forward.

Tyler Herro can get you 27 points on 50% shooting. Bam Adebayo can get you 28 points, 10 rebounds, and hold the opposing team’s 2 best players to 2 of 11 shooting. But they still need their slow motion offensive threat.

And well, it’s a long season. So getting these Butler-less late game reps is crucial, but hopefully not long term. A sprained ankle may raise an eyebrow of the timetable, but just ask Lowry how he handled it a week ago.

He took a day off, not a game, and kept it moving. And Butler is the same exact way, so take that how you like.


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