Tag Archive for: Jimmy Butler

The Miami Heat’s Roster Season Review + What’s Next

Looking back over this season for the Miami Heat, they finished as the first seed in the Eastern Conference, yet capped out in the Eastern Conference Finals in game 7, one win, or one shot, away from another NBA Finals appearance.

So, now that it’s officially off-season time, it’s time to project forward. But you can’t fully look ahead until you evaluate the past, so let’s take a brief look throughout the roster to establish both what happened and what’s next…

Jimmy Butler:

What happened?

When talking about the Miami Heat, you must start out with the headliner, which is clearly Jimmy Butler. Sometimes a season is remembered by how you start, and other times by how you finish. And in Butler’s case, he capitalized in both of those fields.

From MVP ladder rankings to begin the year to a 47 point masterpiece in game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals facing elimination, it’s no doubt that it was a terrific season. We all know about his defensive excellence when surrounded by strong defenders, but carrying the offensive load yet again to this degree was eye opening.

Y’all can have fun with NBA player rankings, but Butler cemented himself as a clear top 10 player in today’s league.

What’s next?

When talking about the next steps for individual players, I’m going to do a lot of talking about simple on-court improvements or the next stage of a contract/trade possibility. Yet for Jimmy Butler, it’s about just the opposite.

It’s just building a roster to get him that ring that he so very deserves, which was one of the primary reasons he landed in Miami in the first place. Watching him put it all out there in this post-season showed one thing that we probably already knew: build fully around Butler to get this group over the hump. Basically the playoff motto for the Heat in this recent run: get Jimmy Butler some help.

Bam Adebayo:

What happened?

Offensively he may have his ups and downs on picking when to go and be aggressive, but his impact was felt from game 1 to game 100. One of the league’s best defenders, even if the voters couldn’t recognize that. Games 3 and 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals showed flashes again on the other end, mostly about the hope of what he would look like as a full-time third option on the offensive end.

In the mix of things throughout the season, Adebayo receives a lot of blame from the public. When they lose, it’s easy to look over at his stat-line and make that the reason it occurred, but it truly isn’t the full story. There’s no doubt the aggression will have to pick up in a more consistent manner, but Adebayo did his job this season, and that game 7 proved the focal points of this Heat group.

What’s Next?

Clearly Adebayo is locked into contract and isn’t going anywhere, so what’s next for him is much more game-based. His defensive traits are here to stay, meaning the offense will always be the primary focus in an off-season.

When players talk about that specific focus, it’s usually prefaced by “perfecting my all-around game.” But when it comes to Adebayo, I don’t believe that to be the case.

The next step for him: a go-to offensive move that we’ve discussed for quite some time. Is it a post-up move? Face-ups? Jumper? It’s tough to say, but it comes down to his comfort level in certain spots.

Something to watch for though: Bam Adebayo loves that baseline. No matter if he’s in position for a post-up or a face-up, the end result is most likely going to be a baseline dash or a post spin down that line for position under the rim. So I’m thinking they’re going to find a way to maximize his skill down there.

Tyler Herro:

What happened?

As I stated earlier, the way you finish a season is usually remembered much more than the main chunk of your production in a certain time frame. And for Tyler Herro, he wasn’t even lucky enough to actually “finish” his season correctly after dealing with that groin injury in the Eastern Conference Finals.

But to zoom out a bit, he grew a ton this past season as an offensive player. Aside from winning the sixth man of the year award, he was right up there at the top of the scoring list with Butler in the regular season.

But it isn’t about the numbers, he grew as a creator in terms of finding healthy step-backs and fade-aways to get his shot off against good defenses. He even grew to the degree that teams through the entire playoffs threw different defensive coverages at him since they were so worried about him. Those obstacles slowed him down a good amount, but there’s no doubt he made strides this year as a scorer in this league.

What’s next?

When hearing what is next for Tyler Herro at this time of year, I know what you all are thinking. Donovan Mitchell. Zach LaVine. Damian Lillard. Probably even LeBron James or Giannis Antetokounmpo. The point is that he’s going to be thrown into any conversation for those stars to improve the team, and I mean rightfully so. Everybody is pulling that trigger to land a star in this league next to Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo.

But the realistic element: it’s not that likely. Yes top players always move around every off-season, but this is totally out of the Heat’s control. It’s 1) on the specific player to ask out and demand Miami and 2) the opposing team has to actually like the trade package you’re offering.

Aside from all of those fantasies, there are clear areas for him to improve on the basketball court. The first step is his driving game, which did make strides throughout the regular season, but the physicality of the playoffs blocked the rim off for him to attack.

He must find ways to draw contact on those stop signs standing in the lane, which may develop with his focus on adding some extra upper body strength.

The last thing is a combination of a live dribble and his play-making skills. That’s another thing that was peaking late in the regular season, but the constant blitzing and doubles he faced found ways to stall out both him and the team’s offense. Working on those quicker passing triggers will be key for his off-season development.

Oh, and the last thing to note, the next step for him personally is becoming a full-time Heat starter.

Kyle Lowry:

What happened?

I feel like the Kyle Lowry section is one of the hardest to sum up into words. He had a strong regular season in terms of carrying the team when guys went down, which was pretty much what the Heat needed when they acquired him.

But the other thing they needed was the two words he used pretty often in the regular season: “real season.” His ramp up process was hitting new levels late in the regular season, which Erik Spoelstra joked recently that they wished the playoffs could’ve started then. But well, they didn’t.

Lowry started off the “real season” pretty well with some strong performances at the beginning of the Hawks series, but the fall-off came a little after as injuries struck. In and out was his story-line the rest of the way, as that hamstring never truly allowed him to look right. He had a big game 6 in the ECF next to Jimmy Butler, but it capped off there.

I feel like he exceeded some of the regular season expectations with the hot pockets throughout the year when guys went down, but the playoffs plummeted quite a bit. Was it simply derailed by injuries? Was that usual burst to the rim and pull-up shooting gone? I’m not sure, but I do know that hamstring situation didn’t help.

What’s next?

Kyle Lowry is locked into a decent sized contract with this Heat team moving forward, meaning “what’s next” seems to be characterized by a potential trade for some. But let me just say this in simple terms: Kyle Lowry came to the Heat because of Jimmy Butler. Kyle Lowry and Jimmy Butler are close friends. Jimmy Butler isn’t allowing Kyle Lowry to be traded.

Maybe that last sentence has an exception if it’s grabbing a top tier star and he needs to be packaged, but even then it gets a bit cloudy. The point is that Lowry is a part of this current build, so the focus on what is next is how to maximize him.

And this isn’t young player development like improving on a specific skill, this is honing in on his body and physical build. Something Spoelstra danced around in his exit interview presser was the idea of Lowry getting into Heat shape, finishing the convo off with “I think Kyle will come back next training camp in the best shape of his career.”

That fixes a lot of what we’re discussing. He needs to be in great shape, preserve himself in the regular season, and be fresh by the time the playoffs roll around. That’s what Butler did this past year, and that’s what Lowry will need to do.

PJ Tucker:

What happened?

PJ Tucker simply exceeded all expectations in everybody’s eyes from the front office to teammates to fans. We knew he was a defensive dawg, but increasing the offensive display of a 37 year old isn’t easy. Speolstra talked about how he was surprised of this ascension, as he even carried the load of the front-court when Bam went down with injury for a month and a half.

Tucker told Spo that he used to play some point guard, and he didn’t believe him. When he reassured, Spo tweaked the December game-plan of giving Tucker some more play-making reps, which included a hot stretch of running some post-spits and different sets for him for a good chunk of time.

We also can’t just say he was great defensively while not punching that point home. He made Trae Young’s life horrible in the first round, handled both James Harden and Joel Embiid off switches all series long, and didn’t allow Jayson Tatum maximum comfort all 7 games. He was the rock of everything they did, and every Heat player has made sure to point that out all year.

What’s next?

Contract wise for Tucker, he’s one of those flexible off-season pieces to watch as he has that $7.4 million player option at the moment. I’m not the guy to fully project forward on what he will do with that, but it’s clear no matter if he opts in or out, the Heat will be very focused on bringing him back.

Yet as he isn’t getting any younger, the enticing part about his return would be making his life a bit easier with some type of front-court addition. More than anything though, he just wants to be out there and play, and it’s clear he fits Pat Riley, Erik Spoelstra, Jimmy Butler, and this organization to an absolute T.

Duncan Robinson:

What happened?

As Tucker may have exceed many expectations, it’s pretty clear that nobody saw the Robinson season coming at all. After receiving his healthy bag, he endured some shooting struggles to begin the year.

Spoelstra and the Heat stuck with him all the way through, yet he could never really find his usual comfort and consistency from deep, while it felt like the offense was being restricted at times to get him going.

One Jimmy Butler and Erik Spoelstra fight and a 4 game losing streak later, a change was made. The Heat shifted the starting lineup and rotation to have Max Strus start at the 2, trying to find a spark in anyway possible. And that was exactly found.

Robinson then began to trickle down the Heat’s rotation little by little, eventually finding himself on the outside looking in by playoff time.

What’s next?

The next stage for Robinson is unclear, but the next stage for the Heat with Robinson is a bit clearer. As I pointed out earlier, yes, he’d be included in the big time deals for the star-powered players in Heat jersey swaps on social media. But the Heat’s off-season isn’t going to consist of waiting around for something that probably won’t even happen.

So, could a Robinson deal be done on its own to patch up some holes in the roster? Very much so. Talking about Tucker possibly needing some front-court help on the surface, the question becomes: who could Robinson get you as a potential stretch big?

We have a full off-season to talk about that now, but the point is that’s the next outlet for Robinson and the Heat. There are clearly teams that can use the shooting gift that Robinson possesses, and the Heat may need to shift in another direction.

Gabe Vincent:

What happened?

Entering this season, there was one hole on the Heat’s roster according to many Heat observers: back-up point guard. Gabe Vincent was going to be a fine third string point guard, but they needed a trusted back-up.

Not only did Vincent emerge into that, he progressed into a solid starting point guard for many slots of the regular season and the playoffs.

Not enough is said about the strides he made in his all-around game. Many were eyeing his shooting from deep since that’s what landed him on the roster in the first place, and that began to click as well. But more importantly, he became a big time defender, his play-making skills grew more than expected, and they transitioned him from a small 2 into a solid 1. In terms of production and progression, Vincent was one of the true success stories from this year.

What’s next?

Some may call Vincent or Max Strus sweeteners for a potential star-powered trade, but I don’t think it gets much sweeter than two highly productive rotation players on minimum contracts next season. That is just incredible value from a contractual perspective.

On the other side of things, I truly believe Vincent’s off-season development approach will be the cliche “improving in all areas.” It’s working on the consistency of the outside shot, the effectiveness of the pull-up, a tighter handle, and most importantly, quick play-making attributes.

Max Strus:

What happened?

As illustrated in other areas of this piece, Max Strus emerged this season from out of nowhere. Sometimes it’s not about fully jumping onto the scene, but just arriving at the right time. As much as we group Vincent, Strus, and Caleb Martin together in that young undrafted branch, many Heat observers compared them often.

Why is that? Well, there were only so many rotation spots, so the question continued to be ‘who was going to be the odd man out?’ For a good stretch of time with Vincent and Martin’s offensive game surging, that guy seemed to be Strus. But well, you know how that story ended up going.

Robinson struggled, changes were made, and Strus found himself in the starting lineup on the biggest stages. In the same breath as Vincent, he was a major success story for this Heat developmental staff who just continues to do it again and again.

What’s next?

Not to be too repetitive, but as described previously with Vincent, his contract is just an insane amount of value heading into this next season. But as much as that’s a thing, they’re going to be playing for even bigger pay-days next season heading into free agency.

For Strus individually, the shooting is clearly his staple. He had some flashes of strong attacks and defensive stops, but those will need to improve heading into this next season.

But since he’s going to be a part of this Heat offense yet again, he’s going to need something out of Duncan Robinson’s book from previous years: effectiveness off dribble hand-offs.

Strus is a tough shot maker and a clear movement shooter, but a lot of his shooting stretches came off slip screens or ghost screens into a spot-up jumper on the wing. Or just the usual catch and shoot from anywhere on the floor. But the smoothness of a Robinson hand-off would be crucial for Strus as the “best shooter on the team,” as he proclaimed with semi-air quotes.

I can say that he works on it a ton in practice after watching a ton of his post-practice shooting drills this season, but that’ll be a primary focus in the Summer.

Victor Oladipo:

What happened?

Victor Oladipo’s season consisted of an incredible comeback story and extremely small sample sizes. He made his return late in the season showcasing some high level defensive moments, yet the offensive insertion slowed down the Heat’s strides late in the year.

They shelved him for some time for that very reason, but when Lowry went down in the playoffs, his number was called again, and he answered the call. He did a very good job as a shot creator when they needed him to be, and a second half against Jaylen Brown and the Celtics in game 1 will be on his career highlight tape.

We know he’s a high-level talent, but the question was how he’d round into shape. He did a good job responding to that, but now the attention turns to what the title of his next chapter will be…

What’s next?

Oladipo is currently a free agent at the moment after he took a chance with the Heat earning the minimum, but now it’s about what his market looks like. The Heat do hold his Bird Rights, so they will have some level of control, but it’s much more on the rest of the league.

Personally, it feels like there’s a good chance he finds his way back onto this Heat roster, which quickly transitions into what is next in his production.

As much as I’ve highlighted individual improvements for much of the Heat’s roster, it’s more about role for Oladipo. Trying to blend him into their game-plan on the fly this season wasn’t the easiest thing to do, since a lot of his play was either standing in the corner as an off-ball threat or going isolation mode.

Once the Heat find out his plans in free agency, they’re going to jump on that pretty quickly. Dissecting what his job on the offensive end will be for this team, so the outline is totally understood by opening night.

Caleb Martin:

What happened?

I feel like I could just copy and paste the story-line of many of these undrafted players who climb up the ladder, since Caleb Martin falls right under that category as well.

Betting on himself by signing a two-way contract with the Heat after being cut by the Charlotte Hornets, then turned into a key rotation player who finished the season on a regular contract with Miami.

A big time game early in the year against the Milwaukee Bucks showed his abilities under the bright lights with so many guys out, but one major defensive run around January capitalized on his effectiveness. A point guard clamping tour from Steph Curry to Chris Paul to De’Aaron Fox to Fred VanVleet. The way he was able to size down proved to be very helpful, and he just fit the build of this team.

What’s next?

Martin is also a free agent, but they will throw him the qualifying offer as Miami can match outside offers if necessary. But after Martin spoke in the exit interviews on Tuesday, he voiced over and over again that he wants to come back to Miami.

So, to continue on what’s next for him personally, I’d like to retreat back to a point I made about Oladipo. When I asked Martin about his focus in improvements and role next season, he kept bringing up one guy’s name: PJ Tucker. The focus won’t be on an individual attribute, even though he noted his shooting consistency will be big, but instead his role is going to be laid out on the table from day one.

Screening, rolling, play-making off the slip. Martin wants to be that dirty work guy that can be relied on regularly much like Tucker has been this past season. This team had a lot of depth this past year, but now they need assigned roles to that depth. And Martin accepting that type of stuff can do just that.

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Dewayne Dedmon/Omer Yurtseven

What happened?

Yes, I’m going to merge two very different players who only share the same position, since both of them are in two totally different spots.

Dewayne Dedmon is coming off a year as the team’s trusted back-up big, while Omer Yurtseven was in an evaluating state as the third string big, who popped into the lineup when needed during Adebayo’s absence.

Dedmon had a strong showing early on, but the minutes declined rapidly in the playoffs as his production slowed down. Spoelstra began going smaller, which is always his most comfortable area, leaving Dedmon on the outside looking in.

Yurtseven, on the other hand, was a garbage time killer. I don’t mean that in a bad way, but his biggest moments came when he’d enter with 3 minutes left and come away with like 6 rebounds out of nowhere. That’s definitely a skill, and he has a good amount of skill while being very young,

What’s next?

The reason I grouped them together was much more about this section. Dewayne Dedmon will be a free agent with the Heat holding Bird Rights, but it pretty much feels like Miami got everything out of him that they needed. The next stage for him in terms of contract could be the end with his Heat tenure.

Omer Yurtseven on the other hand could have a bit more responsibilities. I still believe that the Heat grab some extra front-court pieces either in a possible Robinson trade, or low level free agency options, but Yurtseven will have a fighting chance.

He will have another run in Heat Summer league, now as more of the focal point after Strus dominated the last time around. He’s been working majorly behind the scenes with the coaching staff, so I’m interested to see the way he’s grown by the time Summer league actually starts.

Either way, the back-up big slot feels to be the one area of speculation to kick off this off-season.

Markieff Morris/Udonis Haslem/Haywood Highsmith/Javonte Smart/Mychal Mulder

What happened?

Lastly, we can’t leave anybody off. Markieff Morris had some moments to begin the year, but one Nikola Jokic shove in the back basically ended his role on this Heat team, since his time of recovery kept being extended.

Guys like Haywood Highsmith, Javonte Smart, and Mychal Mulder didn’t really have any major impact on this Heat group, but they’re always important to keep an eye on in this Heat organization.

One moment they’re just some guys in Summer League, and the next thing you know they’re starting 12 games in the regular season. More than anything, the developmental group deserves all of the credit.

What’s next?

Morris will be a free agent as well after earning the minimum, so it feels like it could be the end of the road there, unless no other reserve 4’s come available in free agency. (I’m eyeing Thaddeus Young possibly.)

Haslem just never seems to be done, as his exit interview every year seems to go the same way. He said he will think it over in the off-season, which will probably mean he will be back breaking up bench altercations again next year.

And as I said before, Highsmith, Smart, and Mulder will have some chances in Summer League to show what they’ve got.

(Yes, that’s everybody on the current roster. No, I won’t be addressing the Kyle Guy’s and Mario Chalmer’s from earlier 10-days.)

 

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Five Takeaways from Heat’s Win Over Celtics in Game 6

The Miami Heat force a game 7.

While the Tv shows were previewing a Celtics-Warriors Finals, the Heat were preparing a gameplan to go into TD Garden.

Jimmy Butler went LeBron James game 6 mode and absolutely dominated.

Here are some takeaways…

#1: Jimmy Butler entering that mode.

Coming into game 6, I had a consistent blueprint for the Heat. And well, that was Jimmy Butler. To put up a fight, they were going to need a LeBron like game 6 in Boston, and a 21/9/6 half-time stat-line was a decent start you’d say. He was attacking the basket to create perimeter shots, knocking down the outside jumper, and saving Miami late in the shot-clock. He was it for their half-court sets. Right before tip-off he walked from the bench to the scorer’s table for his usual hand-shake routine. The only change: no smile, no reactions. That’s the LeBron comp in that sense. He needed to be superman early on for Miami to give that opening punch, and he was just that.

#2: Boston’s defense forcing Miami’s passive players to make plays early.

Looking on the other end, there were times in that half where we were once again discussing the need for Butler help. But before talking about that, it’s important to mention what Boston was doing. It was clear in that first half Max Strus and Duncan Robinson weren’t the fits in this game. The Celtics were forcing him to catch the ball high to turn into a ball-handler, which is when they would pounce. That is the reason I said during the game they’d have to transition into all defensive lineups with the Vincent-Lowry back-court making a comeback, which is exactly what happened. The other guy Boston was forcing aggressiveness on was Bam Adebayo. He was searching for hand-offs, he was loose with the ball, and the attacks weren’t there. It was measured from the Celtics side, as he got his first couple baskets under a minute to go in the second quarter, 23 minutes into the game. But this topic just speaks to what Butler was doing even more.

#3: The free throw battle.

Looking at the free throw comparisons over the last 3 games, they’re pretty absurd. The Celtics continues to get to the line, while the Heat continue to struggle in that department. But I won’t go immediately to one-sided calls. Yes there are times when the whistle may sway, but this is an example of schematics. The Celtics current offensive structure is for Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to make drives in the slots for force back-line rotations. The usual outcome is a take to the rim for potential contact. While that was the Heat’s gameplan for Butler for some time, the injury shifted things. He was a methodical transition and jumper threat in that first half, which led into some sprays for outside shots. That’s the key though: Butler and 3 point shooting goes hand in hand. The counter to a charity stripe disparity is balancing that middle ground, which was clicking in that first half.

#4: Third quarter: Butler getting the help he deserves.

The theme entering the second quarter: who would give Butler the necessary help? Or would it ever come? To kick off the third quarter, he came out clicking just like the first half. But the biggest difference: so did the supporting cast. A stretch that as crucial included a Victor Oladipo insertion after PJ Tucker’s 4th foul, leading to a big floater followed up by a massive step back jumper with Robert Williams hovering. Right after that, Strus flowed into the half-court as Lowry pushed pace, and Strus took a deep pull-up that extended the lead to 12. But then, Boston responded. The Heat began to ease up and the Celtics continued getting to the rim and the line, cutting it immediately to 6. Timeout. Yet, they responded again. Butler continued getting to his spots, but the crowd was on Boston’s side. Arena roaring, Butler driving, Oladipo swinging, Strus shooting. Silence. He loves quieting that crowd, and that shot was as big as any.

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#5: Forcing a game 7.

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Five Takeaways from Heat’s Loss to Boston in Game 4

The Miami Heat entered game 4 up 2-1, and the Celtics were clearly desperate.

But the issue with that: the Heat looked the exact opposite of desperate.

Much like the theme of this series, one team dominated the game, which in this case was the Boston Celtics.

So, here are some takeaways on what went wrong for the Heat…

#1: I can count the Miami Heat’s first half buckets on one hand…

6 of 32. What do those numbers portray? Well, that’s the Miami Heat’s shooting from the field in the first half, excluding Victor Oladipo. They didn’t have a made field goal for like 3/4’s of the first quarter, leaving them with 11 points over that initial 12 minute span. Jimmy Butler didn’t look like himself, Bam Adebayo’s aggression wasn’t there and they were collapsing on him in the lane, and the perimeter players like Kyle Lowry and Max Strus were being absolutely blanketed. The Boston defense deserves credit for flattening Miami out, but bunnies wouldn’t even drop for the Heat in that half. Short on floaters and mid-range pull-ups, which was the spot on the floor they kept funneling them to. No Tyler Herro created extra half-court hurdles, but that wasn’t the absence. It was a complete team offensive absence. Actually, except Victor Oladipo.

#2: Well, Victor Oladipo showed up.

Why is Oladipo being mentioned briefly throughout the beginning of this piece? That’s because he was the only player who made a first half appearance, as he scored 18 points off the bench in that first half. For one, it’s sometimes just as simple as saying he got in a rhythm and hit some shots, but he created those things himself with his early approach. Right when he entered, his mindset was clear: I’m going right at defenders to get to the basket. That line of thinking puts so much stress on an individual defender, leading into his success in iso ball. The Heat didn’t have one workable set or functional player, so they allowed Dipo to work some magic in isolation. They saw good results there, especially in contrast to the rest of the team. The last time Herro missed a game, which the rest of the team missed as well, Dipo dropped 40. And now we see this. He looks comfortable, but maybe it’s time to give him some more on-ball time.

#3: Could Miami eventually give Robert Williams the Bam treatment?

Marcus Smart was ruled out in game 4, but Robert Williams made his return to the lineup. It’s clear his impact is felt every time he plays, not just defensively, but as a vertical threat on the offensive end. His size and rebounding skill has given the Heat some trouble, but the true topic with him is on defense. And well, it’s clearly adjustment time for Erik Spoelstra and the Heat. Yet while watching him operate on that end by covering ground and protecting the rim, it brings you back to the way other teams treat Bam at times. Could the Heat find ways to pull Williams away from the play? Playing 4-on-4 could be positive or negative depending on context, but finding a way for a shooter to draw that switch and clear could lead to some good outcomes. The focus is offense, but I’m interested to see Miami get to that more.

#4: So, how can the Heat adjust their offensive approach?

Instead of evaluating the 48 minutes played in this game, let’s make a quick shift and look ahead to the next 48 minutes of this series. Heading into this match-up, one thing was clear about this Heat team in terms of blaring weaknesses: the half-court attack could become problematic. And looking at tonight, as I touched on earlier, it’s one thing to miss open shots and another to generate a poor shot profile overall. The latter feels like the more important element here. Tyler Herro is a major part of this team’s offensive success, but do you know the only way to make up for that? Jimmy Butler rim pressure combined with kick-outs to shooters. When neither of those things are clicking, it’s going to be a long night. Bam Adebayo also followed up his aggressive showing with a quiet night, but it definitely was a focus to flatten him out. Shooting being a non-factor means less room for Bam to operate, plus he just wasn’t aggressive. So an offensive adjustment must be on the way.

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#5: So, it’s 2-2 by the way.

It’s no doubt that this was a horrible loss. But so was game 2. And so were games 1 and 3 for Boston when eyeing the context. Moral of the story: this is a long series. After the Celtics stole one back in Miami, the task for the Heat heading up to Boston was pretty clear. Just steal one. And they did just that in game 3, while the Celtics came out in game 4 with the necessary urgency. Momentum just isn’t a thing in this Eastern Conference Finals. Right when you think one team possesses it, the opposing group kicks you right in the mouth. But now it’s a clean slate. The Heat are currently tied with the Celtics 2-2 in the series, turning into a best of 3 to get to the Finals. They positioned themselves to have home court advantage, and now it’ll come in handy. Now it’s just about taking care of business back home on Wednesday in game 5.

 

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Five Takeaways from Heat’s Win Over Celtics in Game 3

So, that was some game…

The Miami Heat steal one in Boston in game 3, simply led by that excellence of Bam Adebayo throughout on both ends. No Jimmy Butler in the second half, Kyle Lowry coming off injury, and pure role player dominance.

So much happened, but here were some things that stood out…

#1: Bam Adebayo responds to the noise with an early masterclass.

Heading into this game, all eyes were on Bam Adebayo. The basketball public were looking at him to step up if this Heat team wanted to progress forward in this series, and well, he responded big. Erik Spoelstra and Bam Adebayo had to come in with an early approach to get him going, since he simply is a rhythm player. We began seeing Miami run sets for him above the break, allowing him to blend his two offensive threats together: turning a face-up into a post-up. That led him into low post play with some nice hook shots, comfort around them rim, and speedy pull up fades. But that last point is the key element: speedy. When he’s decisive and instinctive as a scoring threat, things look much different. That quick pull changes the game for his offensive slate, and forces defensive adjustments.

#2: Erik Spoelstra’s substitution adjustments carrying some weight.

Erik Spoelstra threw some haymakers early in this game from a coaching perspective, and it deserves some love. Aside from some schematic adjustments that were noticed throughout, the substitution changes were major. Usually the pattern is for Herro and Dedmon to enter at the 6 minute mark, consequently meaning that Bam exits. But today, only Dedmon found himself at the scorer’s table at that 6 minute mark. Why was that? Well, as I’ve been saying since the end of game 2, Bam and Herro need to play together much more than they have. So, Herro entered at the 3 minute mark instead, while Bam re-entered for Dedmon. He did just commit a quick 2 fouls, but something was found there. A couple high PnR reps later, Adebayo continues to dominate as a roller in space. Duncan Robinson and Caleb Martin also got spot minutes while Victor Oladipo was squeezed. Well, for a half. After Butler wouldn’t return coming back from half, Dipo was inserted into his spot as a starter. That’s the name of the game for this team though.

#3: Kyle Lowry’s insertion was felt early.

When Kyle Lowry was announced early in the day “intending to play,” it felt like there were some mixed emotions there. Yes the team’s starting lineup is returning, but is he fully healthy? We saw what happened when he tried to return in game 3 against Philly, so how different will this look? And well, his presence was felt immediately. For one, the difference in pace was staggering. A Jimmy Butler and-1 early in the game took place 2 and a half seconds into the shot clock due to a Lowry touchdown pass. And plus, this ties back to the Bam discussion. He was setting him up in his spots to trigger those offensive sets, and that’s the difference a true point guard makes for a team. Yet if you’ve been watching sports talk on TV, the game 2 loss of Derrick White was much more crucial. As the game unfolded, you could see that hamstring having more and more of a pull. The jumper was shorter, the passes were lazier, but they still needed his calming hand late. And a final steal down the stretch iced it fully.

#4: Third quarter: Butler goes down, Boston makes a run, role players turn up the clamps.

As I mentioned before, Jimmy Butler went down to start the second half, meaning Victor Oladipo had his number called all of a sudden. Offense got stagnant for a bit and the Celtics began building their run, which was pretty much expected. Yet, one thing, that might be overlooked, saved in that span. Role player defensive dominance. I must start with Oladipo, who wasn’t heavily involved in the offensive flow, yet was overpowering perimeter options for the Celtics on defense. Not just on the ball, but he was all over the place on rotations. PJ Tucker owned that quarter as well, pretty much aligned with those same descriptions, except his dominance came through physicality. Fighting through screens, overplaying Tatum, and making his life difficult. Even Caleb Martin entered late and got a much needed steal to finish the quarter. This was a gritty one, and that started with the guys mentioned who put it all out there.

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#5: What a finish.

Jaylen Brown hits a 3 to cut it to one, looking like Miami has finally hit that wall. They kept that lead for so long, but the car has finally stalled. But then, the next possession pretty much saved them. Flare screen for Max Strus, he squares up, and fires away. Bucket. The lead back up to 4 all of a sudden, from a guy who clearly isn’t afraid of the moment. A bit later after a timeout, Lowry brings the ball down. Strus forces something in the corner, and Bam finds himself with the ball with 5 seconds on the shot clock. Pump-fake, jumps into Horford, and still hits the deep jumper. The Heat have finally taken some control back, but now they need a stop. Heat swarm, the ball floats to the weak-side corner, and Lowry dives on the floor to retain it. This game was one of a ton of heart, on both sides, but the will Miami showed late was outstanding. And it was led by their franchise player: Bam Adebayo.

 

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Five Takeaways from Heat’s Loss to Boston in Game 2

Well, the Miami Heat lost to the Boston Celtics in game 2.

From poor defense to awkward shot selection to wild Celtic runs, I cover it all here…

So here are some takeaways from this one…

#1: Oh, so a run happened.

60 to 21. When hearing those numbers, you may be thinking, what do those numbers mean? But if you watched the first half of Heat-Celtics, you already know what that is: the Celtics went on a run. A big run. The offense from Boston was pretty simple, which I’ll talk about next, but the disposition of the Heat was very poor. Late on close-outs, everywhere on rotations, and just short on jumpers on the offensive end. Jayson Tatum got going, Jaylen Brown contributed when Tatum went to the bench after his second foul, and the role players wouldn’t miss. 60 to 21. That’s a hard number to look past when evaluating a game, which is why that’s where we had to start.

#2: The Celtics three point shooting early, coming from the Heat’s game 1 nightmares.

Now peeling back some layers on what was happening, how were the Celtics shooting at this insane level in the first half including 12 triples? Well, other than my points about lazy rotations and close-outs, they were a bit scarred from the first half of game 1 it seemed. By that I mean, the Celtics almost set a postseason record in game 1 with 42 paint points, due to Miami overplaying the perimeter so an easy slip was there for Boston. Now in this game, the Heat weren’t allowing that to happen. Off-ball switches would occur, a mismatch on the block is found, and the Heat have already sent that weak side guy down. Eliminate those paint points and you’re in good shape, right? Wrong. Swing, swing, three was the Celtics’ consistent process due to that over-helping, sparking that run that I discussed previously. Plus, there’s the element of a team just not missing from deep.

#3: The death of the primary action for the Heat’s offense.

Sometimes life is simple for the Miami Heat on the offensive side of the ball. Tyler Herro-Bam Adebayo as shown against Philly: bucket. Jimmy Butler straight line drive ball as shown in game 1 against Boston: bucket. But how about when those initial options or sets are taken away? That’s what turned on the scoring end for the Heat upon that early run. Something was run, the help was there, and the 3 others on the floor for Miami stood and watched. And well, if there’s any team to not do that, it’s the Heat. They generate all of their looks off constant movement, backside screening and actions, and tons of added layers. It can be slightly labeled as not making shots that they regularly would, but there’s no doubt that the process was off. Adjustment time.

#4: The Heat need Bam Adebayo in this final four.

Aside from this game tonight, the Heat’s blueprint is clear. Jimmy Butler will be Jimmy Butler most nights. Tyler Herro can give that boost against drop when the time is right. Role players can shoot above their heads enough in these playoffs. Yet, more than anything, this team needs Bam Adebayo in this series: the offensive version. Coming from somebody that values Adebayo’s defense as much as you can, there just comes a point where the second best player must be just that. With the ball in his hands, utilizing a face-up attack or letting the jumper fly. At this stage, the post game isn’t an option in my opinion. Watching the Celtics switch Jaylen Brown onto him and the unwillingness to get a deal seal is obvious. He has a home base, but he doesn’t go to it enough in these moments. It should also be noted that Bam is always the first person that is looked toward in games like this, which isn’t ideal since he isn’t the reason they lost. But it’s clear to win this series, they’re going to need a serviceable offensive version of himself.

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#5: Big picture time: chill.

I’ve talked enough about the negatives in this game 2, so now it’s time for some perspective. In all honesty, I wouldn’t say there’s a ton to be over worried about with this series as a whole. It’s 1-1 in the series, and there are clear adjustments that must be made, but this was kinda the expectation on this series. This didn’t have a 2-0, 2-2 feel to it where both teams protect home court. Both of these teams are inconsistent on the offensive end with coaches who are throwing counter punches in both directions. Anything can happen, home crowd or not. Now it’s time for the Heat to head up to Boston to get one of these themselves. So I’ll end this piece with the word I previously mentioned: chill.

 

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Five Takeaways from Heat’s Win Over Celtics in Game One

The Miami Heat kicked off the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night, and it didn’t start in ideal fashion.

As I will discuss, things weren’t clicking on both ends of the floor in the first half. Emphasis on first half.

The second half was an entirely different game. Gabe Vincent to Max Strus to Jimmy Butler.

The Heat took off, and well, they didn’t look back. They now are up 1-0 in the series, during a game that they looked like they had no business winning for 24 minutes.

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So here are some takeaways…

#1: The problematic trend of the Heat’s interior defense in the first half, tied to off-ball switching,

When watching this first half for the Heat, a lot of what happened was kind of expected. Choppy offense in the half-court, switches bothering Miami, plus more. Yet, the defensive issues weren’t expected one bit. The Celtics were owning the Heat in the paint, shooting 15 of 19 at the rim in the first half, which added up to 42 points, two shy of a postseason record in one half. But that leads into a question: why was that happening? Well for starters, Jayson Tatum was basically blowing by that initial perimeter defender any chance he got. But the true issue was the off-ball switching on the weak-side. Gabe Vincent often found himself in the corner with Danie Theis spaced in the corner after an off-ball screen forced the switch. Now he dives, and it’s an easy bucket down low. That was the formula, and the storyline of the Heat’s first half defense.

#2: So, Tyler Herro is back.

Although the issues were the topic at the half for the Heat, Tyler Herro clearly found his groove. The one major surprise was that once he entered, the Celtics shifted into drop. And well, he couldn’t have asked for a better coverage change. As he says all the time, he loves drop coverage. So he began finding his mid-range pull-up early against guys like Williams and Theis, which quickly blended into some high PnR reps. Now it’s decision time for the defense, since the two outcomes are either a blitz or a triple. Herro looked both energized and comfortable with the ball in his hands right out the gate, but they still needed a bit more. But aside from everything, this type of confidence booster after the last series was all he needed to open himself up moving forward.

#3: PJ Tucker goes down for a few, Caleb Martin steps up. But something stood out about that early.

Walking away from game 7 between the Bucks and Celtics, there was a similar sentiment on Grant Williams after he caught fire. Early in the game, he struggled badly, leading into him passing up good looks. And the thing about that: it hurts your offense even more than taking the shot. The reason I bring that up is because Caleb Martin had moments like that. They’re going to dip off him when he’s off the floor, but if the shot clock is under 10, that shot has to go up. PJ Tucker went down in the second quarter with an apparent leg injury, but he didn’t stay down for long. He re-entered to start the second half, but the point about Martin still stands. We know what he can provide defensively in this series, but that’s something to track.

#4: The third quarter turnaround.

As much as I touched on the early defensive struggles, the Heat began to turn it around to begin the third. For one, Bam Adebayo sparked the entire team with a defensive masterclass. Denial on Brown at half-court, 7 seconds on the shot clock, Brown drives by, and Bam catches up to stuff it at the rim. Then Butler begins to join the defensive party, by getting back to back steals in the passing lanes for transition buckets. But more than anything, they began to find themselves offensively. Fearless Gabe Vincent got going as an on-ball creator, which blended into some scorers getting some relief buckets. What was once known as the turd quarter, became a pretty strong 12 minute stretch in game 1 of the ECF, scoring 39 points to the Celtics’ 14.

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#5: Jimmy Butler: elite of the elite.

As this game began, it felt like he was drifting a bit. Miami couldn’t get into their usual actions, and Jimmy Butler was doing just enough to casually get by. But then he gradually started picking it up. As Miami finished the third quarter with a 17 point lead all of a sudden, Jimmy Butler found himself with a 31 point stat-line on 13 shot attempts. Simply, he dominates in some fashion. It isn’t highlight step backs or street ball crossovers, but he gets the job done with timely slots and a calculated foul drawing process. But the scoring wasn’t the story there. As I illustrated before, he turned the defense up midway through the third with back to back steals off pure passing lane dissection. He waits for the big to turn, then sprints. He’s one of the highest IQ defensive players in this game, but he’s also an elite leader as seen on this stage right now. And it took game 1 of the ECF for the national public to realize probably.

 

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The Miami Heat-Boston Celtics ECF Preview

So, the Eastern Conference Finals are officially set.

A rematch of the bubble ECF between the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics will kick off on Tuesday in Miami at FTX Arena. But you aren’t here for location updates, I’m here to get right into the specifics of the series.

Before the game 7 was played between the Bucks and Celtics, I made sure to highlight one thing, since even Tyler Herro hinted at it at practice. The Celtics would favor Jimmy Butler, the Bucks would favor Tyler Herro. And if you’re going by that comment, maximizing your best player is the way to go.

Speaking of Herro’s comment at practice, he just slightly hedged in the direction of saying one coverage would be easier for him to operate in, which would clearly be the Bucks. Yet as good of a defense that the Celtics are, there are ways to change that for him…

Tyler Herro Beating the Switch

Before talking about guys like Butler and Adebayo, it feels like some need a calming start on Herro, due to the fact some are worried about this match-up for some reason. Saying the Bucks defense opens things up more doesn’t mean he’s going to be eliminated against the Celtics.

It just presents different challenges.

One of those challenges is switching a ton instead of finding pockets against drop. And before I even dive into the fact that drop openings will be there against this team as well, how will Herro deal with the switching wings and guards?

After watching those 3 clips above, there’s one primary takeaway: no screen, no blitz. Yes, I know we get caught up in the fact that Herro does need screens to get into his most comfortable play-style, but there will be times where he needs to just go.

Either getting a Payton Pritchard switch, or putting a bigger wing on their heels before stepping back, that has to be step one.

Seeing the amount of blitzes he saw against Philly, it was clearly a learning experience. Other teams watching that might say, ‘Hey, should we do the same?’ But at the same time, Jimmy Butler’s saying, ‘Okay, then I’ll do the same.’

It’s pretty much pick your poison, and the Celtics are such a sound defensive group that the focus won’t be on one guy, but if they do elect to start doubling, this can’t be the answer:

A blitz from this team will be much different than a 76er blitz. This team is lengthy, quick, and connected throughout.

I already know one of the main points that will be harped on starting tomorrow during film session will be Herro getting the ball out early when this is seen. Keep this Celtics group moving, since when you begin to slow down and hold the ball, they’ve already beat you.

But once again, me starting out this piece pointing out what Herro might have to deal with is not saying this isn’t his series. Actually, it’s saying the opposite.

They’re going to need a high level half-court scoring Herro in this series, and he’s had success against them on the big stage referring back to that 37 point bubble performance.

But if you’re worried about the switches onto him, what if his counter isn’t to deal with switches?

The DHO series?

To tie in the previous points, the Celtics still have versatile bigs who will dip back in drop, while also containing at a high level. The Bucks may give up a lot of threes, but the Celtics rely on a lot of perimeter screen chasing against a Heat team that is constantly moving.

And what is the product of many of their movement sets? Well, a dribble hand-off.

Looking at the first clip above, Al Horford is in drop and Jaylen Brown goes over the screen. That’s a win for the Heat.

2 on 1 for Bam and Herro leads to a lob pass, ending in a Bam dunk. The point of this is that using Bam as a screener for Herro will be even more important than usual. There’s another combo that I’m going to discuss next, but the Bam-Herro PnR may be back in action for another round.

Just like in the third and final clip above, it isn’t a hand-off that’s being run, but it’s an empty corner PnR for Herro. Not to sound like a repeat of games 1 and 2 of last series, but providing less abilities to help over on Herro is the main goal.

Now the defender goes over, and it’s a Herro floater.

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But this isn’t all about Herro, the hand-off element is about the shooters collectively. Jimmy Butler averaged the most points a night against the Celtics for the Heat this season at 22 PPG, but do you know who was right behind him?

Max Strus.

He scored 21 PPG, including a pretty memorable 3 block 4th quarter the last time these teams faced off. But most importantly, the hand-off dissection will be an important element from him this series, which is actually something he worked on a ton in practice Sunday morning.

This type of stuff is the add-on element, but now, the stars are the main dish at this stage.

Jimmy Butler: slip, slip, slip

Sitting here in a preview talking about Jimmy Butler’s foul drawing, inside scoring, and post-up turnarounds feels rather obvious after watching 11 games of it already.

So, what is the adjustment for him specifically?

Well, look out for him being used as a screener.

It makes it a little bit more tough if the team is without Kyle Lowry, since there aren’t many people better suited for finding Butler on the roll than Lowry, but there will still be advantages.

In the clip above, knowing the Celtics are going to switch, Butler slips, Lowry lobs, and it ends in a bucket down low. That will be there constantly, but I guess the question will be if Gabe Vincent can make that pass consistently.

(And I have a feeling Lowry will be in Vincent’s ear a ton about making that read)

We know what Butler is at this stage. We know what he’s going to provide on the offensive side of the floor. The one thing we don’t know, and what opposing teams don’t know, is where he’s going to generate those points specifically.

Butler will be Butler, but beating switches with a slip will be a focal point.

Bam Adebayo: Watch for Advantages

When some were predicting that the Bucks would take it against the Celtics in game 7, a consistent thing was being thrown around: Brook Lopez and the need for Adebayo’s jumper.

The traumatizing state of last year’s playoffs had people worried about that specific match-up, since it’s undeniable that Bam’s jumper was going to be needed.

Now that the Celtics advance, I’m not sure that’s as primary a focus as we originally thought.

Yes, he indeed has to be aggressive, but in a much different fashion. As I’ve portrayed over and over in this piece, the Celtics are a heavy switching defense. With that said, if Bam begins to get smaller wings or guards on his back, that match-up can’t be neutral.

It simply can’t.

Looking at the clip above, I wouldn’t say that’s the best example with the way he faded away on the post up, but the point still stands. If a Jaylen Brown-type is on his back in that low post, the shot must go up.

His defense is so valuable that it almost cancels out his offense at times, but now that this Heat team finds themselves 4 wins away from another trip to the NBA finals, they’re going to need their second best player to be an offensive threat.

Simply, a threat that’ll capitalize on advantages.

Defensive Match-Ups

Before I talk about game-plan, let me address some individual match-ups that I would expect to see. A lot of this is pointless with Miami’s switching, but this is something I’d look for out the gate:

Marcus Smart -> Gabe Vincent

Jaylen Brown -> Jimmy Butler

Jayson Tatum -> PJ Tucker

Grant Williams -> Max Strus

Al Horford -> Bam Adebayo

Yes I know that Robert Williams coming back will change things, but considering the five we saw from Boston today, this would be my expectation. Placing Tucker on Tatum feels like an obvious conclusion, but like usual, Bam Adebayo is the defensive X-Factor.

Something the Heat did a ton of the last time they played Boston was use him as a weak-side action wrecker instead of the pure switch guy. That meant the corner three would be sacrificed at times, but Brown or Tatum wouldn’t have an easy driving game once boosting by that perimeter defender.

Aside from Erik Spoelstra finger-pointing, I think we see exactly what we saw from them defensively against Philly. You may be wondering, why in the world would they keep the same game-plan?

Well, they wouldn’t. They would just be combining the approaches from games 1 to 6.

Nothing was consistent on that side of the ball for Miami all series. Soft switching in game 1 blended into pure drop coverage by game 6. I think this is a series where you can get away with the switching at times, which Miami will rely on a ton, but they now have a counter in their back pocket.

Keeping Bam closer to the rim in drop showed very positive results in terms of keeping the ball in front of him. He can be very impactful in the switching scheme, but now that it is adjustment time in the playoffs, teams like to find ways to pull him all the way to the deep corner to eliminate him.

But now, they have options.

And speaking of options, there’s one minor schematic focus that’ll be seen. If the ball isn’t being worked through Tatum or Brown in the primary action, Jimmy Butler will free-lance.

Once the Celtics begin to operate in the middle of the floor through their bigs, Butler will be smirking on that back-side since he knows he will probably have 2 points on the other end if he times it right.

This may not seem like a major deal, but I’m sure it’ll be noticed throughout this series.

Some Underrated X-Factors

Lastly, I’d like to highlight two Heat players that can end up being high level, yet underrated, X-Factors in this series.

We know about the need for Butler, Bam, and Herro as talked about earlier. Shooters will be important generally as well. But who will be the guy to get those shooters going?

Well that guy is former All-Star Victor Oladipo.

He silently had a killer series against the 76ers last round even with the teams’ ups and downs, and this is a match-up that could favor him even more. Aside from matching up with guys like Brown or pressuring full court on the defensive end, he could be the piece to bend this Celtics defense.

The first element is rim pressure that we bring up so often. Butler provides a ton of it. So much that defenses like the Celtics will over-commit, leading to a kick to an open guy as the rotations begin for the defense.

Swing-swing-swing, and oh, the defense recovered. Do you know how that is bypassed? A second rim pressure threat. Swing-swing-swing becomes swing-swing-drive, and the outcome looks a whole lot different.

Other than that primary factor, switches could mean more reliance on Oladipo as a shot creator. We’ve gotten flashes of his bag off the dribble, and I think we see more of that in this series. Or at least, it’ll be an offensive focus to increase the frequency of it.

My other X-Factor in this series, though, is actually Caleb Martin. Lowry most likely being out means Vincent will be starting, which also means the Heat either shrink to 8 or look for that 9th guy.

Now that we’re nearing the end, a lot of guys will see slight decreases in their minutes, but Caleb Martin will be a useful tool in this series. With all of the Celtics lengthy wings, throwing Martin out there to pressure them seems like a clear option.

Some may say that Duncan Robinson could be utilized, hinting back to my section on the DHO surge, but I personally don’t see it. At this point, it’s no secret that this series will be a defensive dog fight, and they aren’t going to look to counter that with one-way players like himself.

Aside from the X’s and O’s, this should be a fun series for basketball lovers. Two high level defenses going at it, while coaches on both sides send counter punches in opposite directions.

Looking at the Bucks falling short as Giannis Antetokounmpo sat on the bench breathing heavy as time expired in game 7, something stood out majorly: a one man show of arguably the best player in the world couldn’t take down this Celtics team.

The Heat are going to need everybody.

 

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Five Takeaways from Heat’s Closeout Win in Game 6 vs Philly

The Miami Heat are in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Behind Max Strus and Jimmy Butler in game 6, the Heat ran away with the game to come away with the win.

But the true factor: the defensive masterclass from Bam Adebayo and Erik Spoelstra exclusively.

Anyway, here are some takeaways from this closeout win…

#1: Max Strus entering the conversation: the illustrated definition of a rhythm player.

Walking away from game five’s domination from the Miami Heat, there was one thing that heavily stuck in my mind heading into game 6: Max Strus’ performance wasn’t just a needed night in front of the home crowd. It was a rhythm builder moving forward. The role players have been a predictable trend in this series, where the home crowd basically boosts them to another level, while the road role guys struggle majorly. And well, Strus was the headliner to breaking that trend. We can talk about sets being run for him such as the normal pin-downs, but he was the key to the opening unit clicking. Out of the PnR against drop, they need to work that drive and kick with that release valve shooter, and Strus was just that. He also had some nice drives off the move to bend the defense, which is very promising for both this team and him individually.

#2: The Heat’s notable adjustments early on.

Aside from Erik Spoelstra finger pointing, the defensive approach from game 5 carried into game 6. They weren’t switching everything, meaning there was a good mix of drop coverage to keep Bam Adebayo as the fronting man on Joel Embiid. This doesn’t just go for Bam/Embiid though. The Heat are doing the same exact thing off the ball, leading to Miami planting Butler on Maxey and fighting through screens. Now, the adjustment we’ve seen is that they found a counter to the mismatch hunting. With Thybulle in for the injured Green, Herro found himself planted on Thybulle in the weak-side corner a bunch. But like they usually do, they immediately send him up as a screener to pick on Herro. The Heat’s adjustment: blitzing those sets. Herro immediately got his hands on a Harden pass for a bucket since it surprised, but even if the pass was made, Thybulle wasn’t a threat. While the talk is all about Embiid, they had a good defensive set-up in that first half.

#3: The Tyler Herro shift.

Tyler Herro has been through blitzing as a PnR ball handler. He’s been doubled as an off-ball threat. He’s been blanketed in corners as a spacer. So well, what was the next card to play? They could’ve just continued letting the other 4 attack in space, but it seemed like Spoelstra found something early after a Max Strus dish on the wing. They were going to get Herro off the move a lot more, specifically off curls to give him a runway off the catch. He rubs shoulders with Adebayo as he gets to the top of the key, and Strus leads the pass. Herro doesn’t slow down, and gets to the basket while finishing with the left hand. There were a lot of factors to the Heat’s offense clicking on the road in this game, but I’d like to state that Herro finding his way while not being the flashy offensive threat is important. He wasn’t usual scoring Herro, but he was the focus that got others going.

#4: Bam Adebayo doesn’t care about your box score opinions.

Aggression. Shot attempts. Scoring. It’s something that’s always linked to Bam Adebayo, and sometimes for good reason as I point that stuff out plenty of times along the ride. But right now, he can transcend a 0 point number in the scoring column. That’s how absolutely elite he has been defensively. It’s been a series of constant turns for Miami’s defensive approach. No Embiid in games 1 and 2 meant they went to a bunch of switching all over the place, bothering James Harden. Games 3 and 4 ended in losses, but nothing came easy for Embiid, as Adebayo was looming as a helper after switching out yet again. Then game 5 hit. No more Bam switching, just drop, contains, and rotations. Looking at tonight specifically with that scheme carrying over, he carried over dominance. His clamps on the perimeter make highlights, but his fronting and contests on bigs like Embiid don’t get enough credit. Butler is the series’ story-line, but Adebayo deserves his flowers.

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#5: The Miami Heat find themselves in another Eastern Conference Finals.

The Miami Heat are sitting in the Eastern Conference Finals, essentially meeting the expectations that the regular season provided. Not that this is the ceiling, but the floor has been reached. Anything less than this would’ve been a disappointment, but now it’s time to make that final push. Kyle Lowry’s battled injuries. Jimmy Butler has been a top 2 player in this post-season and I’m not sure he’s 2. Bam Adebayo has taken over defensively to make any offense scared to face. Tyler Herro’s skill-set has scared opponents so much that they’re placing all of the focus onto him. The role players have shown up: Max Strus, Gabe Vincent, PJ Tucker, and many others that have contributed. And lastly, Erik Spoelstra has put together a masterclass of a game-plan: first stifling Trae Young in unthinkable manners and now bothering Joel Embiid and crew to this degree. But now they’re here, waiting to see if it is indeed the Milwaukee Bucks that they face yet again. It’s 1-1 over the last two season. This will be the true test.

 

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Five Takeaways from the Heat’s Game 5 Win Over Philly

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.

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#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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Five Takeaways from Heat’s Loss to Philly in Game 4

The Miami Heat played a pretty similar ball game in game 4 that they played in game 3, in terms of the outside shooting from the supporting cast.

Jimmy Butler was outstanding in all departments, but simply he was it for Miami through most of this game.

Now, it’s all tied up 2-2 heading back to Miami for game 5. Yeah, definitely a series now.

Here are some takeaways from this one…

#1: The lop-sided three-point shooting display early on.

56% three point shooting compared to 22% shooting? Yeah, that’s a pretty big tell on how a game is going. Yet for Miami, other components kept them in it even with what those numbers would seem to portray. The Heat crunched the rotation down to 8 to begin the night, which went down to 7 as Vincent only played 3 first half minutes due to foul trouble. But among those 7 guys, they couldn’t find that hot hand from the outside. Herro’s getting different treatment, Strus couldn’t find himself beyond the arc, and Lowry was 0 for 4 at that point. While on the other side, 56% shooting is pretty absurd. That’s kind of what happens when you have to focus 2 to 3 defenders on an MVP caliber player at all times. This is a 3 point shooting team that needs that label back, which had all people calling for #55 at the half.

#2: So, what are the 76ers doing different defensively to Miami?

I’ve talked a lot about schemes from Miami over the last 3 games played, but I wanted to take a second to discuss what the 76ers are doing to the Heat, in particular on the perimeter. For one, it should be noted that this is a team that has revolved heavily around overplaying so far this series, which is surprising that we haven’t seen them working more back-cuts. Aside from that, Doc Rivers has noted the one focus on Miami has been Tyler Herro. They wanted to be more physical, while also limiting space for him as much as possible. So, they’re blitzing out on him extremely hard, while rotating middle on that specific shooter. What does that mean? That weak-side corner is the release valve, which means two things: can Herro make that pass and can that shooter take advantage as I noted them shooting 22% from deep in the first half.

#3: Miami’s first half offense kept afloat by Butler’s run, Oladipo’s attack, Bam’s second unit aggression.

While I focused on some of the negative elements early, it’s also important to note that the Heat still stayed above water offensively while struggling that much from deep. The first reason was that Victor Oladipo’s aggression was glaring. He was making it a priority to make his presence felt around the rim, getting to the line at an incredible rate, due to going right at the body of Embiid in that deep drop. Bam Adebayo followed that up with a very strong stretch once Embiid went to the bench. We saw games 1 and 2 flashbacks against Paul Reed, being utilized both on the roll and the post. And finally, as the game was really getting away from Miami late in the second, Butler gave a counter punch. Hitting tough jumpers, getting to the rim, playing physical. That one takeover mode saved Miami in that span. All 3 of these aspects have something in common: inside play. All that was missing, to tie my previous points together, was that one hot shooter.

#4: I’ve touched on Lowry not taking the open pull-up, but this hamstring seems to be very restricting.

When watching Kyle Lowry in this game specifically, he just doesn’t look right. He had 2 breakaway layups where he had to sprint down the floor, and both had him limping back down the floor on defense with his left hand planted on that left hamstring. Clearly, it’s a bothering injury. He continues to struggle to shoot the basketball at the second and third level, but I don’t think this formula is too complicated. This isn’t one of those excuse statements, it’s just the truth. That hamstring is limiting his lift and jumper overall. He continued to play through it, but just something to keep track of moving forward. He can keep it moving in this one, but that thing will most likely tighten up over the next 24 hours. And one thing to note about on-court play: he’s getting to the rim, but not shooting at the rim. Once again, that stuff can be costly.

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#5: You know what, I’m talking about shooting again.

As the 76ers made their 4th quarter run to kick off the quarter, finishing off with a James Harden transition three to take a 12 point lead, you probably did the same thing as I did. Went over to look at the shooting numbers t that point in the game, and they weren’t surprising, but equally as mind blowing. One team was shooting 48% from deep, while the other was shooting 17% from three. Yeah, that’s pretty much the game, right? To go one step further into that 5 of 30 three-point shooting at that point, taking away Butler’s deep ball, they were shooting a whopping 12%. When the percentage drops that much when taking off* Butler’s three-point numbers, that’s usually a tell. It really doesn’t get much deeper than those numbers, but I do believe the looks on both sides were apparently different. Robinson was sitting there for use, but not utilized, which felt like a bit of a head-scratcher for stretches.

 

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