The Heat took care of business in game 3 behind Jimmy Butler’s leading play, but everybody followed behind for a leveled stat sheet across the board. High level shooting helps.
Before I talk about the game though, the air was sucked out of the building after Victor Oladipo had another incident.
His knee buckled, the stretcher came out which he declined, and the entire Heat bench was in pain.
#1: Jimmy Butler’s first quarter masterclass…
Jimmy Butler dropped 17 points in the opening 12 minutes of this game, but that base stat wasn’t the impressive part. It was how he was doing it. For one, he decided to form into Steph Curry mid-quarter which was a fun twist. Three triples in that span as the Bucks were basically daring him to take it. Screen comes, Jrue Holiday disrespectfully slips under staring, and Butler just kept capitalizing. But the true art of that quarter was that he scored 17 points with absolutely elite defense being played on him. When it comes down to players defending Jimmy Butler, not many do as good a job as Jrue Holiday does. Strength, quickness, and overall activity. Yet Butler didn’t care. It wasn’t even affecting him, which made that first quarter one of the best I’ve seen him play. (Which says A LOT)
#2: Happy Birthday, Duncan Robinson???
Who would be the 8th guy? That was a common question pregame around the arena after Kevin Love officially got the start. After Kyle Lowry and Caleb Martin, would they go big with Cody Zeller? Defense with Victor Oladipo or shooting with Duncan Robinson? Well, he actually went with both of those last two options. And before I get to the first guy, man was it good to see Robinson play like that. Early in the second quarter, he runs a pick and roll in an empty corner, finds space on the left wing, and knocks it down. Right after, he sprints toward Bam Adebayo for a hand-off on the short wing, hitting a tough fade-away to provide that spark. To cap off his run, a transition possession led by Oladipo leads to a toss to Robinson running full speed, who bangs another one. They need any role player fire they can get with Tyler Herro out, and that version of Duncan is a cool sight.
#3: From a game perspective, Victor Oladipo showed out. But an unfortunate end to the game…
I often express the two sides of the Victor Oladipo experience. As he sits outside the rotation looking in, the uneven shot selection seems to hold him back, while the perimeter defense is screaming to be utilized. As Coach Spo called on him to replace Jimmy Butler for the final 24 seconds of the first quarter, it was a loud 24 seconds. Inbound to Holiday as Oladipo presses, moving laterally off every burst Jrue tries to make. Ends in a miss at the rim as he hounded, leading into second quarter minutes. Did that short span win him his playing time tonight? I believe so. He continued to do some incredible on-ball things with his overall activity, which leaves you unable to keep your eyes off of it. Then the finish to the game ended in that scene I detailed earlier. Extremely sad stuff.
#4: Caleb Martin: the connector role to perfection.
There were some loud performances across the Heat’s roster tonight that deserved praise. Certain scorers, other defenders. But the most underrated and necessary of them all to me was Caleb Martin. The complete definition of a bridge on both ends. Defensively he didn’t have many 1-on-1 challenges with the Heat’s shaded help constantly, but his back-line consistency was big on that end. As for the offense, he was generating a lot of the good things that we were seeing. Pushing pace to get things brewing in the open court, but mostly his overall movement in the half-court. Quick slashes, hitting guys in the dunker spot on the move, and needed attacks. Wasn’t anything flashy, but I thought he was big in this one.
#5: It’s 2-1. Time to really pounce on this series.
We still don’t know the status of Giannis Antetokounmpo moving forward, but I’d guess he’s making a strong push to return Monday in game 4 as they have a chance to go down 3-1 in the series. But the issue is we have to monitor of everybody, as Jimmy Butler took a similar spill in this game that sent him to the locker room. Either way, the Bucks are going to be hungry. Yet the Heat need to be hungrier. We saw this play out in Milwaukee this week, as the Heat punched first then followed it up with a no energy performance in game 2. They should’ve learned their lesson though, now it’s time to take control of the series. Barring Jimmy Butler’s health, Monday is the true needle pusher.