Do or die game. Backs against the wall. Either pack it up and head home, or put up a fight to face the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday evening.
Max Strus chose his side of that equation, and so did Jimmy Butler.
Heat head to Milwaukee to face the Bucks…
#1: Max Strus’ night.
In a do or die game for a fighting chance in the playoffs, it has to be a Jimmy Butler explosion? Bam Adebayo? Tyler Herro? Nah it was just Max Strus who saw one drop, and wouldn’t stop from there. Heat open the game spamming the same action over and over: Herro-Bam PnR. It allows both to operate against that drop, which led into heavy helping from the wings and corners. Max Strus was the beneficiary of that, as his defender kept sagging. Catch and shoot three after catch and shoot three landed him at 6 triples at half. It actually should’ve been 7, but he literally got “Max Strused.” The PA announcer comes across the arena to announce his earlier 3 had been ruled out of bounds and taken away. Again? Yes, again. Either way, he was scorching, and kept capitalizing.
#2: Heat rotation change? Or not?
When it comes to switching things up, you never see it coming with Erik Spoelstra. When you least expect it, he will hit you with two new starters or rotation players on a random night late in the regular season, or to kick off the playoffs. So we should’ve known when he told the media on Thursday changes were coming. It was almost too predictable. On a night where it felt like Caleb Martin was needed to slow down DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine, Spoelstra stuck with the usual lineup with Gabe Vincent and Max Strus. But hey, I’d say the Strus call was a pretty decent one. The funny part was he didn’t even change up the back-end. I figured Cody Zeller would slip in for Kevin Love, but nope. They ran it back….
#3: Tyler Herro, Bam Adebayo pushed out of their spots early.
It’s playoff season, which also means it’s evaluation season. When it comes to the Miami Heat, those evaluations are for Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro. And well, they accumulated for a 3 of 12 first half between the both of them. The weird part was that it wasn’t their usual shot diet again, but that wasn’t on them. That was more of a credit to Chicago. Pat Beverly and Alex Caruso were hounding Herro around screens to make his in-between shots extremely uncomfortable, and Bam’s shots were just in traffic every time. And that’s exactly why Strus was getting the looks that he was. On the other side of things, they were still impacting: Adebayo with 10 first half boards, Herro with 5 boards and 5 assists. But finding ways to consistently be comfortable is the thing to watch for.
#4: Some ugly, ugly offense.
As you would expect after that first half, the third quarter decline was coming. Some extremely ugly offense pursued for both teams, but there’s a major difference within the ugly results. The Heat give the Bulls open 3’s by helping down on their shot creators, which means their ugly percentages are just missing shots from their role players. Yet within that gameplan, Chicago can still just get into LaVine or DeRozan isolations, which can work at any given moment. Same thing went for the Heat in terms of giving open shots, yet Max Strus’ hot shooting just made it look unproblematic. But once that died down, the Heat didn’t have an iso outlet. It’s more mid-post insertions with flying defenders at Jimmy Butler, or Bam Adebayo floating down the lane. Bulls led 68-67 at the end of the third, but the profiles felt extremely different from the naked eye.
#5: Clutch time…
Down 6, 7:30 left on the clock. A game that feels like it’s washing away slowly, as Bam Adebayo fights to the rim for a foul. First free throw, swish. Second free throw, clank. Summing up the evening. Jimmy Butler ends up getting to the rim for a layup, cutting it to 4. Falling back on defense, he jumps the play, gets the steal, and lays it in for a 2 point game. Energy rises in the building, as the Heat give up an unnecessary switch, leading to over-helping and an open three. Bulls up 85-80. Fast forward to 5:30 left, Butler takes Caruso again, goes up strong, and-1. 2 point game. LaVine misses, the crowd gets into it, Butler drives baseline, and Strus saves the day. An outstanding cut by Strus to save Butler for the lay-in, tying the game. On defense, Bam and Herro have a miscommunication to give up a DeRozan jumper, feeling like the tide turned. Yet Butler got fouled on a rebound, while in the bonus, as he sinks 2 free throws at the line. 87-87. And shortly after, Coby White answers again with another three. And well, Butler entered that mode. Mid-post insert, clear out, goes to work, and-1 at the rim. Under 2 minutes to go, he dumped it off to Bam who got fouled, knocking down 2 free throws. Heat lead 93-90. DeRozan free throw makes it a 2 point game, yet Butler hits Strus flowing downhill, and he hits the biggest shot of the night. Up 5. Now under a minute to go, Strus gets fouled in the corner for three. What a night for him. Heat head to the playoffs to face the Bucks.