In Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Erik Spoelstra went 10 players deep in the first quarter. Last night in Game 4, Spoelstra only played eight — and one of those, Solomon Hill, logged just four minutes of playing time.
Spoelstra has finally tightened his rotation. In Game 4, Spoelstra also staggered the minutes of Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo to limit the time Miami played without either 2020 All-Star on the floor. Just earlier in this series, Spoelstra was content to include lineups without both Butler and Adebayo for stretches.
Staggering Butler and Adebayo’s minutes is a smart move. We’re in the conference finals; teams should play their best players. They are the Heat’s best two-way players by far. Butler and Adebayo combined to attempt 17 free throws in Game 4. Having at least one of them on the floor at all times provides an offensive catalyst and a defensive anchor.
Spoelstra’s decision to bench three players who were in the rotation — Kendrick Nunn, Derrick Jones Jr. and Kelly Olynyk — was a bit more surprising. Nunn’s relegation to the bench was the least surprising of the bunch; he hasn’t provided Miami much of anything since the season resumed in the bubble. I wrote a few days ago that moving Nunn out of the rotation could just be as simple as having a healthy Andre Iguodala.
And Iguodala got the crunch-time minutes last night, coming up with a huge steal that led to a breakaway Jimmy Butler dunk in the fourth quarter. Iguodala shot just 1-for-4 from beyond the arc, but he found Goran Dragic for a huge 3 with 1:36 left.
But Spoelstra went to Solomon Hill instead of Derrick Jones Jr. for a brief stint in the first half. Though he’s not an outside threat, Jones has helped Miami throughout this postseason run with his defense and length. It was surprising to see Spoelstra use Hill — who hadn’t played in any playoff game prior to Wednesday night’s Game 4 — over Jones.
And Spoelstra also opted to go with just one big, Adebayo, for the entire game. Kelly Olynyk has struggled to shoot the ball — he’s shot just 1-for-8 from 3-point range this series. Olynyk is also a liability on defense, and going small allows the Heat to switch more easily.
Did Spoelstra decide to tighten the rotation simply because his team had three days off before Game 4, or will he move forward with his trusted seven? I wouldn’t like to see Dragic log 39 minutes many more times. I’d like to see Olynyk get some more chances to contribute offensively. The Heat have shot under 30 percent from 3 in both Games 3 and 4.
But staggering the minutes of Butler and Adebayo? I’m on board with that.