If the Miami Heat earned the distinction of netting the most triples (20) in a playoff game in the franchise’s history in Game 1 of the NBA Playoffs, two nights later, they came away sporting a dubious record of allowing the most triples by an opponent (22), most points in a half (78) and most points in a game (132) in a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.
Bucks guard Bryn Forbes torched the Heat, scoring 22 points on 8-12 shooting including 6-9 from beyond the arc. Giannis Antetokounmpo bullied his way to 31 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists while guard Jrue Holiday maintained the momentum on both ends of the floor dishing out 15 assists to go with 11 points and seven rebounds.
The Bucks looked every bit as comfortable out there as they have ever done and showcased a very familiar brand of basketball; one that earned them the top spot on the regular-season leaderboard in points per game (120.2), fifth in three-point shooting percentage (38.9) and makes (14.4 per game) and second in rebounds (48.1 per game).
In contrast, the Heat looked completely overmatched and exasperated right from the get-go.
Here are my key takeaways from the game:
The elephant in the room - the Buck’s defense
The Bucks were all over the Heat for most of the game on the defensive end. It would often start in the backcourt, with the guards heckling ball handlers. In the half-court set, their focus would then be on choking the passing lanes.
Per Advanced NBA stats, in 40 victories during the regular season, 40.4 percent of all field goals for the Heat came from within ten feet of the bucket with a success rate of 62.5 percent. Noting this, over the last two games, the Bucks have clogged the lane with their bigs then collapsed on the man in the post (usually Adebayo or Ariza) as soon as the pass was made. The sheer size of the defenders (usually some combination of Antetokounmpo, Lopez and Holiday, or Middleton) made it hard to pass out of the double/triple teams, dramatically reducing offensive efficiency.
In two games against the Bucks in the postseason, the Heat have only managed to hoist 33.1 percent of their shots from within ten feet with a poor success rate of 48.3 percent!
The Ariza - Antetokounmpo matchup just didn’t work
When the Heat acquired Trevor Ariza over the trade deadline in March, they got a versatile wing with the ability to stretch the floor and play on both ends of the floor. The hope was that he would fill the gap left behind by the departure of forward Jae Crowder to the Phoenix Suns.
While Ariza has delighted in his role as a small-ball forward from the start, in two games against the Bucks he has thoroughly underwhelmed in his matchup with Antetokounmpo. Unable to contain Giannis in a one-on-one situation, it demanded a healthy dose of help defense leaving the weak side completely open. With a roster full of capable shooters, this was a recipe for disaster in Game 2.
In a lane clogged with size in Brook Lopez, Bobby Portis, and Antetokounmpo, coach Erik Spoelstra may want to employ a bigger lineup in spurts for the rest of the series. While last year’s team benefitted from the size and versatility offered by big men Meyers Leonard and Kelly Olynyk, Spoelstra will need to get creative this time round by utilizing the likes of Dewayne Dedmon, Nemanja Bjelica, Precious Achiuwa, and even Udonis Haslem, if the others get into foul trouble.
The added size should allow Adebayo to guard Antetokounmpo straight up more often.
A diamond in the rough moment?
Speaking of size, Heat Nation witnessed the rare combination of Dedmon and Adebayo on the court at the same time.
Per Advanced NBA stats, the duo took the court together for eight minutes, providing the group a shot in the arm and combining for 23 points on 13 shots, six rebounds, 5 assists, and a steal.
Dedmon continued to be one of the lone bright sparks for the Heat on an otherwise disastrous night, putting up 19 points, nine rebounds, two assists on 8-11 shooting including 1-2 from deep in 21 minutes of the bench.
But his real value was his ability to add energy and physicality, especially when setting screens, creating some much-needed space for teammates looking to score.
For me, his performance almost begs the question - would Dedmon fit well in the starting lineup alongside Adebayo?
Dedmon’s performance is not without precedent. Per Cleaning the glass, in 206 minutes Dedmon spent on the floor for the Heat this season, the team scored at a rate of 126.8 points per 100 possessions (tops in the league). This was accompanied by a significant increase in offensive rebound percentage (+8.1 percentage points) - both areas that the Heat could certainly use to give them a fighting chance of staying in this series.
Coach Spoelstra will be under pressure to make some big adjustments for Game 3 and taking a chance on Dedmon might just be his calling card.