It’s a wrap, folks! The Miami Heat’s playoff run ended as quickly as it began, succumbing to a red-hot Milwaukee Bucks in four games with a 120-103 loss at the final game of the soon-to-be-renamed AmericanAirlines Arena on Saturday.
Yes, Miami’s play in the first half inspired hope amongst many in Heat Nation (including yours truly), but it was short-lived, as the Bucks hit their stride again in the second half causing the home team to fall back into their now familiar tentative style of play.
Coach Erik Spoelstra once again went with the more productive starting lineup of Goran Dragic, Duncan Robinson, Jimmy Butler, Trevor Ariza, and Bam Adebayo to start the game. It paid dividends as the group looked a lot more decisive and aggressive in the first half.
More importantly, for the first time in the series, the team looked comfortable taking advantage of the mid-range, a spot on the floor that the Bucks consciously sagged off from.
For this piece, I thought I would play it a little differently and focus on some of the positives for the Heat, aspects that I hope the team will take back with them into what is likely to be a long off-season.
The Butler - Adebayo two-man game
One of the biggest positives of the game in the first half was the assertive two-man play of Butler and Adebayo. It worked so well against the Bucks clog-the-paint defense, that it left you wondering where this was in games one to three!
As evident in the clip below, the series of give-and-go/ pick-and-pop sets did well in drawing out the opposing bigs and creating space for one or the other to work either in the mid-range or in the paint.
It was great to see Butler finally get into his comfort zone, making the right reads. His six first-quarter assists set the Heat playoff single-quarter record for most assists.
Screen, cut, roll, stop, and pop
The Heat are at their best when there is a lot of motion in their offense.
Guards Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn, Dragic, and Robinson have thrived in the halfcourt when coming off screens and/ or shooting off the dribble handoff from Adebayo or Butler. This was key in last year’s playoff series victory over the Bucks but was hard to come by for most of this year’s series. Game 4 saw the return of some of this motion as the team looked a bit more comfortable with the pace and spacing on the floor.
Here are a few of the plays that I liked:
First, a classic set (one of my favorites) to free up Duncan Robinson at the top of the key for a wide-open three-ball.
Here you see Adebayo bring the ball up the court before handing it off to Butler at the top of the key. Adebayo then quickly sets the first screen on Robinson’s defender, Khris Middleton. Robinson ducks into the paint and faints a cut to the top corner, only to come back around and slither past a down screen set by Ariza, then the flare screen set by Butler, and into the dribble handoff from Adebayo for the open look.
In this next one, you see Herro bringing the ball up as Butler faints a screen then makes a beeline for the block before receiving the pass. The quick move from Butler leaves him momentarily open but more importantly, it has caught the attention of his man (Giannis Antetokounmpo), the closest help defender (Bobby Portis), and even guard Bryn Forbes, who has come over to cover for Portis in case he needs to react.
Big man Dewayne Dedmon smartly reads the play and begins to retreat towards the corner leaving Portis on an island and needing to now quickly react to his own man. All this is enough to create some space in the paint, and for Robinson to set the back screen on Herro’s defender (PJ Tucker) allowing him to cut to the basket.
In this super quick inbounds play for Nunn, all the action takes place on the wing/ corner area. Herro makes the inbounds pass to Adebayo, then quickly accepts a back screen from Nunn to dart for the corner. This momentarily causes both his defender Middleton and Nunn’s man, Jeff Teague to react and run to cover him off. The scramble and recovery gives Nunn the time to take the handoff from Adebayo while playing the screen game with Teague. He then goes around Adebayo, whose defender Brook Lopez isn’t taking a chance on the switch, instead opting to sag, leaving Nunn to take the floater.
Game 4 gave us a glimpse (however short it was) into what could have been if the Heat were just that little bit more comfortable getting to their spots and working through some type of a rhythm. It’s just a shame the series ended in a sweep!