There are tons of admirable traits about this championship-contending Miami Heat team that makes them such a dangerous adversary regardless of the lack of respect they receive from mainstream NBA media pundits.
For starters, their depth makes a case for being one of, if not the best, in the entire NBA Playoffs.
Think about this: in Game 1 of their Eastern Semis series against Philadelphia, Kyle Lowry didn’t play, Jimmy Butler was pedestrian for his standards (5-16), and the 3-ball, which during the regular season was a key indicator for the Heat’s success, went in only 9-of-36 times (25%).
(The Heat went 2-10 in the regular season in games they shot below 27% from deep, per Basketball Reference.)
It’s fair to argue that the absence of Joel Embiid, who’s also expected to miss Game 2 of this series, played a massive part in determining the outcome. After all, De’Andre Jordan is cooked at this point of his career, regardless of what attachments his head coach, Doc Rivers, might have to him.
Yet the formula for Miami to drop a critical Game 1 was in play, especially when undermanned Philly took a one-point lead at halftime thanks to superb early performances by Tobias Harris, James Harden, and Tyrese Maxey. It didn’t help that Butler, fresh off a knee injury, didn’t seem on-point, Miami was frustrated with the lack of foul calls from officials, turnovers were a major issue (10 in the first half), the half-court offense stagnated against Philly’s zone, and the usually-reliable deep ball was absent.
But the team’s future made sure there would be no present buzzkill.
The Heat drew first blood spearheaded by Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro, the two most prominent players on the roster when imagining how tomorrow’s Miami teams will look like. Playing in their third consecutive postseason together, the battle-tested duo was spectacular, reliable, and made up for their play in the first round against the Hawks.
Their symmetry is better than ever.
Adebayo, 24, finished with a playoff-best 24 points plus 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block. He shot 8-of-10 from the field, 8-of-8 from the foul line, and was a +26 when he was on the court, taking full advantage of Embiid’s absence.
Bam attacked the smaller Philly lineup in the paint, created tons of scoring opportunities for his teammates with screens, block-offs, wits, and sheer hustle, and was a force defensively. Harden and Maxey barely bothered attacking Adebayo on switches in the second half. The Heat’s max-contract big man set the tone early with his physicality near the rim, and put the finishing touches by partnering up with the player who could very well be his running mate in this organization for years to come.
Within Heat circles, there was a lot of anticipation for Herro’s bounce back after a lackluster first round. He didn’t disappoint. The runaway choice for 6th Man of the Year finished with 25 points off the bench on 9-of-17 shooting from the field, including 4-of-6 from deep and a perfect 3-of-3 from the charity stripe. He also dished out 7 assists, a few of those being beautiful passes to Adebayo who often looks like an elite scoring big when paired with Herro’s improved playmaking.
“We just have a connection, like Spo said, with the reps we’ve gotten over the years,” Herro said about his chemistry with Bam.
“Obviously, he’s a hard target to miss with how big he is and how high he jumps getting to that rim. So, he makes it easy on me and I’m glad he’s with us.”
Bam scored near the rim, hit midrange pull up jumpers, had runways to the rim for easy lay-ups, and dunked easy drop-off passes.
Herro was on-target from deep, had the mid-range flow going for him, connected on floaters, and even held his ground defensively.
Thanks to PJ Tucker’s irreplaceable hustle plays, Miami woke up in the third period and ran away with the win. The rest of the team played well. Gabe Vincent had his moments, Max Strus held up defensively, and both Caleb Martin and Victor Oladipo provided quality minutes. The defense was intense, closing out to nearly every rotation. Harden and Maxey were held in check. Butler didn’t even have to finish the game.
"The average closest defender on Harden's shot attempts Monday was 3.7 feet according to Second Spectrum, the third-smallest amount of separation in a game for Harden this season and the smallest amount in a playoff game for Harden in two years."https://t.co/gCbputAlz3 pic.twitter.com/rymzNk381Y— Naveen Ganglani (@naveenganglani) May 3, 2022
But the story of the night was how well Herro and Adebayo played.
The production of the two seem to go hand-in-hand. According to NBA stats, plays with Bam Adebayo as the pick-and-roll roll man in the regular season ended in 1.12 points per 100 possessions for the Heat, while plays with Herro as the pick-and-roll ball handler ended in 0.88 points per possession. Put those two together, and it leads to quality production.
Take this play, for instance. It looks like Martin will set a screen for Herro to get him loose from Maxey. Matisse Thybulle is hanging back, likely ready to crowd the ball. Bam, whose man Paul Millsap is in drop, sets a back screen on Thybulle to give Herro a clear path. Maxey makes a commendable recovery but Herro gets too good of a look. Splash.
This next clip is simple and effective basketball. Adebayo sets a high screen for Herro who gets a step on Thybulle. With Millsap again in drop, Tyler has the option of another pull-up, but noticing Millsap’s eyes are on him, he instead hits Bam on the roll. Harris doesn’t help so Strus isn’t open in the corner, but Georges Niang leaves Martin to make an effort and contest. Unfortunately, he’s neither athletic nor big enough to make a challenge. The result? An easy two.
Here’s another beauty. It’s a spacious strong-side pick-and-roll between Herro and Adebayo. Jordan is in drop but then steps up, albeit slowly, to the 3-point line so he can defend what looks like a Herro pull-up. Maxey is attempting to catch up from behind.
Herro fakes the 3-ball attempt, hits Adebayo on the roll again, and only Harden, who doesn’t have a great reputation as a defender, is on the backside line on defense to protect the rim. Bam vs. James; I’ll let you guys how that turned out.
“I think it’s been reps but it’s also been some of the opportunities they had while other guys were out and they really gained some confidence through that,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said after the game. “They’re our young guns. They’re our young, ambitious guys and we want them to be who they are.
“They really completement each other well and they’ve gained a lot of confidence in their two-man actions.”
Line-ups with Herro and Adebayo in the regular season had a +/- of +4.2 in 18.8 minutes per contest, which is the highest plus-minus for any two-man line-up which included Herro, according to NBA Stats. It hasn’t played that way so far in the playoffs, although that should change by Tuesday when the data reflects the updates following Game 1.
Except for occasional hiccups, Miami is generally a drama-free NBA franchise. Maybe that’s why they don’t get the national love such as other opponents, like the ones they face now. Just from a basketball perspective, this team is as deadly as anyone else that remains in the NBA, and part of the reason why that’s so is because regardless of who plays on any given night, there’s enough firepower in that roster to compete with any opponent.
It might not be a topic for must-see television, even if it should be, but it’s still conducive to winning.
Part of that deep arsenal is the blossoming two-man dynamic of Bam and Tyler. Soon enough, they will have the keys to this team that Butler and Lowry currently hold, and it may be sooner than later.
Even as we wait for that time to come, that doesn’t mean they won’t make their presence felt in the meantime.
The future might very well be the present.
5 down, 11 to go.