How This Could Be the End of a Remarkable Run From the Miami Heat

Commentary6 months ago8 min readJohn Jablonka

I hope this doesn’t come back to bite me, otherwise, this piece is going to look so funny in a week’s time. But it’s looking likely that we are at the end of the most remarkable runs in NBA history. The Miami Heat found themselves down 3-1 to the Denver Nuggets and although there’s still a chance, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Nuggets finish this off at home. I say that, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if the Heat manage to extend the series,

The playoffs for the Heat have been weird. It’s tough to make any predictions. There are clear issues on both ends for them but who’s to say they won’t make 50 percent of their 3s just because? Sure, the Nuggets have adjusted their defense to make their 3s much more difficult, but when has that stopped the Heat in these playoffs?

I also wouldn’t be writing this piece so soon if it wasn’t for me missing out on the games from now on. Because I wouldn’t be able to watch the games, do any other breakdowns, and write a similar post when they would actually lose, I’m just doing it all now instead.

So, let’s start with how this series went so far.

Series Review

The series started on a positive note. Although game one wasn’t as close as the final score says, I did feel good for the Heat going into game two. They missed many open looks, Jimmy Butler didn’t look like himself attacking the rim, and Bam Adebayo was getting good looks in the pick-and-rolls.

There were some key adjustments from the Nuggets that should’ve made life easier for the Heat. They started to send Nikola Jokic higher on the guard’s screens, which opened up Adebayo on the roll. And the main positive was the fact that this was the coverage for most of them.

Then, they came out and did something that hasn’t been done all season long. They took a game in Denver. However they did it, it doesn’t take away that it was impressive beating a finals team that was undefeated at home. A team going undefeated that makes the final is rare and the Heat stopped that.

Going back home 1-1 was huge for the Heat, but unfortunately, that’s when it all turned bad. Got to give credit to the Nuggets for making the right adjustments on both ends and stepping huge on defense. Whenever the Nuggets talked about, it’s always about their offense.

For good reasons, though. They do have the highest offensive rating in the playoffs with 121.3, per Cleaning the Glass — the Los Angeles Clippers were second with 117.6. That’s just absurd. But a lot of their adjustments that were key in securing these two wins on the road in Miami came on defense.

They took away those open 3s. Everyone made life more difficult for shooters. Everyone communicated better on switches to not have defensive breakdowns. They took away the paint. Jokic’s rim protection has been huge. Their extra help on PnRs was key.

In the last two games, the Heat had a 103.3 and a 104.4 offense. Sure, the Heat did miss open bunnies inside. They did miss 3s. But this wasn’t just shooting variance. This wasn’t guys missing good looks. This was more the Nuggets making every of those look less comfortable.

The Heat were already operating as a team with little to no margin of error. That only gets worse when shots aren’t falling down and when your best players aren’t playing like your best players. Though a lot of that has to do with unfortunate injury luck and running out of gas.

Could this series have been somewhat different had the Heat finished off the Boston Celtics in fewer games? Probably yeah. We’ve seen what Butler can do when he’s close to healthy. But with the injury against the New York Knicks plus all the mileage playing through an injury will catch up.

This isn’t excusing Butler’s play. Injuries are part of the game. But it’s some context as to why the Heat couldn’t have got it done and it wasn’t because Butler isn’t a player capable of carrying a team or that the team was bad.

But the way this team has been constructed, there were only two ways to continue to win against great teams — Butler needed to Butler like he was against the Milwaukee Bucks and/or everyone else had to shoot ridiculously from 3.

And these aren’t two completely separate ways of winning. They’re connected. Everything does start with Butler. The Heat won’t get any rim pressure without Butler being Butler. The Heat will struggle to get good looks if the defense doesn’t adjust and send more help at Butler’s drives. The Heat won’t get good looks either if Butler can’t punish mismatches to force drawing an extra defender to put defenses in rotations.

It’s tough for the Heat to get anything else going when the only guy capable of getting to the rim doesn’t want to look to score and when he does, shoots 46 percent from 2.

And it doesn’t help them that the Nuggets are a really good team. This isn’t like any of the teams they’ve seen already. They won’t crumble down the stretch. They won’t shrink in big moments. They won’t commit countless mistakes. That alone takes away any margin of error for the Heat — they literally have to play a perfect game.

I still believe that this series would be entirely different had Butler not gotten injured. Or even if Tyler Herro played. Did I mention that? The Heat are without their best shooter and that rarely gets acknowledged. Although I don’t think that would be a game changer by itself, as their main issues would still be there, it would certainly help.

But there’s still defense! Even if Butler was healthy and everyone was clicking, I don’t think that would change Jokic almost averaging a triple-double. I don’t think that would change the Jamal Murray x Jokic action to be any less deadly. Stopping Denver was always going to be the biggest challenge, even at 100 percent. Their only way to win was to match it with their offense.

Final Thoughts

So, it’s unfortunate we weren’t able to see these teams somewhat healthy. I genuinely believe this was going to be a competitive series. And even with a loss — whether it’s in five, six, or seven — this was a successful season.

What the Heat have done was something that I’ve never witnessed in my life watching sports. This was the best playoff run by any team I’ve seen. The amount of amazing and historic performances and countless moments they’ve given us is wild. No specific order:

  • Butler’s 56 points on 19-for-28 shooting vs Bucks in game four
  • Butler’s 42 points on 17-for-33 shooting vs Bucks to clinch the series
  • Butler’s alley-oop to force overtime
  • Gabe Vincent’s huge 3 to cut the lead
  • Adebayo’s elite defense vs Giannis Antetokounmpo in the fourth in game five
  • Adebayo’s triple-double vs the Bucks to clinch the series
  • Butler going 1v1 vs Grant Williams
  • Caleb Martin going off for 26 points vs the Celtics
  • Blowing out the Celtics in game seven
  • Martin’s 27 points on 12-for-25 shooting vs the Celtics to clinch the series

There are just too many to list.

I’ve been tweeting about this a lot, but Duncan Robinson’s redemption in these playoffs has been one of the most best things to happen. Not long ago, he was out of the rotation. He was the worst contract in the NBA. He was a liability. Many Heat fans didn’t want him on the team or to play in the playoffs. And he shut everyone up. He’s been having one hell of a playoff run and he did it whilst playing around 20 minutes per game. This was my favorite story of the playoffs.

This playoff run was quite literally the perfect example of Heat Culture. They had a negative point differential in the regular season. They lost the first play-in game. They almost lost the second one. They faced the favorite in the first round. They lost their third-best player. They lost their best defensive guard.

None of it mattered. Butler did say they were going to be here last year and he kept his word.

What this playoff run has shown me is you give Butler and Adebayo a chance in the playoffs and there’s nothing that should be seen as impossible. Their ceiling is, without a doubt, a championship. And anyone trying to tell you otherwise is simply wrong(yes, I’m fan-policing).

Sure, it sucks that the Heat could very likely lose in five and it will be disappointing but it won’t change anything about this season.

Now, this will look funny if the Heat win game five on the road again and somehow extend this series. I do hope that it happens. Even if they push this to seven games to lose, how can you say no to more Heat basketball at this point?