Jimmy Butler Brings the Calm
Knicks @ Miami 2/9/2021
Miami last 5: @ Knicks (W: 109-103), vs. Wizards (W: 122-95), vs. Wizards (L: 103-100), vs. Hornets (L: 129-121), vs. Kings (W: 105-104)
Knicks last 5: @ Heat (L: 109-103), vs. Trail Blazers (W: 110-99), @ Bulls (W: 107-103), @ Bulls (L: 110-102), vs. Clippers (L: 129-115)
Miami entered the contest riding a timely two-game win streak, with last night being the next opportunity for this ball club to continue to get back to where we all expected — or at least wished — they would be. While it has not been the smoothest road up to here, hell, this certainly feels better than where we’ve been.
Miami opened the first quarter with sharp, calm and focused motions. The very first possession found itself ending with Kelly Olynyk scooting across the lane, settling near the block and receiving a pass from Jimmy Butler. Baby baseline drop step: 2 points.
It was largely more of the same for the first five minutes. K.O., Jimmy and Kendrick Nunn provided a nice start offensively. As is so often the case with this Miami Heat team, the shot in the arm that is the initial burst fades as the opponent settles in.
In came Tyler Herro and Precious Achiuwa, and largely, the offense remained steady, thanks still to an uber-efficient Jimmy. Miami’s inability to contain guards at the top of the action continued to plague them as traps were passed out of, gaps were driven into, passes were dimed, and 3s fell. With 3 minutes left in the first, even with having found themselves in a cautionary slide, Miami led by 8 points, 25-17. Then, almost suddenly, the length and physicality of the Knicks began to shine as they out-banged and out-hustled the Heat — from the glass and loose balls to, generally, all of the effort plays.
If the wheels on the Heat’s ride were wobbly to end the first, four minutes into the second, all four tires had been stolen, the radio was gone, and the Knicks had run off with the speakers too. Gabe Vincent, Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, Bam Adebayo and Andre Iguodala tipped off the second. What began as a Vincent 3-pointer quickly dissolved into the aforementioned jacking. A newly arrived Rose to the Garden met Herro at half-court forcing the turnover and providing a general, albeit frantic, spark of energy. With his juice, Derrick Rose helped to catalyze the onslaught in the second period.
After watching the steady dwindling of his lead, Coach Spoelstra was left with no choice but to reinsert Jimmy, probably sooner than either of them would have liked, calling him back up at 9:13 in the quarter.
Another Derrick Rose 3-pointer and an earned Obi Toppin bucket, and another 12-point Miami deficit.
And from there, the next six minutes were mostly a blaze (lol). The Heat made nine-straight 3s (hello, catch-and-shoot Nunn), went up a handful, leveled back out and, through the grace of whatever higher entity you believe lives, carried a 2-point lead at the half: 57-55.
Nunn was a spark.
Then New York would respond.
Kelly to fire.
Oh, hello, RJ Barrett.
Yeah … up 2.
A dunk began the third for the New York Knickerbockers.
Again, their arsenal of cut, rangy forwards and guards were able to, time and time again, displace and impose their size on Miami. It’s here, Miami should have found themselves thanking that same entity from earlier that Jimmy was on this team. I couldn’t imagine a more brutal third quarter than what tonight would have looked like without Jimmy on the floor.
Stretches of inaction and disjointedness were dispelled by timely Jimmy drives and their ensuing fouls. We saw a steady diet of Jimmy isolations. From both the wing and in the low-post area, he was able to consistently apply pressure on New York’s defense while always keeping his eyes cast up to hit the cutting teammate — should there have been a teammate cutting, of course. Without hyperbole, Miami was out of sorts every time Jimmy exited from between the lines but was calmed at every reentry.
At one point, Herro dumped it to Jimmy to begin the play, and boy, did it. Jimmy triggered the action with the drive; kicked it to Andre, who would miss; tipped the rebound to keep it alive; dove to poke it free; and then hopped back up and drew a foul. The play right before, Elfrid Payton gets a tough layup to drop, and Miami falls behind by 7. Back on offense, Nunn drove and kicked to Jimmy, and he knocked down his first 3 of the season. With even his Herculean effort, Miami closed the third 82-76, down 6.
What is also worth mentioning is K.O.’s departure from the final minutes of the third thanks to foul trouble. The score was 72-67 when K.O. exited, around the six-minute mark, and while statistically, his absence may read only as a 1-point net negative, what he offers in terms of offensive firepower was sorely missed.
Miami opened the fourth on a beautiful, full-floor-maximizing play call. Kendrick at the high key turning to the outside, sprinting to send Tyler off the pin-down and up the left shoulder. Waiting for him was a pitch from Andre and a high-key-staggered Bam and Duncan, in that order. Andre relocated after the pitch, and Tyler drove to the depth he could, kicked to the corner and spaced back above the right break. Emerging from their screen was a diving Bam and spaced-out Duncan. Tyler eventually shot and missed, but the motion was inclusive and dynamic. These are the types of actions that Miami should be able to run, even when during a cold streak to, if nothing else, get motion back on the floor.
The stretches of indecision and timidity aside, this is a win to be encouraged by. While having found themselves in precarious situations, what’s most important is that the club found ways to get themselves out of those same situations. Jimmy and Bam were the workhorses the team unfortunately, so desperately, needs them to be. Those two fought and were determined to preserve the momentum. There was a chunk of time in which that tandem scored all 19 of Miami’s then-present second-half points, and still another when they accounted for 22 of their 24 free throw attempts. After they’d given you all they had, there — finally — was a poised and confident Herro. He shot the clean ball in rhythm and found space and rhythm in his one-dribble pullup. K.O.’s shooting was imperative, and Nunn provided an on-time drip of offense. By the skin of their teeth, Miami escaped the Triple-A with a 98-96 victory. The two-game streak had grown, with Miami having won four of their last seven.
The win, the swelling of momentum and the surge in confidence are all needed as Miami heads into a tough, make-or-break portion of the schedule. The next seven games see Miami on the road versus the Rockets, Jazz, Clippers, Warriors, Kings, Lakers and Thunder, followed by four games at home, headed up by a meeting with the Raptors and the Jazz once more. Sooner on this trip rather than later, Miami would be wise to shore up a few spots in their mechanics and discipline.
Too often have we seen Duncan bite on a fake beyond the arc or take a poor angle on the closeout. We’ve seen Jimmy bite on long shot fakes — and Bam as well. Continuing with this trend will see Miami’s defense picked apart by the perpetual probe and kick. More focus could be had on Miami’s trapping situations as well. It seems as if the trap is called on the fly. We saw Bam doubling off of the weakside block once, Precious doubling on the initial screen another time, and the guards trapping up near half at other times. Inconsistency and stretching themselves too thin here make for longer recoveries and shoddier closeouts.
And even with all of that being said …
Miami, Jimmy, Bam, Herro, K.O. and Nunn got it done.
Having come out of head-aching bouts of lineup inconsistency, injuries and the coronavirus, the Miami Heat find themselves at the neck of what looks to be a daunting passage. With most of their main cogs back and more clearly delineated roles and room (shoutout to the 6th man, Tyler), we are approaching “put up or shut up” time. We have reason to feel encouraged. I’m looking ahead now to being able to feel secure in knowing that the Miami Heat are who they say they are.
I mean really, could you imagine the upcoming road trip without our rims and stereo?