Playoff Breakdown: Heat Lockdown Trae Young In Game 1 With Elite Defensive Performance

Insightlast month6 min readJohn Jablonka

The Atlanta Hawks could upset the Miami Heat. The Hawks have the best player in the series. It’s fair to assume that the Heat heard all of this talk and decided to put all of this to rest in the first game. After a poor offensive start in the early first quarter, the game was over — the offense started to click, the defense was suffocating the Hawks, and the shooters started to heat up.

Although you may look at the box score and see the Heat shooting 52.4 percent from the field, 47.4 percent from deep, and four players in double-digit scoring, the offense wasn’t the reason that they won.

It was the defense that took over the game. Per Cleaning the Glass, the Heat had an 88.4 defensive rating and held the Hawks to a 42.4 percent effective field goal percentage (eFG%). The Hawks couldn’t hit anything, committed 18 turnovers, and Trae Young had one of his worst playoff games.

So, let’s see how the Heat did all of this.


Offensive Breakdown:

This was a well-rounded performance on the offensive side. Apart from Duncan Robinson heating up for eight triples, there weren’t any performances that stood out — seven players had eight or more field goal attempts.

Before going into anything else, we must talk about Robinson. He was the team-leading scorer after all, as he finished with 27 points and shot 8-for-9 from 3. It didn’t matter who was guarding him, how he got the shot off, or how tightly the defender was guarding him. Nothing mattered. It was one of those times where you get takeover on 2K, and you’re greening every shot. After the season he’s had and coming off the bench recently, having this kind of night is one hell of a confidence boost.

I know it may be hard to imagine, but the offense didn’t revolve around Robinson. It did, however, revolve around Young. Everyone knows that he is arguably the worst defender in the league, therefore it’s a good idea to exploit that matchup. The Hawks, however, don’t want to switch any Young screens, especially on-ball screens.

The plan is then to get Young involved in a number of off-ball screens — you either get a switch or the defense does everything to avoid one causing more rotations and potentially a defensive breakdown.

You can see in the first clip, with Young ball watching, that is a perfect opportunity for Bam Adebayo to set a hammer screen for an open three. I don’t have the exact numbers for this, but I’m pretty confident that PJ Tucker set one of the most hammer screens in the league, and if that’s the kind of defense the Hawks will be playing, expect a lot of open 3s.

There are cross-screens in the next two clips, which needs to happen more often. Adebayo only had five shots, but having Kyle Lowry, Tyler Herro, or other guards screen for him will either create a size advantage, or as it did in these clips, a defensive breakdown.

The third clip shows how effective it is for a guard to screen Jimmy Butler. They will not switch that, and by the time a defender goes under/over and recovers, Butler is already under the basket.

After struggling towards the end of the season, Tucker showed no sign of struggle this game, and this makes a big difference. Not only do you actually get points off of Tucker and punish the defense from sagging off him, but it will also change how they defend him.

Yet again, these shots came from having Young involved. In the first clip, it’s a simple empty side hand-off between Tucker and Lowry, but that is all you need to get a quality shot. The Hawks won’t switch that and with Young not being able to recover as quickly, Lowry occupies De’Andre Hunter, and once Young recovers, it’s a kick-out to the popping Tucker.

The second clip is also key because it again involves someone screening for Lowry and him being aggressive. We see Butler set a pick, Young going under and trying to beat Lowry to the spot, but with Lowry deciding to go downhill, he beats Young and forces the weakside help to rotate. And that’s where Tucker has to consistently be hitting his shots. He doesn’t have to shoot 45 percent, but he also can’t be shooting below 20 percent. Also side-note, nice lift from Max Strus to force Kevin Huerter to pick who he’s going to defend.

Things that caught my eye:

  • 61 percent on free throws can’t happen again
  • 35-of-43 field goals were assisted
  • Loved Butler’s cutting
  • Tough night for Herro, but not concerned at all
  • Adebayo only having five shots seems odd

Defensive Breakdown:

This was probably the best defensive game I’ve seen from the Heat all year. This was an outstanding performance for everyone. The highlight of the night was holding Young to eight points, 1-of-12 shooting, 0-for-7 from deep, and six turnovers. He was, quite literally, in jail.

The Heat didn’t allow him to get inside the arc and forced him to take tough shots, eat up the clock, and stopped the ball from moving.

These are the shots you want on defense. The Heat, as always, switched everything and despite having some mismatch hunting by the Hawks, you live with the iso-heavy shot selection. The shots he was taking aren’t efficient shots.

There will be games where he makes those shots; he’s still one of the best offensive stars in the league. So, the best defense is always prevention, and the Heat have the best defender for that. That’s the beauty of having a legitimate 1-5 defender that can guard everyone effectively. I’ve lost count of how many times Young had Adebayo on a switch and thought, “nope, let me pass.”

He wanted nothing to do with Adebayo guarding him. Once he makes that pass, it’s already taking time off the clock and you’re relying on the supporting cast to create a shot, which is a win for the defense. He also did more than just switch onto Young. One of the most impressive things was Adebayo‘s communication. He moved everyone around when navigating through screens.

Everyone did their part. The rotations were sharp, Butler in the passing lanes, Strus making defensive plays, and causing a bunch of turnovers. If this is the level of intensity we’ll see from the Heat, don’t be surprised if the Hawks are unable to take a game.