Playoff Breakdown: Bam Showing Up on Both Ends, Late Defensive Adjustments

Insight7 months ago9 min readJohn Jablonka


In a true Miami Heat fashion, they were able to close out the series against the New York Knicks(and Scott Foster) to advance to the Eastern Conference finals for the second straight year and third in four years.

It is fitting that this was an ugly offensive basketball game that neither team could crack 100 points and almost both teams shot below 40 percent from the field.

But that’s the thing about this Heat team. They can grind out wins like no one else. If the game is in the mud and players are struggling to score, it’s likely that the Heat will push through that. The Heat are 16-1 when they keep an opponent below 100 points.

Outside of some questionable decision-making and poor selection from the Knicks, the Heat’s defense closed the game down the stretch. Jalen Brunson was cooking the Heat early in the game. Getting to the paint, drawing fouls, and hitting tough shots. But in the second half, that changed.

So, let’s go through some of the defense they played against Brunson!

Defending Brunson

Before game six, I went through the two different ways he was defended in game three versus game five. Since the second half of game one, they adjusted by sending more help and sending it early.

Before he was even able to drive, he saw help early whether it was rotating to load up on the side, bodies inside the paint, or seeing a defender at the nail or the elbows. That was step one to stopping him. The next step was collapsing the defense when he got to the paint. Once he got a paint touch or a drive… BANG! two or three guys collapsed on him.

That changed entirely in game five where most of the time he saw single coverage. He didn’t see that type of aggressive defense. He was able to go one-on-one against anyone and saw little help inside. That let him get easy looks or draw fouls.

That was similar to how he was being guarded in game six, especially in the first, though not to that extent. But that changed later in the game.

This was much more he was defended in game three that had good results. You can see in multiple of the clips the kind of help that he was drawing — digs from the wing, help coming from the strong corner, defenders loading up on one side, and very early help at the nail. The whole point of this was to not even allow the drive to happen in the first place. This was to discourage him once he saw the extra bodies and force him to pass the ball.

And this kind of help had produced really good results. It stalled the Knicks’ offense and forced them into worse shots that the defense would live with:

So many possessions where this was elite defense from everyone. Solid one-on-one defense, guys holding their own, early help, and mixing in some switches with Bam Adebayo.

But there was the adjustment in the fourth quarter that I think won them the game down the stretch

Throughout the series, it was Jimmy Butler that was on on the big, whether it was Isaiah Hartenstein or Mitchell Robinson, and Adebayo on Julius Randle.

Here’s how many possessions Butler defended Randle in the last four games:

  • Game three: 15.3
  • Game four: 18.4
  • Game five: 12.4
  • Game Six: 23.9

And here’s Adebayo’s possessions against Robinson:

  • Game three: 5.6
  • Game four: 14.4
  • Game five: 10.5
  • Game six: 16.2

This is why you have Adebayo as your five. This is why you want him to be involved in all of those actions in the pick-and-roll instead of him being off the ball. I think this is what makes Adebayo so special on defense. This is what makes him so valuable.

He was mixing it up in PnR. Sometimes it was a high drop, a show, a double, or a switch. Not only does he give you versatility with that but he’s effective at each of those coverages.

For some reason, Brunson kept wanting him in actions and all it did was either force a tough shot where no one else touched the ball or it ended up with him passing it off. There was no clear advantage being created for him or for others. None of it put the defense in rotations.

And once Gabe Vincent was able to recover, it allowed Adebayo to go back to the paint instead of guarding Randle on the perimeter.

Bam Doing it All on Offense

Now, do you see the type of impact he had on defense? How he was key in taking everything away from Brunson in the fourth? Well, he was also doing it all on offense too.

He finished with 23 points on 9-for-20 shooting and 5-for-5 from the free throw line. This was the fourth time in his career that he attempted 20 or more shots.

He set the tone early by attacking whoever was guarding him in the post. He wasn’t passive, timid, or deferring. There was a clear effort to get himself going:

This was needed. In a game where everything on offense was difficult and clearly the shooting wasn’t going to appear, he went out and got his.

There were also more PnRs with Adebayo. This is where he’s at his best. When he’s able to roll into space and get that pocket pass, that’s where his jumper has been pretty good all season long. His mid-range isn’t as efficient when it’s him creating it but if he can get these looks in rhythm, then he knocks them down.

Of course, the Knicks didn’t give him those rolls all the time, but he also showed his passing:

In the first clip, there was no advantage or pass available. All three guys were spaced to that side and that was much easier for the Knicks to send help. RJ Barrett was able to rotate early to stop the roll. That was great defense from the Knicks.

But the Heat adjusted.

Notice the setup in the second clip. Instead of having three guys to one side and running an empty side PnR, it’s more to the middle with both corners filled and one deep wing. Barrett is still helping early, but now that puts them at a disadvantage. Brunson couldn’t have dropped sooner because Duncan Robinson was far out from the 3pt line one pass away. So, when Barrett helps, there’s no one to rotate quickly enough to the corner.

In the third clip, they go back to the empty side PnR, but this time it’s Butler in the dunker spot. That still creates an advantage in a similar way.

To close out the series, Adebayo was doing it all on both ends of the floor.

Things That Caught My Eye

Do you know what really matters in 2023? Spacing. Spacing matters a lot. It matters even more when two of your best players aren’t a serious threat from 3.

And throughout this series, the need for one of Butler or Adebayo to be willing to take 3s has become more and more needed.

Just watch these drives from Butler:

He’s driving into traffic again and again and again. I don’t know if there was a single time when he was able to get to the paint without seeing multiple bodies already waiting in the paint.

A lot of that had to do with Robinson being able to help off Adebayo. And what’s worse I didn’t see this create windows elsewhere for Butler to take advantage of.

Finally, it wouldn’t be Heat basketball if there wasn’t any zone defense:

Tom Thibodeau made a choice to have both Brunson and Randle sit in the second quarter. There were around two minutes when the Knicks had none of them on the floor. The Heat decided to go zone then. And that to me was the turning point in the game. This threw off the Knicks completely and they weren’t able to get any clean look or even get to the paint.

This is where the Heat were able to make a run and I’d say this was the point where they got right back into the game and didn’t look back.

This was one hell of a close-out game at home to go back to the Eastern Conference finals.