Playoff Breakdown: Game 7 Thoughts, Butler Needs to Be Better, Celtics Forcing Tough Shots

Insight6 months ago8 min readJohn Jablonka

This was easily the worst loss that I’ve ever experienced since I started to watch basketball. I didn’t follow basketball enough to have watched the big three era. My first playoff loss was game seven against the Toronto Raptors, but that wasn’t as bad. Neither was the loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, in the finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, or the sweep against the Milwaukee Bucks.

None of those losses come close to what happened in 2022. That game seven against the Boston Celtics where everyone was cooked, gassed, and injured somehow managed to almost make the finals. That shot by Jimmy Butler hurt when it didn’t go through. That was the worst loss I’ve seen live until this week.

This was a game that they should’ve won. The Celtics were giving them so many chances to do so. They overcame a 10-point lead three different times. They shot historically badly inside the paint. Both Butler and Bam Adebayo were basically no-shows for the most part. Everyone was missing bunnies inside. The game was right there for them to take it.

I honestly thought they did. Those three free throws from Butler were nerve-wracking. That moment took me to the bubble when he made those game-winning free throws against the Bucks. Then came the last play. They denied Jayson Tatum the ball and once it was in Marcus Smart’s hands where he was taking a tough 3, it felt like it was going to happen.

But then it all happened too fast. This was a roller-coaster of emotions. In split seconds it was exciting that they did it and were going to the finals. And then in the next split second that was all taken away because Derrick White decided to crush every Heat fan.

At first, there was no way that happened. No. Of course, he didn’t make it on time. But when it became official, that’s when it hit.

Before the game, I saw a tweet that asked what was a shot that made your stomach drop. I was thinking about it and nothing came to mind. There was a Kyle Lowry buzzer-beater to force overtime. There were a couple of Khris Middleton shots. But none of that comes close to this shot.

Fortunately, there is still game seven and all of this won’t matter if the Heat win. It’s still possible.

So, let’s go over some things that happened in game six and thoughts for game seven.

Celtics Can’t Hit 3s, Heat Can’t Hit 2s

One key thing from this game was the offense. Both teams struggled and barely cracked 100 points, but they went about it completely differently.

The Celtics struggled to hit anything from 3. The only players to make one were Smart and White — combining for 4-for-18. Now, that makes you think that the Celtics for sure won’t be shooting so poorly again. But this was more than just shooting variance.

They took 35 3s, which was around 44 percent of their shots. The only difference was what kind of 3s they were. These weren’t the shots that the Celtics usually generate because of a good offense. It did look like they were forcing a lot of shots that came out of isolation:

How many of those 3s would you say are easy or generated by good movement? A Tatum isolation against Adebayo? Smart taking off the dribble 3s in someone’s face? More isolation stepbacks. They settled for a lot of those looks. They didn’t even attempt to try to get good shots the way they did in previous games.

Related to this, a lot of their offense was tough shot-making.

This again falls into them going back to poor habits that go away from their elite offense with ball movement. As good as the tough shot-making was, it almost wasn’t enough. And this is exactly what the Heat will want.

For the game, the Celtics did have a 115.6 offense, but if you remove the first quarter, it was only 104.5. That’s a significant difference and their offense, especially in the second half almost cost them the game. It probably would have if the Heat would’ve been able to score.

They did pretty well beyond the arc, going 14-for-30. They shot 46.7 percent and lost. But as much as 3s are important, scoring in the paint, at the rim, and getting to the line is important. Though they also got to the line plenty of times — 23-for-29.

The main issue is they went:

  • 14-for-36 in the restricted area
  • 2-for-16 in the paint(non-RA)

That’s 38.9 percent at the rim. That’s hilariously bad. A lot of it has to do with both Butler and Adebayo, as they combined for 5-for-17 in the restricted area and 1-for-11 in the paint. This gets worse when the Celtics were hitting shots inside the paint. It’s tough to make up that kind of difference with just 3s.

Butler Needs to be Better

For the fourth straight time, Butler needs to do better. It’s as simple as that. There’s no way around that. He’s played poorly in three straight games, and at times looked awful on both ends.

And as it has been in the last few games, he hasn’t looked right scoring. There was one play in particular where he drove to the rim but he barely got any lift. He almost couldn’t put the ball in the basket because he jumped so low.

With Butler struggling to score in isolation, it makes everything else so much harder on offense.

Butler still had plenty of shots even though he missed almost all of them, but a lot of them aren’t that good either. Getting blocked on the drive by White, settling for very long jumpers, coming up short on looks inside the paint, and missing bunnies and tip shots.

These are the shots he needs to make. I know the analysis is so dumb, but there’s not much else to say in these situations. Whether it’s something physical or not, he’s missing a lot of shots that he’d normally make, or at least wouldn’t miss in three straight games.

But again, this goes beyond just missing shots.

These possessions bother me more than anything else. They are worse than those misses. There were so many times when Butler gets Al Horford, Grant Williams, or Derrick White and he chooses early to pass it off. This is the passive Butler that is strange to see.

There have been times throughout the season where he has looked more to pass than score, but even in those situations, he looked more aggressive doing something. He may have attacked the rim better to pass. He may have tried to get others going instead when getting paint touches. But this is just him not wanting the ball. He doesn’t even look at the rim.

And there are possessions like these:

This is where he literally doesn’t want to be involved in the offense and instead goes stand in the dunker spot or the corner.

Woah. I think I wrote about this already. Oh, yes. This was the exact topic in game five and now I’m writing the same thing. I’m getting tired of this. The Heat outside of Butler did get plenty of contributions from everyone else. The only thing they didn’t get was help from Butler. That feels weird to say.

Game 7 Thoughts

So, game seven is tonight. At this point, there are no Xs and Os or many adjustments to make. Each team knows what needs to get done. There could be some changes in rotation(I don’t want to see Cody Zeller touch the court), but apart from that, I don’t think there’s anything else.

Having played a team six times where you both won and lost convincingly, there are things you know what you should or shouldn’t do.

Everything that was relevant and key throughout the series still is. I don’t see anything that the Celtics haven’t done that they could do that will flip this game. The only thing that matters now is the execution.

  • Don’t turn the ball over
  • Don’t get beat off the dribble easily
  • Make sure the show and recover defense is on point
  • Make open shots
  • Force the Celtics into isolation
  • Force them to turn the ball over

Their plan to win is right there and they clearly have shown that they’re capable. Everyone from Gabe Vincent, Duncan Robinson, and Caleb Martin to Haywood Highsmith(who’s only played one game) has done so well in this series to go up 3-0. We also see Kyle Lowry step up and be aggressive. We need the Lowry from game one, that’s looking to get shots.

But most importantly and it’s quite the only thing that should matter is who will have the best player in the game. If both Adebayo and Butler show up the way they have, then it’s likely to be over, barring a major collapse from the Celtics.

Hopefully, this won’t be the last breakdown of the season.