Playoff Breakdown: Get Jimmy Butler Some Help, Bam Denies Embiid As He Puts On Defensive Clinic

Insightlast week7 min readJohn Jablonka

It was another Jimmy Butler game. After scoring 33 points in Game 3, he followed that up by dropping 40 on better efficiency. Unfortunately, there was no one else stepping for the Miami Heat. With not enough firepower and some late tough shot-making from the Philadelphia 76ers, the Heat weren’t able to close it out.

Although it wasn’t as bad as Game 3, this was pretty much a repeat of it. The shooting struggles continue, as the Heat went 6-for-34 on open or wide-open 3s. And your top players outside of Butler didn’t give much production.

What’s encouraging, though, is the fact that Butler’s excellence seems so easy. These aren’t some flukey results or playing out of his mind. The defense seems like it’s there too, especially down the stretch, but it went down to tough shots being made.


Offensive Breakdown:

During the season and even during the playoffs last year, the concern with Butler was always how he deals with length and with those defenders dropping or switching.

So far in the playoffs, Butler is 7-for-14 against Joel Embiid and has scored 19 points in 22.5 partial possessions.

We saw the Heat going to the empty pick-and-rolls (PnR) again, and he doesn’t hesitate but to attack the rim with Embiid dropping. However, I enjoyed watching Butler going one-on-one with him in the post because that is sustainable. That is something he can continue to do on a consistent basis. Per InStat, he scored 11 points on six post-up possessions.

The main story, though, is the lack of help he had on the offense. In the past two games, the shooters have been bricking more shots than they have the entire season. The Heat went 6-for-34 on open or wide-open 3s. Now, that’s both encouraging and quite annoying. The fact that the offense is still able to generate these open shots is a good thing. It’s annoying that the best shooting team this regular season can’t buy a bucket.

Shooting, however, can only take you so far. This is a make-or-miss league. So, if you live and die by the three, there will be games where you blow teams out and games where you get blown out. Relying on 3-point shooting comes with that risk. If the shots aren’t falling during the game, someone has to get different looks.

This is one of the reasons why Kyle Lowry was getting ready for the real season. Although he’s the team’s point guard trying to get others involved, he’s capable of getting a bucket himself. In the last 10 games of the regular season, he averaged 17.3 points and shot 50.7 percent from 3. Also, an interesting stat, the team was 9-3 when he scores 20 or more. It’s clear that his offense is crucial.

Unfortunately, with him being hurt, he’s not the guy that can put up 15 shots and make 10 of them. So, the burden lies on the next best offensive player. He was the sixth man of the year for a reason — he was a bucket.

In the first two games, Tyler Herro was looking great. I’ve discussed his connection with Bam Adebayo in the PnR, but since the adjustments made by the 76ers, he hasn’t looked the same.

The 76ers have thrown all kinds of coverages and are kept mixing it up to throw him off his game. And it’s working. In the two plays above, the 76ers are showing hard and blitzing him. He doesn’t seem comfortable against them. He’s moving away from the rim, picking up the dribble, and committing careless turnovers. It looks like he’s playing too fast and that is causing him to make poor decisions.

There is a drastic difference in his play when he faces a less aggressive coverage. He is able to slow it down, look for options and make a decision. He isn’t getting forced by what the defense does. This allows him to react to what the defense is giving him and reject the screen in the first play to attack the rim. He’s also at his best against drop, which in this case happens with an empty PnR. This forces Embiid to be in that coverage, as there isn’t an extra defender in the corner. This gives Herro all the room in the world to get to his spots.

A quick reminder that Herro was second in mid-range efficiency amongst players with at least three attempts.

You also have these plays against the zone where the defense will be in a drop. So, you set him a pick or go back to the usual dribble handoffs.

Herro must be the scorer he was in the regular season if the team is shooting this poorly to win this series.


Defensive Breakdown:

If you look at the defensive rating, you may think the defense was also the problem. Per Cleaning the Glass, they did have a defensive rating of 120.8, but I still wouldn’t say the defense is that much of a problem. They aren’t getting beat by the stars.

They still have decided to front Embiid and apart from the first quarter, it hasn’t hurt them.

The Heat are switching those James Harden and Embiid PnRs, which will create a mismatch down low. There is some good physicality, especially with Butler, but the open looks are still there. Though Embiid had 15 points in the first quarter, he finished with nine points the rest of the way on 2-for-7 shooting.

The Heat were still in a position to win the game in the fourth, mainly due to Adebayo. Whilst rewatching the end of the fourth, I realized what makes Adebayo so damn special. One of the criticism is his passiveness on offense, which is valid too, but what he brings on defense negates all of that. What Adebayo was doing was beyond impressive and it almost won them the game.

The amount of energy this defense requires to constantly battle with Embiid is ridiculous. For many possessions, Adebayo was battling for his life out there to stop Embiid from getting the ball. The first play is my favorite and it summarizes the defensive greatness Adebayo provides. He fronts and battles denying Embiid the ball for around nine seconds without fouling. He then shows on the pick and continues to be there to prevent the drive. And to top it off, he makes the cross-court rotation to contest a shot.

Although these stats aren’t exclusive to Adebayo, Embiid had 42 touches (fourth on the team), 29 front-court touches (third), and 1.7 time of possession (fourth). What’s interesting is the playoff averages he had prior to this game. Before Game 4, Embiid averaged 68 touches, 51 front-court touches, and 2.9 time of possessions.

Everything was going so well for the Heat. They were getting the looks they want the offense to have. Adebayo denied their best player the ball, players were rotating, helping, and contesting the shots. Except it was just better offense by Harden. Sometimes, players just make tough shots, and the defense did all that they could.