Playoff Breakdown: Heat Falter Late, Clutch Time Tendencies Resurface, and Hawks Exploit Overhelping Defense

Insight4 weeks ago8 min readJohn Jablonka

Unfortunately, the Miami Heat aren’t going 16-0, as they weren’t able to close out Game 3 in the final minutes on the road. It’s a shame, mainly for the reason that they gave the Atlanta Hawks and its fans just a tiny bit of hope. I won’t be surprised that we’ll be seeing the national media discuss how the Hawks are about to come back and win this in seven.

The Heat should have won this game. After a poor first half and terrible outside shooting, the Heat found themselves down by seven heading into the second half. So, how did they respond to that? Oh, nothing big, just go on a 21-0 run. They even had an 11-point lead with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter; that should have been over.

However, after some poor defense, missed box-outs, and terrible decision-making down the stretch on offense, the Hawks managed to steal this game.


Offensive Breakdown:

It’s four seconds left on the clock. The Heat are inbounding the ball, and I’m confident to say that everyone knew what was going to happen next. We all knew what was coming. It was a desperate, contested fading away three-point shot from none other than Jimmy Butler.

This has been the case for the Heat — and also for the entire league this year and every year, but no one wants to talk about it — all season long. The Heat don’t have clutch issues because they lack a closer that can make these tough fadeaway shots. This is a bad shot for anyone in the league, including your pure hoopers, such as Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. The Heat’s clutch issues are that they go away from what works and settle for hero ball.

Now, this is not to say that they lost the game because of the last few possessions; they lost the game way before that. However, these possessions certainly didn’t help them win either.

Not only did the Heat go away from what worked this game, but they also went away from what worked in their previous win. They closed out Game 2 by running Butler and Kyle Lowry pick-and-roll. Per InStat, there were five possessions with Butler as the ball handler, and he scored 10 points on those possessions. In this game, there were six possessions and he also scored 10 points.

We’ve seen the quality shots they generate by involving Trae Young in a pick-and-roll all series long — I went through it in the Game 1 breakdown. That didn’t happen to that extent in this game.

Take a look at these two plays where it resulted in two good looks:

These plays are practically the same. It involves Butler being on the side of the floor in isolation surrounded by shooters. Because of Butler’s ability to get to the rim at will, extra help must be sent early. In both clips, Bogdan Bogdanovic pre-rotates and is ready to help on the drive.

In the first clip, Bam Adebayo makes a timely cut to force Kevin Huerter to defend him. With two on Butler, and Huerter worried about Adebayo, Delon Wright is in the pick-your-poison situation — go to Tyler Herro or PJ Tucker. Butler does a great job at manipulating Wright into committing to Tucker and that opens up Herro.

Unfortunately, it was a miss, but this was a good look and it led to an offensive rebound and a huge Max Strus triple.

In the next play, it’s the same thing, but with Butler starting from the corner. He isolates, defense pre-rotates, surrounded by shooters, and off he goes. This time, however, De’Andre Hunter stays with Herro, and instead of Adebayo making a cut, he sets a hammer screen to open up Tucker.

But rather than continue making these types of plays, Miami went entirely away from this.

The Heat had the chance to go up two or three but completely blew that opportunity. The play started with Butler running out the clock, which I completely disagree with — you use all the clock that you have to get the best possible look.

There were a couple of things wrong in this play. Firstly, just use the double screen and try to have an advantage created. Secondly, once Butler uses that screen to get Young involved, everyone should have cleared away.

The last play of the game was also bad, but those last shots under five seconds are mostly bad shots regardless of who takes them. I wish a play could have been called to get him into the mid-range rather than fading away from deep.

With all that said, this game wasn’t lost by those two possessions. This was a poor shooting night, forcing too many 3s, and some poor performances from key players.


Defensive Breakdown:

Surprisingly, this was also a poor defensive effort. This team didn’t bring the same level of defense they did in the previous two games. Per Cleaning the Glass, in Game 1 and Game 2, Miami had a defensive rating of 88.4 and 106.2. In Game 3, however, that number skyrocketed to 119.4, which would be good for the 35th percentile.

One of the main problems with the Heat’s defense, which I’ve seen happening regularly during the regular season is the overhelping. Most of the time, they do so for good reasons. It’s mostly overhelping when it’s against dominant players like Young. I’ve noted how that helped the team limit Young last game, especially with Tucker helping off on his drives.

There is the whole idea that you don’t want the star beating you, so you make him give up the ball and make the supporting cast beat you. And that should be the case, but there’s also the time to stop overhelping because the other players are getting hot.

That player is Bogdanovic. He was the reason the Hawks were in the game in Game 2. He got hot again.

You can see Adebayo helping off that strong-side corner, which was usually the case against Young to prevent him from getting to the rim, but that just made a simple kick to the corner. In the second clip, you can see Butler sagging off and ready to take away any potential drives.

The Heat had a double-digit lead twice in the second half, so let’s go through some of those defensive possessions.

And look at that! It’s another overhelping situation (shoutout to Crotty). Kyle Lowry pre-rotated to that side in case Strus gets beaten baseline. Here, however, Bogdanovic attacks middle and Lowry ends up guarding no one whilst his man is getting an open shot in the corner.

I enjoyed this possession. Dewayne Dedmon and Butler go both to the ball on the pick-and-roll, which resulted in Huerter picking up his dribble. He quickly passed it off, but Herro made an immediate rotation to take the open man on the catch. This meant someone was wide open. It didn’t matter, the ball swings to the top and Gabe Vincent rotates to take him. The ball immediately gets swung to the wing and Duncan Robinson quickly rotates to prevent a shot. And in that time, Dedmon is able to recover and rotate to the last open man in the corner. Perfect rotations resulted in a tough shot.

Firstly, I liked Herro’s off-ball chasing around the screens. Then coming off the stagger screen, Dedmon again shows on the ball handler and commits to the trap. This, however, meant Robinson being tasked with guarding two guys — the roller and the shooter on the wing. Robinson had to stay with the roller otherwise that’s a wide-open dunk. But because Dedmon was still trapping the ball-handler, Robinson couldn’t have gone to contest the shooter earlier. I feel like Dedmon shouldn’t have trapped for that long or even showed at all. Butler was already at the nail preventing any drives, he could have been the one to stop the ball handler whilst Dedmon recovers to the roller.