Playoff Breakdown: Jimmy Butler Showing He’s The Best Player In The Series

Insight2 years ago6 min readJohn Jablonka

The Miami Heat took a 2-0 lead against the Atlanta Hawks behind a career night from Jimmy Butler — you may say he was stupidly locked in.

The Hawks came out strong. It was clear from the start that this game wasn’t going to be exactly like game one. Maybe it was rest, maybe it was pride, but the Hawks played with significantly more energy. Although the Hawks made the game closer than it should have been, the game was never in question.

The Heat carried on their great defensive effort. Trae Young did score 25 points, but those points didn’t feel as impactful, and when you add to the fact that he had more turnovers (10) than assists (7), this was another solid defensive game.

On the other side of the court, it was all about Butler. He set a playoff career-high record of 45 points (15-for-25) to go along with five rebounds, five assists, two steals, and zero turnovers, but the most surprising stat was going 4-for-7 from 3.

Offensive Breakdown:

One thing that stands out from Butler’s high-scoring games is how easy most of the points are. The majority of his points come from either at the line or at the rim, but he makes them look so effortless.

In this game, per InStat, he scored 14 points on seven transition possessions.

These types of points add up real quick and that’s how Butler can all of the sudden have 30-or-so points without you realizing it.

In the fourth quarter, he scored nine points and was the reason why the Heat closed the game out on the offensive end. All season long, there have been concerns regarding the clutch offense, or rather, who’s going to have the ball. And yesterday, Butler showed why he’s the guy.

Down the stretch, the Heat went to a lot of Butler/Lowry pick-and-roll.

In all of these plays, an advantage was created. Those last two plays were key. We already have seen what happens when you involve Young in a pick-and-roll from game one — the Hawks don’t want to switch, so Young will always show and that could cause a defensive breakdown.

In the third clip, Lowry does a great job of flipping the angle at the last second, as that puts Young in a poor position to show. He’s late to his spot and that opens up the lane for Butler. The thing about this play is the counters to it if the defense rotates. If John Collins rotated to stop him, that will either open up a dump-off pass or a lob to Bam Adebayo. If Bogdan Bogdanovic helps the helper and takes away the lob, that opens up a kick to Gabe Vincent.

Then, we have the last play. This again involved Lowry setting a screen, but it wasn’t as effective as the previous one. It did, however, still created some space for Butler to pull up for 3. Even though he made the shot, this was a bad shot, but I couldn’t care less. It’s late in the shot clock, you live or die with your best player.

Aside from Butler, however, I’m honestly not sure who was the second-best offensive player? From looking at the box score, it doesn’t seem like anyone had a great game — Tyler Herro had 15 points, Max Strus had 14, and Kyle Lowry and Adebayo combined for 18 and seven turnovers. It’s a strange game when Butler is the team’s leading three-point shooter.

The Heat’s offense was a tale of two halves. Per NBA Stats, the Heat had a 107.7 offensive rating in the first half and that jumped to 120.4 in the second. The main difference was getting to the rim — the Heat had three attempts at the rim in the first half and 14 in the second.

Defensive Breakdown:

Young did have 25 points, but it didn’t seem like he had a good game. It’s clear that the defense still made him uncomfortable, as he had 10 turnovers and went 2-for-10 from 3. If you go through his made shots, you’ll see that most of them were either transition, off of loose balls, or off a catch. When it comes to creating a shot for himself or getting to the paint, he hasn’t been able to do that.

The Heat have done a great job at preventing him from getting into the paint all season long:

One of the reasons it’s working in the past two games is because of PJ Tucker.

This overhelping, being early at the nail, helping off of corners has been common with everyone, but Tucker stands out the most. He is always there ready to take away any drive before they even happen because the best form of defense is prevention, but he’s also great at rotating when needed to.

I’ve been impressed with Tucker’s off-ball defense and always being in the correct place at the right time. These are the kind of things that won’t show up on the stat sheet. In all of these plays, his timely rotations prevented drives and potential shots at the rim.

But the defensive player of this game is, without a doubt, Vincent. Per NBA Stats, he guarded Young for 22.6 partial possessions and held him to 1-for-4 shooting and two turnovers. He has been an absolute pest. He’s exactly the kind of you-hate-playing-against guard. The way he’s able to stick with Young, go over screens, keep up with him off the ball, and contest the shots has been highly effective for two reasons. Firstly, it is simply making the shot more difficult for Young. Secondly, it is killing the time and forcing Young to give up the ball or force a bad isolation possession.

This is why you have depth. It’s for this reason that you can go deep into the rotation and see what’s needed for that particular game or matchup. When the game calls for pesky, quality defense, you have a player like Vincent that will pick up guys full court.