Playoff Breakdown: Miami’s Passiveness On Offense, Reluctance To Shoot, & Dumb Defensive Mistakes
From looking at the Twitter timeline, you may have thought that the Miami Heat have lost this series. After missing the two previous games, the Philadelphia 76ers cleared Joel Embiid, and all of the sudden, the Heat lost by 20. Although this may seem like the end of the world or that the first two games were a fluke, there isn’t significant concern going forward.
The Heat forgot how to play on offense. Per Cleaning the Glass (CTG), Miami had an offensive rating of 89.8. It wasn’t just the fact that they shot poorly from 3, but also that they went away from what worked and certain players were not being aggressive enough.
The 76ers, on the other hand, couldn’t miss. They’ve shot 16-for-33 from 3, but here’s the real kicker — Danny Green went 7-for-9. The last time Green made seven 3s in a game was in 2013. In the finals. Against the Heat. In Game 3. Where the San Antonio Spurs went 16-for-32. Happy coincidence.
This was a tough loss, especially with the way they lost. However, it wasn’t all bad.
One of the key differences between the first two games and the last game was their numbers in the pick-and-roll (PnR). In Game 1 and Game 2 combined, per InStat the Heat scored 1.39 points per possession (PPP) as the ball-handler on 18 possessions per game. They also scored 1.62 PPP as the roller. These numbers looked awfully different in Game 3, where they scored 0.81 PPP as the ball-handler and 0.63 as the roller.
That is a significant drop-off. And surprisingly, it isn’t by a player you may think it is.
I’ve discussed the success the Heat had running and empty-side PnR with Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo in the previous two games (as has Nekias Duncan here). This, however, was against DeAndre Jordan and whoever else the 76ers run out there. How they run that action against Embiid was always a question mark.
You immediately see Embiid playing higher at the level of the screen. With Tobias Harris positioning himself the way he did, it allowed Butler to reject the screen and have the free lane to drive, as Embiid committed to the other side. Plus that James Harden help defense was something. In the next play, the 76ers decided to switch the PnR, which did stop Butler from getting to the rim and the switch eliminated the roll. In the last play, Embiid was in the drop, but Butler was already going downhill and Embiid couldn’t have stopped him.
It’s encouraging to see that these actions with Butler do work. There should be some counters for when the 76ers switch those PnR, though they did have a possession where the Heat countered that with a Dewayne Dedmon seal and acted as a second screen.
Now, Butler was the only player that made something work on offense. Without Butler, their PnR numbers drop to 0.3 PPP.
Throughout the game, they went to actions involving Adebayo and Kyle Lowry, but this won’t work unless both players are looking to score, or at least be a threat.
Although that first play was a bad miss, it was the only play where I’ve seen Lowry be that aggressive to score. If Embiid is going to be dropping like that, someone will have to punish the defense by hitting those shots. There’s another key thing here that makes these possessions easier to guard.
Go back and watch Adebayo on those plays. Is his roll a threat? Is he even considering to roll and look to score? There were many possessions where he had the chance to slip early and force Embiid or a third defender to make a decision.
Otherwise, these possessions turn into Embiid in a drop, comfortably defending two players, and Lowry being reluctant to shoot. In this game, Adebayo had zero points as a roller and only four possessions. Compare that to the previous two games where scored 17 points on eight roll possessions.
This was the issue heading into the fourth, where the Heat went to this PnR over and over again. They were getting the looks but weren’t taking them.
I have no explanation of what they were thinking on these possessions, especially Lowry. In the first play, Lowry gets the most open look you can get in the mid-range but decides to pass it off. At the same time, though, why does Adebayo seem reluctant to roll? This kind of passiveness hurts the offense.
Lowry’s decision on passing the ball was also questionable. In the last two plays, I feel like he passed it too early, which allowed Embiid to recover effectively and take away any shot.
These possessions make me worry less. This isn’t 76ers’ defense causing these issues. These are self-inflicted due to poor decision-making and passiveness. The idea and the process are right. It just needs better execution.
One concern I did have is Herro’s decision-making on PnRs and this has been shown in previous games too. The 76ers played more aggressively against him and he hasn’t responded well. Instead, he panicked and committed turnovers. Now, this is not a high-level concern, but something that stood out in the past couple of games.
The reason it’s concerning is because of how crucial he as a scorer is to the offense. They probably win this game if there is at least one other player who showed up on offense. Herro’s ability to score forces the defense to react, which in turn draws more defense and allows him to create for others. We’ve seen this in Game 2 and throughout the regular season, so we know it’s there.
My main question here is how does a team shoot almost 50 percent, but can’t crack 100 points? Per CTG, the Heat had a 114.0 defensive rating, which would be exactly average. Even with Embiid playing, I didn’t see any defensive concerns.
Now, there were plenty of defensive errors, but most of them seemed to be bad defense, rather than good offense on the 76ers part. In other words, there was nothing schematically that was wrong or something getting exploited.
Firstly, the 76ers did most of the damage in transition. Per InStat, they had 20 transition possessions and scored 21 points. One of the reasons for that many transition opportunities is a poor offense. If the Heat can’t score, they can’t set their defense. If they can’t set their defense, there are more transition opportunities. In the two previous games combined, the 76ers had 24 transition possessions. That’s almost as many possessions in this game alone.
Also interesting, the 76ers went away with spamming isolations as much as they did previously. In the two previous games, isolations accounted for 21.8 percent of their possessions. This dropped to 17 percent this game. That’s a plus for the 76ers offense because it’s easier to defend that, especially when these are the isolations they get:
The Heat also allowed 36 points on 16 catch-and-shoot possessions. Most of that was ridiculous shot-making on contested shots, but it was also defensive errors that lead to open shots.
Firstly, I have no idea what that screen defense was. That’s way too easy for Butler to let Harris beat him like that. The issue comes with who has to help. Green cuts and relocates to the corner with Mattise Thybulle lifting. This makes Victor Oladipo the low man and the one responsible for helping on the drive. Lowry should have stayed around that area between Green and Thybulle and split the difference. Plus knowing it’s Thybulle on the perimeter, this should have been an easy choice but to stay closer to Green in the corner.
With Lowry on Harris, that creates a mismatch in the post. Now, what do you do? You either don’t send help and have a player dig whilst Lowry battles in the post. Or like in the second play, where help does come and it ends up being a 3-pointer for Green. Pick your poison.
I was also interested in how they were going to defend actions involving Harden and Embiid.
Here, they run an empty-side PnR. Adebayo is dropping as Max Strus fights over the screen. Notice where PJ Tucker was even before Harden used the screen. He’s already at the nail helping to prevent Harden from entering the paint and allowing Strus to recover. By having Tucker there, Strus can shade off his side before he can fully recover. This lets Adebayo stay with Embiid to prevent any lobs or a pocket pass. Once Embiid gets the ball, they zone up and go at the ball when he makes the move.
Here, they switch the action with Embiid and Harden by having Tucker on Embiid. Also, note Lowry’s tag. Tucker then is able to front him and Strus is early to rotate and provide the additional help to prevent the pass from being made. Green makes the skip pass to the corner, and beautiful rotations happen. Butler and Strus make the x-out rotation and closeout on the shooters. The ball gets swung one more time, but Adebayo is there to close out and force a turnover.
This, however, can’t happen. There is a miscommunication on a switch between Butler and Adebayo. This allows Embiid to roll freely, as Strus is concerned with Green lifting up. Lowry is on Harris in the corner, which makes him the low man and responsible to help. He perfectly rotates here and gets there on time, but there is not much you can do as a guard that small against Embiid.