Playoff Breakdown: No Kyle Lowry, No Jimmy Butler, No Problem

Insight2 years ago6 min readJohn Jablonka

It was surprising to see the news that Jimmy Butler wasn’t going to play in the close-out game. The Miami Heat felt confident enough to rest him with an ailing knee injury.

With no Butler in the game, that meant Oladipo getting his first playoff start for the Heat and the first since his time in Indiana. What followed was great basketball.

The Atlanta Hawks tried so hard, but in the end, it didn’t matter.

Although the game was close and it did come down to the last possession, the Heat were largely in control of the game. It never felt like the Hawks were going to runaway with this. It was just one of those defensive games. This was a horrendous shooting game, and it came down to getting stops as the offense was not there. Per Cleaning the Glass, the Heat had a 106.7 offensive rating and 50.6 percent effective field goal percentage. But Oladipo was one of the key reasons Miami was able to close out the series.

This game showed that it doesn’t matter who was out and who’s playing. It’s the next-man-up mentality with Erik Spoelstra going to work in his lab. It’s what this whole season has been all about.

Offensive Breakdown:

In the previous game, Oladipo showed what he can bring on offense. He showed flashes of his ability to get downhill, a few drives here and there, and some playmaking at the end. In this game, however, without Butler, his ability to get to the rim was amplified.

He was attacking the rim throughout the whole game and that was key when you lose your best player that can do that. He finished the game with 17 drives, which was almost more than the next three players combined. That shows aside from Oladipo and Butler, there is no one that can get to the rim and drive consistently. But it also shows that Oladipo still can do this very well. This could also raise questions regarding his role on the team going forward — does he get more minutes, is his role solidified, or is he still match-up/foul trouble/injury dependent?

Did you know the best 3-point shooting team shot 22 percent? No one could hit anything and it didn’t matter if it was contested or open. Yet, they still managed to win the game, which is surprising. During the regular season, the Heat were 4-12 when shooting below 30 percent from 3. But shots will start to fall, so to see open looks being generated is a positive.

Even without Butler, everyone else contributed to forcing the defense to collapse and into rotations. It was just a shame that they couldn’t hit shots, otherwise, it would have been a blowout.

Defensive Breakdown:

It’s an elimination game. The opponent is missing two of their top-five guys. It makes sense that Trae Young would step up his game and extend this series, right? Wrong. In a must-win game, he was outplayed by multiple Heat players and wasn’t even the best player on the court for his own team. He finished the game with 11 points, six assists, seven turnovers, and 2-for-12 shooting.

Despite missing Butler, who is the team’s top-two defender, the Heat still locked up and the defense was a huge reason why they were able to win. Part of it was Bam Adebayo.

With the Heat switching everything, there will be mismatches more often. This matters less when Adebayo is there to clean anything up and offer extra help. These are the plays that don’t show up on any stat sheets.

Here, in the first clip, we have Caleb Martin fronting John Collins in the post. Adebayo recognizes that mismatch and is waiting behind him preventing any pass from being made. Once Delon Wright realizes that he makes the right decision to simply pass it to Onyeka Okongwu, however, it doesn’t matter because Adebayo is able to recover and contest the shot. It’s the same thing in the next clip. Roams behind the mismatch, prevents the pass, and rotates back to his man.

Yes, both plays still ended with Adebayo doing this usual thing, but plays before that go unnoticed and are arguably more valuable to the defense.

The Heat continued to send extra help around the 3-point line and the paint to prevent Young from getting inside. However, it did feel like Young had it easier getting through and going middle. One reason for that is whilst there was help stopping him from going downhill, there was little to no help at the nail to prevent him from going middle. In the first clip, you can see Gabe Vincent going through the screens, PJ Tucker sagging off of Collins, but Oladipo is not in a great help position. He should have stepped up and been closer to the nail to discourage Young from even attempting that drive.

In both clips, he manages to go middle, draw some defense and make a kick-out pass for 3.

One of the most important players in this series has been Tucker. You can make a case he was the second-best player. Watching him play on defense is just a pleasure for my eyes.

Unfortunately, this possession does end in a foul but watch Tucker closely as the lone big here. He stays around the paint, is quick to react to any slips and rolls, and tags them to have more seconds in the key. Then, he follows Collins to the perimeter and doesn’t let him do anything. After the screens, he’s able to recover to Collins and front him.

I liked this defensive possession too. It starts with a hand-off between Collins and Young. Adebayo simply just switches that and negates any advantage. Oladipo is behind them tagging Collins, as Caleb Martin recovers. Once the ball gets passed to the open Huerter, Oladipo quickly closes out and runs him off the three-point line. Huerter does have the advantage, but Martin then steps up to prevent any drive towards the rim. The ball gets kicked out, Max Strus makes a solid close-out, then switches and stays in front of Young. Oladipo stunts, but then Young does get by, but it also doesn’t matter because everyone still rotates to the open man. The possession ends with a tough shot at the end of the shot clock.