Playoff Breakdown: Passive Butler & Too Many Struggles on Offense

Insight7 months ago11 min readJohn Jablonka

Oh, man. It’s starting to get worrying. This two-game stretch has been the worst stretch from the Miami Heat in these playoffs. The way they started the game was a great example to why they lost these two games. It started with a turnover and giving the Boston Celtics points in transition.

After that, five more turnovers followed. They turned the ball over on 27 percent of their possessions in the first. For the game, that ended up being 19.8 percent — the sixth highest for the Heat in the regular season or playoffs.

They allowed the Celtics to set the tone early and build a lead. That just gives the Heat more work to first crawl out of the deficit. That’s not a great way to start an important game on the road.

And right from the game, the Heat had to be fighting to get back in the game. They got themselves into a hole quite early and let the Celtics be in control at home. What’s worse is there weren’t many possessions in a row where the Heat managed to pull off a run to make this a game.

The Heat also allowed 44 points off either turnovers or rebounds. 40 percent of the Celtics’ points came off that. It’s going to be tough on your defense if you’re allowing easy points early in the offense and not being able to close out possessions.

There were a lot of possessions where they did play solid defense for most of the shot clock and forced a tough shot, but it didn’t matter because they got another chance.

But I think this game was more about the Heat’s struggles on offense than defense. Plus not being able to score points also bleeds into their poor defense.

And their poor offense all starts with both Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. Everything starts with those two. All of the role players playing great in the first three games were because of those two. The Heat getting better looks from 3 was because of those two. But now, for the second game in a row, the offense has struggled.

Passive Butler

The Celtics deserve a lot of credit for their defense. They adjusted well after over-adjusting earlier in the series then over-correcting to their over-adjustment in game three. But outside of that, no adjustment is responsible for your best player not wanting the ball.

This was probably the worst game from Butler in the playoffs in the past two years. He ended the game with 14 points on 10 shots and six free throws. Two of those shots also were poor 3pt attempts. So, technically, he only had eight shots that would be the shots you want him to take. For comparison, Duncan Robinson took 10 shots and Haywood Highsmith took nine.

That just can’t happen in a playoff game. This was also Butler’s lowest game in the series in terms of time of possession:

  • 7.6 → 8.3 → 6.5 → 7.6 → 5.8

Butler had the ball in his hands the lowest in the series. This isn’t ideal for the offense and it’s no wonder why the offense struggled today. There is no argument for Butler wanted to get others going or that he was being more of a facilitator. He was one in game three, but this wasn’t the case.

Focus on what Butler is doing. He’s spending a lot of the time in the dunker spot or in the corner just not wanting to be involved in the offense. It seems like he didn’t want any part of their offense at times, even when he got the mismatch he wanted.

At the 16-second mark, he gets Robert Williams on the switch and immediately passes it off to Caleb Martin in the corner.

At the 24-second mark, he gets the exact matchup he wants. He gets Derrick White on him. That should’ve been an action to clear the side for Butler to attack him. Instead, what does he do? He cuts through the paint, wasn’t thinking of posting up White to get the ball and he just stays in the corner. Similar in the clip after that. He has Grant Williams on him and stays in the dunker spot.

Far too many times he was not involved in the offense in any way. He was stationed in the corner more than I could ever recall so far in the playoffs. This felt a lot like when he was practicing his shot in the corner against the New York Knicks as a decoy.

And with Butler doing so, a lot of the Heat’s offense was Martin or Robinson running pick-and-rolls, Max Strus pounding the ball against Jayson Tatum. Robinson Zeller PnRs. That is not the offense you want from the Heat. Why do we have Robinson trying to take Tatum off the dribble? That isn’t maximising anyone or the offense and that’s on Butler not demanding the ball.

The Celtics won’t be helping off anyone, especially if it’s anyone not named Adebayo or Butler. None of those actions will force the Celtics in rotations. None of those guys(outside of Martin) are able to beat their man off the dribble, create a look for themselves or force the defense to do something.

This is taking everyone out of their role and comfort zone. Robinson or Strus shouldn’t have to be running PnRs to get shots off. They all should be playing off Butler. With all these injuries and how the team is constructed, everything needs to revolve around Butler for the most part.

Offensive Struggles Elsewhere

That was the main issue on offense. This team is Butler or bust, especially at this point without both Tyler Herro and Gabe Vincent. But there were so many other issues everywhere else.

The first is turnovers, and a lot of them are live ones:

This probably hurt them more than what Butler was doing. With that, there’s at least a shot going up. But turning the ball over on almost 20 percent of your possessions means you don’t have a shot at all then.

There were a lot of dumb turnovers. A lazy pass from Martin and Butler. Lowry not wanting to score, so he forces tough passes. Adebayo’s ones were the worst, though — he also had the most. He brought the ball down low too many times and that got easily stripped or lost the ball in early offense when help came.

But the first clip was my favorite. Butler gets White on the mismatch. He goes to the post but picks up the dribble early. He makes the kick to Lowry only for him to not be able to make the pass back, so he tries to attack and turns it over.

This brings me to the point about their poor isolation offense:

The execution of both Butler and Adebayo was awful. In the first clip, Butler gets a double screen to force the White switch but, similar to the turnovers clip, he picks up the dribble early. It also doesn’t help that White didn’t bite on the fake. That was great discipline from White.

In the second clip, Butler and Adebayo get a switch but they don’t know how to attack it properly. Butler has Al Horford and Adebayo has Grant Williams and no one was able to get a look.

At the 36-second mark, Butler gets White on the switch but then flows into Bam PnR. Why? He already has the mismatch. That PnR also gets them nowhere.

The thought process behind some of their isolation was awful that got them no looks. Obviously, some of that is the Celtics’ defense being good like players not biting on fakes, but a lot is just unorganized offense with poor set-up and no plan.

Adebayo in the post also didn’t work:

In the first clip, he has Marcus Smart on him but they struggled to get the ball to him early to take advantage of that matchup. Because it took so long, that allowed Horford to kick the mismatch out. Now, it’s isolation against Horford(who’s done a pretty damn good job defending Adebayo in the last two games) and he forces a tough shot.

The next two clips are similar. Butler and Adebayo get the switch. They go right into Adebayo in the post, but in both instances, Butler is one pass away at the top. That’s horrible spacing and it allows Horford to help off and dig at Adebayo. In both instances, it forces a turnover.

Finally, we did get a few Butler possessions in the post or in isolation attacking mismatches, the process was much better with clearing the side and making life easier for Butler, but the execution wasn’t there.

When Butler gets the mismatch he wants, the goal should be to give up as much space as possible, clear out the side, space everyone out, and when(and if) the defense helps, have movement to open up windows for Butler to take advantage of. That’s exactly how they won in the first three games.

Except now, Butler hasn’t been able to punish those matchups. He hasn’t been able to convert many looks and without those looks, the Celtics don’t have to help. Without the Celtics sending help, there are no kick outs or other options. Without that, there won’t be 3s to take. Without guys helping off, Martin won’t be able to attack those advantages.

Things That Caught My Eye

Haywood, freaking, Highsmith. I absolutely love him on defense. He played a whole bunch of minutes today and he was on point everywhere. His defense in this game was superb:

I could watch Highsmith play defense for hours. He was perfect in this game. He got zero minutes in the first four games and came out playing 36. He did his job and he did it well. He was key in stopping breaks, his defense at the top of the zone was great, he stopped multiple drives, had multiple perfect defensive possessions where he stopped many advantages, and his defense against closeouts was WOW.

He has played himself into high minutes going forward.

There was a lot more zone in this game and overall, I think the Heat did a pretty good job. The zone did serve its purpose. It did prevent drives, paint touches, and on many possessions, no one broke the 3pt line.

They did give up some of those 3s, but those 3s didn’t come as a result of putting the defense in rotations or getting a paint touch for a kick. Some closeouts should’ve been better or some rotations to be sharper, but overall, I liked their defense in the zone.

What I didn’t like is their PnR defense with Kevin Love or Zeller:

That Tatum high PnR is just easy points against those two. It’s shot at the rim. And because of that, I don’t know if you can carry on playing those guys.

Finally, Adebayo’s PnRs:

Didn’t like them. The Celtics are sending early help whenever he rolls but the Heat aren’t taking advantage of that. There’s always someone at the nail or at the elbow early. There’s always that one pass-away kick available but never made. Those can also be cuts that are never made. The ball handlers aren’t aggressive in looking for their points, so it’s easy to load up on Adebayo’s rolls. And Adebayo has to be better at that, too. He needs to recognize when the help comes to make the right pass quicker.