Playoff Breakdown: Plenty of Adjustments, Getting Gabe Going, Bam’s Defense & Running Point

Insightlast year10 min readJohn Jablonka

They did it. The Miami Heat really did it. They became the sixth team to beat the number one seed as the eighth seed. There weren’t a lot of people that would have the Milwaukee Bucks losing in the first round, especially to the Heat.

Outside of blind faith in Jimmy Butler and shooting variance, I also didn’t think that was going to happen. I expected Butler to take his game to a whole other level, but I for sure wasn’t expecting to see this.

I thought I saw greatness in last year’s playoffs when Butler averaged 27 throughout the run or when he dropped 45 in a must-win game. But then to see what he did in five straight games caught me by surprise. And watching Butler talk trash when they were down with under three minutes was a cherry on top.

That’s what it took for the Heat to beat the Bucks in five. This series didn’t make sense.

But let’s see how exactly the Heat closed out the series on the road.

Getting Gabe Going

The first thing that happened early in the game was getting Gabe Vincent going. I was surprised to see so many plays for Vincent. He finished the first quarter going 4-for-7.

I’ve talked about that many times throughout the series that Vincent had to be this aggressive looking for his shot. That was one of the things that stood out in game four.

There were a few makeable shots that he missed. He was able to turn the corner and get to the rim. Continued to get inside the paint and finish with the floater. Attacked the open space because of the deep drop. A lot of these were good shots and he knocked them down when they were needed. But it was this aggression that was needed.

We’ve seen this in the previous game where because of him constantly getting to that space for open floaters, that forced Lopez to step up.

A similar thing happened here. It’s another pick-and-roll, but this time you can see Brook Lopez is playing much higher than he usually does. He’s now staying with Vincent so he can’t attack and that opens up a pass to Bam Adebayo in the paint, which makes it easier for him to attack.

Then when you add that he made the shot that made all of this possible(Butler did hit the game-winner and that was huge too, but you don’t get there without the Vincent shot first), and you see that he had one hell of a closeout game. Vincent showed up.

Spamming Butler Love PnP

This has been a very common action throughout the series, but they went to it a lot in this game. At first, it was the usual action with Butler attacking and setting up Kevin Love for 3, but then as the Bucks adjusted, the Heat added some counters.

Their usual setup is clearing out the entire side, with all other three players in the opposite corner.

Butler is able to use the screen and drive baseline. What the Bucks have done is turn this into a late switch. Jrue Holiday still fights over the screen but if Butler does get a step on him, it turns into a switch. Also, note that Lopez is already waiting in the paint. In the end, it doesn’t matter because Love is able to knock it down.

Another drive baseline from Butler immediately turns into a switch. Again notice that Lopez is waiting in the paint way off of Adebayo. But because the switch came earlier, there’s no kick to Love. Now, now with both Lopez and Giannis Antetokounmpo, there’s nowhere for Butler to go.

After this, the Heat adjusted in a couple of ways:

The first adjustment was having Butler drive middle instead of the baseline. That was done to set up the following action. The next adjustment was to have Max Strus relocate along the baseline to the opposite corner. This takes away another defender on that side.

Lopez is still helping off Adebayo, who’s in the corner. So, when Butler drives middle, he has a wide-open kick. Lopez is in the paint and there’s no third defender to stunt or help. That then can turn into a dribble-handoff with Vincent.

When Adebayo went off, Lopez was on Love. So, it was easy to now have him involved in the action. Butler is again driving middle, but that’s where the Bucks made an adjustment. Holiday has pre-rotated early and is already waiting in the paint to prevent Butler’s drive. With Duncan Robinson on the wing, Grayson Allen is glued to him and can’t offer much help. Because of that Butler has a wide-open kick to Vincent in the corner.

They went back to the same action once Adebayo was on the court. Lopez is once again helping off in the paint. Strus relocates to the opposite corner. This was also a good move from Vincent by lifting up first, Allen isn’t attached, so it’s much easier to flow into a DHO with Adebayo.

This was a great adjustment from Erik Spoelstra to use Lopez to help off Adebayo against him.

And finally, there’s this:

The defense does its job. It prevented Butler from using the screen. The pop wasn’t open. And Butler still makes the shot. Ridiculous.

Bam’s defense

There are people that slandered Adebayo for his performance in this game. Those people are simply wrong. This is even before mentioning what he did on offense late in the game.

Adebayo was everywhere on defense in the first half. He was causing havoc with deflections(he had five of them), playing the passing lanes, defending in drop well, and blowing up plays:

He was doing everything on that end throughout the game. But then came his performance against Antetokounmpo:

He is the best defender against Antetokounmpo and he has been for many years now. What he did in the fourth quarter is a big reason why they were able to claw their way back into the game.

The Bucks scored 16 points. Antetokounmpo attempted, a team-high, nine attempts. He made one of them. The matchup stats show that he scored 17 points on 7-for-17 shooting. You will take 41 percent every time. And this isn’t counting the times that Adebayo played such great defense that it stopped him from getting to his spots, deterring a shot, or forcing a much tougher one.

What he did on defense was amazing.

Bam Running Point

But of course, some fans won’t be pleased until he does that on the other end. Well, he answered that too.

In the fourth quarter alone, he scored nine points(second most on the team) on 4-for-9 shooting and dished out five assists(they were very important. And in overtime, he scored four of the team’s 10 points.

He had huge plays after huge plays in the fourth. He made tough shots when they were needed and those putbacks seem to be forgotten. They missed shots until he cleaned it up. That’s important too. It may not be flashy or something he created himself on a step back, but is equally as important.

I haven’t seen anyone talk about his putbacks at all when talking about what he did on offense in the fourth.

But more importantly, the adjustment of having him bring up the ball changed the entire game down the stretch. It was an adjustment that had Budenholzer not knowing how to counter it.

The whole point of doing this is to bring out both Lopez and Antetokounmpo from the rim and from their typical roles on defense. Adebayo brings up the ball, Lopez is at the free-throw line, and there is a stagger for Butler.

This action forces Lopez to watch the ball and Antetokounmpo to defend the screening actions.

Holiday decides to top-lock Butler and prevent him from using the screen. So, Strus counters that by setting a different angled screen towards the rim. Holiday is now stuck fighting through technically two screens — one being his own teammate. Butler now has a clean cut to the rim with Lopez not being there, as well as Wes Matthews defending Vincent in the corner.

Similar idea, but a different setup. Also, note the aggression from Adebayo initially. He’s looking as if he wants to size up Lopez by taking that dribble in. That forces Lopez to step even more away from the line and be right in his face.

When it comes to the action for Butler, this time it’s just a pindown from Love. But because of the previous back cut, Holiday is top-locking him anymore and instead is locking-and-trailing. He’s able to come off the screen, curl into the paint and finish a tough shot over Holiday. Again no help from either Lopez or anyone on the weak side.

Adebayo looks like he wants to go out at Lopez again, forcing him to play higher up when defending him. Not sure what the initial action was meant to be for Butler — it’s looking like a bunch of screening actions to confuse the defense. It ends up with Butler being the screener this time. Another Haha moment that the defense probably wasn’t expecting.

Butler screens Adebayo, quickly slips, and is able to get behind Lopez for the finish and the foul.

This was a brilliant adjustment from Spoelstra to not only have Adebayo bring up the ball but to run a whole different action with different setups each time. This really puts pressure on the defense.

But as good as the adjustment is, this doesn’t happen as smoothly as it did without Adebayo’s vision and passing ability to make those reads possible. Those were tough passes to make inside. He may have not scored down the stretch here, but was just as important as Butler.

He stepped up on both ends of the floor when he was needed.