Playoff Breakdown: Size Matters, Need More on Offense, Targeting Portis

Newslast month6 min readJohn Jablonka

So, the Miami Heat aren’t sweeping Milwaukee Bucks after all. The Bucks obviously weren’t going to roll over, especially when they are a very good team even without Giannis Antetokounmpo. But to see that kind of game was demoralizing.

Right from the tip they came out strong and continued to press and press until the game was fully out of reach. They never let go of the gas.

Part of it was extremely hot shooting. Matching an NBA record for most 3s made in a game will almost certainly guarantee a win. But their shooting is only one half of the story as to how they dominated the Heat

Size Matters

I think anyone can see why having someone who’s 6-foot-5 defend a player who’s 7 feet isn’t a good idea. There’s so little that you can do with guys simply being taller than you.

There wasn’t anything wow or breathtaking in the way Brook Lopez scored inside the paint — he went 9-for-12 in the paint in the first half.

With Max Strus defending him, all Lopez has to do is get positioned behind for a lob pass. Sure, you may ask Strus to be a bit more physical but in the end, it’s hard to make up that significant difference.

There may be counters to make life harder for Lopez to even get the ball in the first place by having other defenders take that pass away but that opens up other looks elsewhere. It would still force the Heat to be in constant rotation.

There are lineup changes like having Kevin Love or Cody Zeller start, but that opens up other issues. Having Love start may be the best option that gives them a bigger body and won’t make the offense worse at the same time.

That’s just how it is with the roster construction. Each adjustment helps with one thing but takes away something else, whether on offense or defense.

Perimeter Defense

A bad paint defense isn’t entirely because of what happens inside, but how it starts. The Heat’s perimeter defense this series has been something and that’s not a good combination to have.

There’s only so much you can do when players get through the first line of defense as if there’s no one there:

Everyone on the Bucks are stronger and faster than almost all their perimeter defenders. Jrue Holiday is just getting through guys with ease. And honestly, I don’t see many adjustments to fix that.

Ideally, if you want to lean defense, you’d start Haywood Highsmith. Also run more zone, especially with two of Highsmith, Caleb Martin, or Victor Oladipo. But that’s still making things less awful instead of fixing the issue.

Gabe PnRs are Needed

One particular action that I liked from the Heat on offense is a simple Gabe Vincent and Bam Adebayo pick-and-roll. The reason that this action is needed is because of who’s guarding Vincent.

If the Bucks want Bobby Portis or Joe Ingles with Lopez and have someone who’s 6-foot-11 defend a guard, the best choice is to put that defender into action.

Picking on guys on defense isn’t always getting them on a switch and attacking them 1v1. It could also be putting them into action or forcing them to defend a certain way.

This was a similar thing that happened in the Dallas Mavericks game when the Heat were putting Luka Doncic in actions defending Strus. Doncic wasn’t going to be chasing around screens, so it was going to be an open 3.

And according to the matchup stats, Portis and Ingles defended Vincent for almost 32 possessions.

So here, the point is to have Portis and Ingles navigate through screens and try to stay attached to Vincent:

Because Lopez will be dropping all the way inside the paint, there is so much space for Vincent to get clean looks, especially if the defender can’t get over the screen in time.

What happens is he will have that clean pull-up a lot of the time and they are the shots that he will have to continue to make and even attempt more — even more so with Tyler Herro out.

Need More on Offense

Through two games, here are the Heat’s shot distribution:

  • 29-for-35(20.8% frequency) at the rim
  • 25-for-45(26.7%) in the short mid-range
  • 10-for-27(16.0%) in the long mid-range
  • 8-for-10(5.9%) from corner 3
  • 23-for-51(30.3%) from ATB 3

Although the Heat are shooting the second-best percentage from 2 in the playoffs with 59.8%, I wouldn’t say I’m encouraged by the offense going forward.

These are exactly the shots that the Bucks are willing to give up. On defense, you have to give up something. No defense will prevent every shot or even force every shot to be tough, contested, or bad.

The Bucks have a clear strategy and haven’t gone away with it because there’s no need. They will drop with Lopez, take away the paint, and at the same time limit your 3s.

They will take their chances with you beating them with the shots they’ll give up. And the Heat got a lot of them:

Pick-and-roll after pick-and-roll, they got an open loo and knocked it down. But the Bucks haven’t and most likely won’t adjust. The math just won’t work against them. As much as people may disagree with analytics, these shots aren’t efficient looks and it doesn’t matter if players are knocking them down at times.

That matters even more when on the other end, the defense is giving up countless efficient looks. There is simply no downside for the Bucks then with that defense.

And with this roster construction, there’s no one capable of getting good looks. In 25 minutes without Butler, the Heat have attempted only eight shots at the rim. Butler alone has made 12!

So, the offense may look significantly worse once the wild shooting goes down because it’s very likely that it will.