Playoff Breakdown: Spamming Duncan-Bam Actions(Again), Protecting the Rim, Pushing the Pace

Insight7 months ago8 min readJohn Jablonka

I know it’s always Miami Heat in five, but it’s looking like it’s Heat in four right now. I still can’t wrap my head around this. In the regular season, they had all the things that could go wrong for them go wrong. It was the worst possible scenario in every way. Then you get to the playoffs, and it’s all the things that could go right.

This run has been the best run I’ve witnessed live and I don’t know if anything comes close. The Golden State Warriors’ run with Kevin Durant was fun and entertaining too. But nothing comes close to what the Heat have been doing.

Everything considered — all the odds against them, dealing with injuries, being the 8th seed, playing tough teams, and turning the entire season around is amazing to watch.

Although I probably shouldn’t have my mood affected this much because of a sports team winning, each time I see that the Heat have won and are one game closer to winning a ring just makes the day better. It always reminds me of the Michelob Ultra commercial with Jimmy Butler.

That brings back good memories and good vibes. And that’s exactly how it is right now. This run is good vibes all around.

Now, I felt good heading into this game. They took care of business on the road. That was tough and impressive. And now they were up 2-0 heading back home. They were in a good place. But that also meant that the Boston Celtics would have definitely come out to play. This was basically a must-win game for them.

They didn’t show up, though.

How do you let a must-win game go to a point where the starters don’t play in the fourth quarter?

This game was over early. The Celtics had no life even in the first life. And any potential comeback went out the window in the third.

Miami Runs on Duncan & Bam

Miami runs on Duncan Robinson and Bam Adebayo. This has been the go-to action that got them success in their first year running it. It was a big part of their offense. It has been one of the best actions for them.

And it’s a simple Robinson-Adebayo pick-and-roll. This one action can end in multiple ways and now there’s more versatility too. Before one of the best ways to take that action away is with a simple switch. But that’s not an option anymore.

No. It’s not because Robinson is going to punish switches by being a hooper-hooper(although he did take Jrue Holiday off the dribble and got by Grant Williams with ease last night). It is, however, because you can’t get away with switching against Adebayo.

So, let’s take a look at some of those PnRs:

It started off with a side PnR with Robinson driving baseline. Because it’s Robinson driving, the Celtics probably felt like they didn’t have to send much help. It’s not as if Robinson was going to punish them inside. He was probably a more dangerous passer than a driver.

And that was correct. Help didn’t come, so he made a pass for a lob to Adebayo.

In the second clip, they run a higher PnR also on the side. This time Derrick White prevents him from using the screen. This meant he was able to drive middle. But that seemed like a blown coverage. It doesn’t look like Al Horford was expecting that. Now, Robinson’s drive draws Marcus Smart to help(he’s been helping off Caleb Martin), but that gives Robinson a straight-line pass to Martin for 3.

In the third clip, they decided to switch. Horford goes on Robinson and Jaylen Brown is on Adebayo. In the past, that probably works, but in 2023, Adebayo is going to attack and get to the rim against Brown.

Finally, in the last clip, it was a foul but what happened is still important. In the previous game, Robinson was cooking Robert Williams when he was in a deep drop. Now, Williams is forced to play higher up, which will open the pocket pass to Adebayo.

Four great possessions that started with a simple PnR. Their chemistry is something else.

Protecting the Rim

The Heat scored 128 points. They had a 127.8 offensive rating and a 69.0(nice) percent eFG. That’s a pretty good offense. And it was a big reason why they were able to make this game not a game so quickly. But a big part of why the Celtics weren’t able to keep this a game is because of the Heat’s defense.

If it wasn’t for that, they probably were going to be in another scoring match, trying to see who can outscore one another. That’s exactly what happened in game one — The heat had a 128.1 offense vs Celtics’ 120.8.

And since that game one, their defense prioritized protecting the paint and particularly the rim. Here are Celtics’ points in the paint in each game by half:

  • Game one: 40 / 22
  • Game two: 24 / 24
  • Game three: 28 / 24

Since that one awful half, they’ve been elite on defense in the paint. Part of it has been individual defense has been significantly better:

There are no more guys getting beat easily. There are no more blow-bys. There’s no more Horford taking guys off the dribble. There are no more poor closeouts leading to drives right to the rim. Guys are holding their own, sticking well with drives, and forcing tougher shots away from the rim. Some of their defense has been so good individually that the player isn’t able to get to the rim in the first place.

But most of it comes down to everyone playing their part at protecting deep paint touches and easy looks right at the rim:

Everyone is doing their job. Digging in at the right time. Cody Zeller playing great defense in the PnR. Guys rotating very early. Tags early to take away slips. Walling up in transition. Be ready to help by being at the nail or having a foot in the paint.

This is genuinely not the same defense that was in the regular season. Everyone seems connected and everyone is as sharp as ever. There have been rarely major mistakes.

Things That Caught My Eye

Pushing the pace! Although they aren’t exactly getting fastbreak points specifically. I guess that doesn’t qualify for that. They are getting 10.7 shots per game within 18-24 seconds on the clock:

  • 6-for-9(66.7 percent) on shots 24-22
  • 15-for-23(65.2 percent) on shots 22-18
  • 18-for-28(64.3 percent) on shots 18-15

They are pushing the pace off makes, misses, and steals and are getting looks like these:

Those are easy shots at the rim or in rhythm, open 3s. That’s as good of a shot as you can get.

Also, these two plays stood out in particular:

Even though the defense recovers to not allow an easy shot a the rim, they still get into action quickly to get quality looks. Martin immediately flows into a handoff with Kyle Lowry. Slips, rolls, and draws the defense for a kick. Then in another clip. Gabe Vincent beats the closeout for another kick.

I will be going into this in more detail. This will be a separate piece going through the Heat’s offense but felt like mentioning this here too. The Celtics made a clear adjustment on defense against Butler. They sent help early and a lot of it. Smart was helping off Martin. They sent doubles. They helped off shooters:

Whenever Butler got this matchup against White or Williams early on, they showed significantly more help compared to what he saw in the first two games.

Part of the reason why the Celtics also couldn’t score and cut the lead is because they struggled to make their 3s but they fell in love with them. I mentioned in the series preview that the Heat need to make them be in love with putting up 3s.

They are good looks. They probably won’t get a better look than some of those early 3s. But there has to be a point where it’s clear the shot isn’t falling and they need to get points another way. But if you take away everything inside and make that difficult by taking the rim away, it’s easy to just fall into a trap of taking 3s, especially when you’re down.

Finally, I’ve just been impressed with so many things on defense:

So, here’s a short highlight of just a couple of good “little” things on defense. Not necessarily big highlight plays but calling out switches early, making a rotation on the roll, good zone defense, and good contests.

The Heat are in a very good place to sweep the Celtics.