Playoff Breakdown: Vintage Duncan, Butler Goes Hunting, Caleb Punishing the Celtics

News2 weeks ago9 min readJohn Jablonka

I don’t know how likely this was. I don’t know what the percentages and the odds were. But the Miami Heat winning two games on the road in Boston is very impressive.

This was a game of runs again. At one point the Boston Celtics went on a 19-2 run, but then the Heat followed that with a 17-2 run of their own. What’s important though is keeping this game close. That’s all the Heat need to do.

This Celtics team is a good team. They won’t get beat badly to the point where it’s a blowout or a double-digit deficit. But that’s the thing with this Celtics team. If the game is close, then that’s exactly when the Heat have a very high chance to win.

And that’s exactly what happened again. The Heat entered the 4th being down eight. The Heat were down nine with just under seven minutes left. But with three players — Duncan Robinson, Jimmy Butler, and Bam Adebayo — scoring eight points or more, the Heat got themselves back in the game and took care of business.

Butler Goes Hunting(Again)

Early on in the game, I wasn’t impressed with some of the shots that Butler took in isolations when he got the switch. There were plenty of times when he got Robert Williams or Al Horford on the switch and it felt like he settled on the type of shots he got.

They weren’t good shots. These weren’t looks in isolation that are good isolations that could draw help or are good looks for Butler.

Early step-backs that are contested right in the defender’s face away from the paint. They aren’t the shots you want — at least when it’s multiple possessions that end like this.

This is probably asking a lot from Butler to try to get himself a better look constantly, but he has shown that he’s capable.

But outside of Butler’s shot selection, the team’s setup is different from when they go for Butler isolation. Take this play:

They got the matchup that they want and everyone clears out the side. Now, Butler has more space to work with and can get a much better look. Of course, that’s not always possible every time you get a switch but a lot of the time, Butler gets the switch early. There’s enough time to make life easier for him first before getting a poor shot off.

Later in the game, though. After Grant Williams talked trash a bit too soon, Butler just went hunting for Williams and got bucket after bucket:

But again the team is making his life easier by clearing out the side. If the Celtics will continue to give up those matchups and not send help, the Heat should just clear out the side almost all the time when he gets the switch. It hurts the team if he gets multiple switches possession after possession and they end in a tough shot instead.

Vintage Duncan

Robinson is back! Robinson playing important minutes in a playoff game. In the conference finals. In the fourth quarter. In a key game. And is helping them win. That just makes me happy to see.

We got to see vintage Robinson. He is hunting for his dribble handoffs and making those shots. His constant movement to go look for his shot is so underrated.

These 3s were key in the fourth and they need to continue to go to these actions whenever Williams is on the floor. Keep attacking that drop and more importantly, if Tatum ends up on Robinson, keep on attacking him in these off-ball actions. Get him moving on defense.

The Celtics also did a good job switching off-ball and top-locking guys to take away those 3s. But because they also haven’t been able to run a double-big lineup, there isn’t much rim protection on these back cuts:

This is where Duncan being able to make these reads to know when and how to cut effectively to the rim punishes that sort of defense. And it helps that Adebayo is able to make these quick and accurate passes consistently.

And with all this screening and cutting, you get plays like these:

Quick side note — love the initial screen from Robinson for Adebayo inside the paint. Need more of that.

Martin sets a cross screen here for Robinson and that movement draws two defenders because GRAVITY IS REAL! And that gives Martin a wide-open cut.

I also had some thoughts on this a couple of days ago that off-ball shooters don’t get enough respect, even when they’re missing shots. To do what Robinson does is insanely difficult. To be on the move at all times. Reading the defense whether to come off screens or when to cut requires a high-level IQ. But more simply, it requires so much stamina. It’s difficult to run this much and actually make your shots and still give you stuff on defense.

Caleb Punishing the Celtics

I was wrong. I was very wrong to think that Martin wasn’t going to punish the Celtics for having Williams on him. I didn’t think his shooting was good enough because he hasn’t been such a high-volume shooter. I didn’t think the Celtics were going to have any issues playing off him to help. I underestimated how important Martin’s above-the-break 3s were and how effective his ability to beat closeouts was going to be.

Martin made them pay. This isn’t PJ Tucker anymore that you can help off. And that makes a big difference in how effective those double-big lineups are and how effective Williams is.

The shooting is great and it’s important once the defense helps elsewhere or sags off Martin. But this is more important:

There were a couple of good relocations from him along the baseline but his defender stayed in the paint to help on the drive. That is very effective if the player was Tucker. But now, once the defender is out of position when Martin gets the pass on the kick out, he’s able to attack the closeout — like he did in clips two and three.

But there is something that I noticed in some of those clips from him. There is a slight hesitation in the decision-making — whether it’s hesitating to shoot or not attacking the closeout immediately:

If he gets the pass and there’s no drive open, just let it fly. There have been a couple of possessions where the shot was right there. The defender didn’t close out hard at all, so he needs to just fire from 3 with no hesitation.

But this also applies to his decision-making in general. The decision to do something needs to be quicker. It doesn’t matter if the decision is to shoot right away or attack, but it needs to be something quick. If he hesitates, the defense can recover.

This is what happens when he doesn’t hesitate. That shot looks so much better when he doesn’t think about it.

He has been such a key player so far in this series and he will have to continue to constantly make these reads to attack the moving defense to keep the advantage going.

Things That Caught My Eye

Adebayo continuing to attack in isolation is still very much needed, even when he’s missing:

When the possession stalls because of switches off-ball, then the option is to have Adebayo get his own look. And even though he hasn’t been able to convert, he’s still has been comfortable at generating those looks in the first place against Williams or Horford. If he can constantly get those looks at the rim one-on-one, even in low usage, then I don’t know what the Celtics can do.

There was also another possession with Adebayo getting Jaylen Brown on the switch:

He got the ball in the post. The help is sent early from White and Adebayo is able to make the pass to Strus in the corner instantly.

Something that’s been common in the regular season is Butler and Adebayo receiving screens, particularly from each other, near the paint:

This has been a good way of generating looks inside the paint or at the rim. And if the defense doesn’t want to switch — clip two — then that’s another pressure point for the Heat on offense.

The Heat continued their aggressive defense against drives early on. This wasn’t like in game one where they let everyone attack single coverage:

Help was sent early from the start and that has limited the Celtics’ drives and encouraged them more into tough shots.