What’s Going on with the Heat’s Scoring in the Fourth

Insight3 months ago9 min readJohn Jablonka

Did you know that for the season, the Miami Heat have a 117.1 offensive rating through three quarters? But they also only have a 113.7 offense overall. A big reason for that has been their awful fourth quarter. That drops all the way to 103.3 in the fourth — this would rank 25th this season.

Though that has been trending upwards in their last seven games where through three quarters, that offense jumps to 124.1 and only drops to 111.4 in the fourth. There have been some improvements.

But I don’t think that’s been an improvement to their real issue in the fourth. This has improved in this last stretch, but that could mostly be explained by better rotations.

The Heat had completely different rotations that could skew a lot of these numbers. In their first seven games, it was mostly Tyler Herro and Josh Richardson playing the entire fourth with Thomas Bryant at the beginning before Bam Adebayo checked in around the eight-minute mark. Then a couple of minutes later, you have Jimmy Butler.

Those few minutes with Bryant starting hurt the team a lot. It’s only been 20 minutes with Bryant in the fourth but they’re minus 17(minus 34.4 net with a 92.8 offense).

That has completely gone away in these seven games. Now, we’re seeing Adebayo play almost the entire fourth. We’re seeing a better lineup with Adebayo, Duncan Robinson, Jaime Jaquez Jr, Caleb Martin, and Richardson manning that unit to start the fourth. That helps.

That’s why looking at the overall numbers may be misleading going forward and these current numbers should be your reference point.

Despite that improvement, I don’t think they’ve improved in their main issue because their main issues start when Butler checks in. Everything before that matters less.

We’ve seen far too many times the Heat blowing leads in the fourth because their offense seemed to have disappeared. This has happened a lot of times already in this season — even their first game against the Detroit Pistons had them almost blowing the game. Or their game against the Brooklyn Nets at home where they couldn’t score in the fourth. Or almost blowing the lead to the Los Angeles Lakers. Or blowing a lead to the Chicago Bulls.

It’s those breakdowns that are the focus of this piece because this isn’t a blip or small sample. This has been their issue in the clutch for quite some time and for some reason, it’s been more apparent this year. This is also not something that you can just sweep under the rag. This either has definitely cost them games or made a blowout into yet another clutch situation.

Let’s go through what happens to the Heat once Butler checks in that makes them so prone to scoring droughts.

First, to illustrate the Heat’s rotations with Butler in the fourth:

As it’s been all season long, he rests to start the fourth and comes in around the 6-7 mark.

With Butler on, the Heat have a minus 24.0 net in 66 minutes with a 94.5 offense and 51.2% TS.

When you add both Herro and Adebayo, that number is even worse(though in a smaller sample) where they’re minus 41.4 net in 31 minutes with a 82.8 offense and 41.1% TS.

Though oddly enough, in these last seven games, they’re minus 7.1 net in 25 minutes with a 118.4 offense and 61.7% TS.

There is one more stat that I want to include that’s also important. Here’s the Heat’s pace with Butler on by quarter:

  • 1st: 15.4
  • 2nd: 14.9
  • 3rd: 15.1
  • 4th: 16.0

Through three quarters, their pace is 15.1, which would be right on par for the regular season where they’re 29th. But they drop to 16.0 in the fourth, which would be slower than the 30th place, New York Knicks.

I also thought to compare those numbers to other teams with their stars in the fourth:

  • Oklahoma City Thunder with Shai Gilgeous Alexander: 133.3(13.8)
  • Boston Celtics with Jayson Tatum: 121.5(15.8)
  • Golden State Warriors with Stephen Curry: 117.7(15.2)
  • Denver Nuggets with Nikola Jokic: 123.6(15.8)
  • Dallas Mavericks with Luka Doncic: 112.2(15.1)
  • Philadelphia 76ers with Joel Embiid: 119.3(15.6)
  • Milwaukee Bucks with Giannis Antetokounmpo: 133.5(13.9)
  • New York Knicks with Jalen Brunson: 121.8(16.2)
  • Cleveland Cavaliers with Donovan Mitchell: 122.7(13.8)

Looking at those numbers and seeing what the Heat are doing, it’s kind of concerning and eye-popping. But what’s also interesting is some of these teams aren’t necessarily any faster, so the cause isn’t that the game slows down. You can slow down the game and still run an efficient offense — hell, look at the Knicks!

So, if it’s not their slow, grind-it-out game that’s the issue, why can’t they score?

My short answer is they go completely away from what worked in the previous 44 minutes and resort to the worst kind of basketball — a lot of my turn, your turn isolations with zero movement and wasting clock getting into it.

That’s the main issue. Purely off of eye test, but it honestly feels like out of all of their possessions in those 66 minutes with Butler, 90% of them include an isolation or a post-up where there’s no ball movement or passes(where the only pass is either to the guy isolating or at the last second throwing a grenade).

There’s this whole notion that the game slows down in the fourth and you need someone that can go get a bucket 1v1, but that also doesn’t mean you have to resort only to isolation with under 10 seconds on the clock time and time again. It also doesn’t mean that you’re allergic to any type of off-ball movement.

This is something that I can’t get behind. I genuinely don’t understand that philosophy to change everything about how you go about your offense. There’s a balance to that.

This matters a lot more when you have the lead and want to manage the time well. You don’t want to risk turnovers on passes, nor do you want to push the pace and give your opponents more opportunities. But you also want to give yourself the best chance of scoring because a lot of the time, these possessions are almost like a turnover. With some of the low percentage shots that they take, there’s not much difference to a live ball turnover — also, more misses, leads to more pushing the pace for the opponent. That’s actually how the Nets got their offense. Poor offense from the Heat led to easy points in transition.

With the Heat, I honestly can’t see any of that. I don’t see any good process where it’s “Ah, they’re managing the time well but they’re still getting into good actions to get better looks”.

Here’s what the majority of their possessions look like:

It’s an ISO after ISO after ISO after ISO. But that’s not automatically a bad thing. Isolation can be a great way to get the defense in rotations or attack a mismatch well. The Heat just do none of that. Almost everything about it feels wrong.

Take the first clip. You have Butler getting the pass for an ISO with 11 seconds left. That’s not a lot of time to get anything. He’s also getting the ball near the 3-point line, another disadvantage. Bam clears the side and there’s zero movement elsewhere. Butler is also taking his time but the time is running out. He can’t get past it, so he settles for a fading long 2. That’s a poor possession. This was almost the same thing with Adebayo in the second clip.

In a lot of those clips, the possession ends with under 8 seconds left(where teams are highly inefficient, barely shooting above 40%). This isn’t a good trade-off to control the pace and to slow the game down.

But that’s their offense in those minutes. There’s almost never any advantage being created. There are also possessions like these:

Where they struggle to get the ball to whoever needs it and end up wasting even more time. All of the compounds to guys taking long jumpers in defenders’ faces because someone wasted time and that’s the only thing you can get — and now the defense gets the rebound for open looks.

In addition to that, there are a lot of WTF are you thinking moments too. There have been some bad, bad decisions being made, whether that’s a quick shot or a bad pass:

The biggest culprit is kind of Butler. His decision-making and shot selection have been YIKES at times. That fourth quarter against the Bulls was I don’t even know. Butler hitting a tough 3 is sometimes the worst thing that can happen because he’s going to take another bad one.

There have been possessions where they do try to run some actions to get something going first:

It usually involves a 3-man action with Butler, Adebayo, and Herro(Robinson now). But most of the time, this feels like they serve no purpose. It feels like they have no idea what they want to get out of them and that’s what ends up happening — they get nothing and end up resorting to isolation similar to the previous clips.

No one can convince me that this is anything good, that it’s part of the game, or something that you live within the fourth because everything slows down. The game slows down for everyone else. Other teams don’t have these kinds of issues.

There is no reason to go to this kind of extreme. Check those clips and see how many times there were no passes outside of two players. Check how many times someone set an off-ball screen. Check how many times someone cut. Check how long someone holds the ball doing absolutely nothing.

This isn’t a personnel issue. This is all bad decision-making and mentality.

It’s all of this compounding that has the Heat as one of the worst late offenses in the league. The good news is that this can be fixed with adjustments and a change up in how they approach this. This isn’t something that it’s not available to them, but they need to fix this quickly because it can make life much harder for them if they can’t close games well because of their offense.