Coup’s Takeaways: Gabe Vincent Gives Miami Big Lead In Third Quarter, Defense Holds On In The Fourth

by Couper Moorhead

1. In the six games since Bam Adebayo (20 points, 12 rebounds) returned, the Miami HEAT’s defense has been pretty close to a platonic ideal. Even without Kyle Lowry – Gabe Vincent hasn’t missed a beat filling in as a starter – everyone has been on a string, seamlessly toggling through various coverages depending on the opponent or the score or the quarter or the situation. There’s been endless flexibility for Erik Spoelstra on that end since the beginning, but there’s a connectivity right now that we haven’t seen since the opening weeks of the season. The only way opponents are finding ways to consistently score, if ever, is manufacturing individual matchups or getting hot on the deep shots Miami tends to give up.

The LA Clippers are without Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. They’re a Bottom 5 offense this season (106.5 Offensive Rating). They are not the sort of team setup to exploit Miami’s scheme given their lack of skill players on that end. That said, their actions were in a vice grip through three quarter, scoring just 87.5 points-per-play in the halfcourt. The only way they could generate downhill offense was to play super-smallball as Luke Kennard got hot from downtown – the same way the Los Angeles Lakers did in their comeback bid last week, minus Kennard. This may be the third or fourth time we’ve said this in the past two weeks, but the defense looks postseason ready.

2. This would be the easy place to call out Jimmy Butler for another night of quiet brilliance (26 points, six rebounds, nine assists, three steals). Particularly since All-Stars will be chosen soon, and Butler should be a no-doubt lock to be selected as a reserve no matter how many games he’s missed.

But Vincent shoved his way into the conversation tonight just as he’s done to Miami’s rotation over the past two months. It’s been covered, but there’s never a bad time to remind that Vincent was a 31 percent three-point shooter last year (149 attempts) after shooting 22 percent in his first stint during 2019-20. He had the courage to rebuild his shot during the most important opportunity of his career, and he’s emerged a far, far better shooter (and more confident player) because of it. Vincent was 7-of-12 from deep tonight, off the catch and off the dribble, with 18 points (23 overall) on six threes in the third quarter. And when it came time to stop a late Clippers run, Vincent was Spoelstra’s move to stop Eric Bledsoe from getting to the rim. The minutes may not be there when Lowry returns, but he’ll be worthy of them all the same.

3. On the other side of the ball, there was nothing flukey about the difficulties the Clippers presented. Not only are they an excellent switching team, they can pull off switching coverages – three-way switches, off-ball scrams – that most teams can’t when they think they can just dial up switching the night of against Miami. Combined with their arsenal of rangy athletes, size in the middle and active hands throughout – putting center Ivica Zubac on P.J. Tucker was a look the HEAT haven’t seen too much of – they flattened out the HEAT’s early offense far more than the home team is accustomed to (their Offensive Rating was sub-100 midway through the second). If there’s a specific type of coverage the HEAT are going to have to prove themselves against in the postseason, it’s switching. They won’t meet many teams in the Eastern bracket as creative as the Clippers are, but there are plenty of teams that can switch. This was a good test.

That the HEAT still managed to score 119.0 points per 100 possessions is a testament to their adaptability. Sure, Vincent going off in the third helps matters, as does yet another shooting performance across the board (15-of-34 from three as a team, now 19-1 when hitting 40 percent or better) but before that they were finding creative ways to get downhill, working through Butler in the post and passing around help in the paint as the Clippers collapsed bodies. There was a lull in the final period when the Clippers downsized with a bench lineup that switches 1-through-5 (Justise Winslow at center is a look HEAT fans are familiar with), but Butler and Adebayo had enough juice to seal the deal.


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