Coup’s Takeaways: HEAT Punch Their Ticket To Eastern Conference Finals With Dominant Victory In Philadelphia
1. The HEAT didn’t win this series because they were they healthier team, though they were. They didn’t win this series because they made more shots, though at times they did, or because they had the better players, which they almost always did. They didn’t even win this series because they’ve proven themselves to be the better team over the course of the season, which they did. No, they won this series because they approached each quarter, each possession, with an edge and degree of composure that far surpassed what the 76ers were able to consistently muster. Embiid’s presence may have changed the series when he returned in Game 3, but Miami never lost sight of who they are and what they have to do win games.
Jimmy Butler (32 points on 29 shots on a night that James Harden attempted just nine) was great throughout, scoring in the paint at a rate reserved only for the best of the best attackers. Bam Adebayo’s defense – Joel Embiid shot 7-of-24 – was worthy of a Defensive Player of the Year-caliber season, and then some. Each role player made their mark on a game or three, especially in the case of Max Strus, and across the board, if you were to line up the two teams across from one another, just about every HEAT player outplayed their counterpart on the other side. Above all, the HEAT’s defense was every bit as made for the postseason as everyone expected it to be back in October. The challenge only gets more difficult from here with one of two great teams on deck as we await updates on Kyle Lowry’s hamstring injury, but there isn’t much you can fault Miami for after inducing what may best be described as an unraveling from their opponent.
2. Max Strus (20 points) continues to exceed expectations, so maybe we should start raising them. With Doc Rivers having to ride his best players – Embiid, Harden and Maxey – 20-plus minutes in the first half after Danny Green went down with an ugly-looking knee injury, Strus outscored all other 76ers, 16-13, and that was why Miami held the lead. It’s never just that Strus is hitting threes – though he was 4-of-10 – it’s everything else he does, cutting off the ball, making heads-up plays when he draws multiple defenders (five assists) and making timely defensive plays. He also had his first two career double-double in Games 5 and 6 of a postseason series, which is nice.
The national stories are largely going to be about Philadelphia after this. They had big expectations after making the trade for Harden and their season just came to a rather unceremonious end while Miami’s journey continues. That’s all well and good, but Strus’ play deserves to be noticed. He’s more than justified Erik Spoelstra’s move to get him in the starting lineup in March.
3. The HEAT’s defense may allow some points here and there, especially if the other team’s supporting cast catches fire from three, but it very rarely disappoints. Spoelstra made a variety of tweaks over the course of the series – how to defend the pick-and-roll, when and where to employ zone or a full-court press – but the scheme, adept and on-point as ever, never matters as much as having a team that can execute it properly over the course of an entire series. No matter what Spoelstra asked his team to do, they were able to do it with Butler and Adebayo leading the way, and they just held a team playing for its season at home to an Offensive Rating of 100.0 and just 42 second-half points in what was a possession game at the break. That’s the sign of a championship-level unit. If you’re defense adheres to an adapt or die mentality, it’s going to do a whole lot of living.