Coup’s Takeaways: Jimmy Butler’s Triple Double, HEAT’s Shooting Builds Early Lead As Miami Holds On Vs Lakers
1. The HEAT haven’t run into too many true small-ball lineups this season, but that’s exactly what the Los Angeles Lakers have pivoted towards in the absence of Anthony Davis (MCL sprain). They may start big with Dwight Howard (a lineup that was -10 in six first-half minutes, -13 overall), but from there they cycle through lineups featuring LeBron James and Stanley Johnson at the five. The problem for the Lakers is that with Bam Adebayo, Miami has a big who can defend small as well as anyone, so Miami had no reason to go away from their switching scheme – even when the Lakers were generating on-paper advantage matchups, the HEAT kept surprising them with double teams. And on the other end, where Carmelo Anthony was often defending center while Johnson or James took Jimmy Butler, Miami didn’t change a thing, running the same offense they always run as it produced one rim-run for Adebayo or Dewayne Dedmon after another.
In theory those small Lakers lineups create more driving room, but the HEAT just kept shrinking bodies into the paint, happy to let a Los Angeles team shooting 11-of-40 from three to try tilting the defense with kickouts and swing-pass sequences that would often land the ball right back in the hand of James or Russell Westbrook. The Lakers made their run in the fourth quarter – as Adebayo got into foul trouble – to shrink the lead to four, but it was less on the strength of their shooting or spacing and more brute force than anything.
2. If there was an interesting strategic wrinkle in this one, it was that the Lakers were often strong-siding Butler’s post/iso’s, bringing a help defender across the lane as a preventative measure against Butler’s attacks. It’s a tactic that became popular when utilized by Tom Thibodeau with the Chicago Bulls and has since become more or less commonplace, though fewer teams do it than maybe a handful of years ago.
It didn’t matter much tonight, as Butler was more than happy to take advantage of the defense – one already lacking in size and length to crowd passing lanes – bending itself out of shape, racking up 10 first-half assists on his way to his tenth regular-season triple-double (20 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists) with the HEAT. That broke a tie with James to take the all-time franchise lead. Notably, the Lakers stopped setting up their defense this way down the stretch, but it’s something that will likely show up in the postseason.
3. The first half was as dominant a showing as you’ll see this season. Miami won paint points, 30-22. Cutters were cutting. Rollers were rolling. The ball never stopped moving. Miami won the shooting game, at 11-of-17 from three to the Lakers’ 4-of-18. Duncan Robinson starting 4-of-6 had the Lakers emptying out the middle of the floor to keep a body on him. And Miami won the possession battle, with just five turnovers helping them to eight more field-goals than their opponent.
Altogether, the HEAT put up an Offensive Rating of 143.8 in the half, their scoring margin no greater than 17 only because of bursts of downhill force by James (18 in the half) and Westbrook (11). The offense dried up in the second half (44 total points) – switching can get in Miami’s way at times – but as the HEAT have done so often this season, they rode out their early lead with defense and hustle, along with a pair of late, crucial threes from Robinson and P.J. Tucker.