Coup’s Takeaways: P.J. Tucker Holds HEAT Together
1. The HEAT have their formula for when they’ve been without Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo and that style was on full display in Portland as the team started 9-of-14 from three, assisted on 18 of their first-half scores, packed the paint, played a little zone and enjoyed a 58-47 lead at halftime. If you’ve seen any of the team’s shorthanded games over the past month-plus, this was essentially that.
The difference tonight was that Kyle Lowry was ejected with his second technical just before the first half ended, and suddenly the team had to deal with a shortage of playmakers beyond what they had already experienced. While it was Tyler Herro who slid into the opening lineup in Lowry’s absence, P.J. Tucker (14 points, 10 rebounds, six assists) was the man holding the offense together for a time with his screens and steady hands, in the post and on handoffs, as his teammates worked through off-ball actions. It wasn’t clean and it wasn’t pretty, but it created 25 points in the third and 32 in the fourth. It was enough, and some Max Strus (25 points, 7-of-13 from three) magic didn’t hurt either.
2. As they have so often this season, offensive rebounds were the other major reason Miami was able to hold on to their lead after Lowry exited. Until they caught fire from three in the closing minutes – finishing 19-of-41 from deep to continue the franchise-record shooting from December – it was Tucker (four offensive boards) and Yurtseven (five) crashing the glass against a smaller Portland squad that gave Miami all the extra chances they could use (14 total). It’s not a glamorous thing to talk about, nor one that warrants much analytical dissection beyond how often coach chooses to toggle the switch to crash the glass, but no doubt those offensive boards have won Miami some very important games.
3. We’ve been watching Erik Spoelstra order up the blitz against Damian Lillard for so many years that it was fascinating to see the HEAT pack the paint as much as ever against a Portland team missing their primary threats in Lillard and CJ McCollum. Miami’s base scheme is to create a shell around the paint and help liberally when the opponent puts the ball on the deck for a drive. Typically, when Adebayo is available that’s in combination with a ton of switching on the perimeter to flatten out the attack and prevent even the hint of driving lanes, but with Yurtseven in the middle playing primarily drop coverage, a Portland team lacking in dynamic shooting threats was essentially facing four feet in the paint – one each from a help defender on either side – and another defender collapsing on them from behind.
For as much as the Warriors enjoyed the superior Shot Quality the other night, Miami effectively enjoyed the same margin for error Wednesday, at least until Lowry’s ejection. It was a different game at that point, but after the Blazers got hot in the third – which then spurred some Lillard-esque coverage for Anfernee Simons (28 points) – the scheme worked in Miami’s favor again in the fourth as Portland swung for home-run shot after home-run shot, coming up with empty possessions for long enough that the HEAT were able to find their shooting.