Coup’s Takeaways: Victor Oladipo Starts And Scores 23 As Miami Closes Out First-Round Series
1. You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘Basketball is a game of runs’, but this has been the series of runs. We could tell you that Miami went on a 17-0 run and we could pretty much be talking about any game in this series, including the one that was a loss in Game 3. Tonight was no different as the HEAT, without the services of Kyle Lowry and Jimmy Butler, overcame a very slow start to close out the first half on 20-4 run to earn a lead that they would keep for the rest of the evening. Like Games 2 and 3, the Hawks punched back, tonight getting within three in the final minute with a chance to tie with five seconds left. Unlike in Game 3, they couldn’t get over the hump, with Miami snuffing out a last-second chance to tie.
Like every game in this series, Miami’s defense was the most important thing happening for either team on the floor. Trae Young shot 2-of-12 tonight (with 6 turnovers to 6 assists), 22-of-69 in the series with some of his worst shooting games of his career, and everything you just read was the reason the HEAT won. It was simple as that. With the threat of Bam Adebayo’s switching constantly looming and Miami’s load-up defensive spacing – which the Hawks just didn’t have the personnel to overcome despite the best efforts of De’Andre Hunter (35 points tonight, single-handedly keeping the Hawks around) and Bogdan Bogdanovic – the HEAT took a dominant, singular offensive All-Star and made his impact look ordinary.
The HEAT’s offense, which they’ll need more from going forward outside of Butler’s individual exploits, wasn’t at its best in this series. It didn’t matter. The defense did its job, and then some.
2. Erik Spoelstra has called on the full-court press often this season, but it wasn’t always with the explicit goal of creating a turnover. Instead, it was something of a fake-out, with two players pushing up on the inbounds and dropping all the way back into a zone, the purpose being to shrink the opponent’s shot clock and give them less time to identify and attack a different defensive look. As a partial result, the HEAT forced some of the longest defensive possessions in the league.
But tonight, there was nothing fake about the press. With Miami trailing late in the second quarter – the teams were almost literally throwing rocks at each other to that point with how sluggish the offensive performances were – Gabe Vincent kicked off the HEAT’s extended run by stealing the ball on an inbounds and scoring, followed immediately by another Hawks turnover (Atlanta was one of the best turnover teams in the league this season) which led to the first two consecutive Max Strus threes. From there, Spoesltra stuck with the look, Atlanta’s offense withered under the pressure and the HEAT took a lead they would never surrender. Vincent only scored nine points, but as the longtime leader, along with Caleb Martin, of the HEAT’s press he changed the entire texture of the game with a couple heads up plays. Just another example of Spoelstra’s solution-forward philosophy. Whatever the problem, find something that works. Even if that solution only matters for one or two or three possessions – the same as P.J Tucker’s two post-ups in Game 4 – that’s enough to spark a run and make a difference.
3. With Butler and Lowry out, Victor Oladipo joined the starting lineup and continued to make a strong impression as he jumped out to eight points in the first few minutes of the game – all of them coming on drives into the paint. The rest of his game was largely creating jumpers, going 3-of-6 from three as he finished with 23 on 16 shots, but on a night when Miami was lacking it’s two primary offensive engines a little manufacturing was in the cards as the HEAT’s offense never quite got out of third gear. A stepback corner three in the middle of the fourth in particular helped stave off Atlanta’s final push. But what’s getting Oladipo minutes, one would think, isn’t just the creation and the scoring, it’s that he’s playing as hard as the HEAT demand players to play in a postseason context. He makes the right rotations, he sprints and dives after loose balls (three steals tonight), and generally lacks passivity even when not directly involved in the play.
It would be too much to say that Oladipo has come out and regained his previous All-Star form. This hasn’t been that sort of dominance, though at times it was a facsimile of it. But he’s found a way to contribute with his shot-creating, downhill skillset – one that Miami can use, whatever lineup composition they’re using – and defensive stability. He deserves a hearty helping of credit for that.
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