Coup’s Takeaways: HEAT Play Keepaway Down The Stretch To Take 3-1 Series Lead

1. It might have happened a little early at just Game 4, but this was when the series truly felt like it started to settle in.

Sure, we say that about the same game in which the Knicks made a starting lineup change, slotting Quentin Grimes and moving Josh Hart to the bench in the wake of Immanuel Quickley’s ankle injury, but that didn’t change much about how the game played out. Win conditions for both teams have been established at this point and Miami’s margin for error has felt far greater even when they lost Game 2 without Jimmy Butler.

New York hasn’t been able to generate consistently good offensive looks all series, relying on tough makes – or the few open threes they’re getting, which they haven’t made outside of the corners – and offensive boards to keep their attack on the tracks. This one started off strange, with a series of defensive miscues on either side, but by halftime the Knicks had made a series of tough looks, including a banked in Jalen Brunson three from the corner and a variety of leaning Julius Randle jumpers, and still found themselves down eight at the break after an 18-point second. Miami’s shooting had returned after a one-game hiatus while Bam Adebayo feasted in the middle of the floor, 16 points on 11 shots, despite Mitchell Robinson doing his best job of the series stayed grounded against pump fakes.

The visitors hung around. Even as Miami was the sharper team throughout – always playing their game and waiting to capitalize on any of New York’s mistakes – the Knicks, behind Randle, Brunson and RJ Barrett’s shot creation, strung together a series of makes to get within two. And every time they closed the gap to one possession, Miami, unwavering, would answer with a three. Five of them during that stretch. The third quarter may have been New York’s best offensive period of the series, both in process (downhill attacks) and results (over 70 percent from the field), and yet the HEAT extended the lead by one. 

Miami cooled off in the fourth, but they kept collecting so many of their own misses – at one point they had a possession last nearly an entire minute – it almost didn’t matter with how much the clock was burning. The Knicks got it within six, but no closer as their own open threes clanked off iron. HEAT take the 3-1 series lead with four quarters of stiff-arm basketball, 109-101 in their favor.

2. After a dominant regular season on the offensive glass and an equally dominant second-chance series against Cleveland, it was something – ironic, poetic, telling – that the HEAT were able to finish this one by absolutely owning the boards in the fourth. There’s only so much you can ever analyze about offensive boards, with some coaches toggling their own teams crash rates on and off, artificially inflating or deflating the totals depending on how much they emphasize transition defense. In the end, it’s an area that’s less about strategy and more about reading the ball off the ball, playing through physicality and having the energy to go after misses – all of which Miami did to perfection in those final 12 minutes, capped off by a last grab from Lowry to essentially ice the game.

One of New York’s win conditions, both in this series and in the regular season, was to get second chances. That’s how they ended up with such elite offensive numbers despite middling efficiency numbers from a shotmaking perspective. That Miami took nine more shots in the end, grabbing an elite 37 percent of their own misses (13 in total) while holding New York to average numbers on the offensive glass, just about sums this one up.

The HEAT haven’t always looked their best in this series. They just keep finding different ways to win in spite of that.

3. Scoring was a struggle for Miami all season when Butler hit the bench. That hasn’t been the case for most of the postseason, with Miami +5 without Butler in an eight-point victory. The bulk of the credit belongs to Lowry (15 points on six shots) and Caleb Martin (10 points on eight shots).

It hasn’t been anything fancy, just solid, competitive play from those units led by a point guard who turns up his aggressiveness whenever it’s been needed. Tonight, with both Butler and Adebayo on the bench to open the second, it was Lowry taking simple pull-up jumpers against drop coverage – same as he did against Milwaukee – to keep putting points on the board. Martin’s numbers didn’t jump off the page tonight, apart from a dicing drive for a late dunk as the offense stalled out, but his floor game was solid as ever – no mistakes, just be a plus. And in the second half, shifting to Kevin Love at center helped provide the spacing for all those three-point counter punches. At the end of the third, every single player who had played at least a minute was either a +3 or a +6.

It isn’t a bench that overwhelms teams with talent on either end of the floor, but they aren’t going to beat themselves. In some ways, maybe the bench of these playoffs is a microcosm of what’s been Miami’s best power, making the other team look worse more than they ever make themselves look more dominant.