Coup’s Takeaways: Kyle Lowry Surges In Clutch As Miami Holds Off New Orleans

1. There’s always something weird about day games, and today was no exception. Neither the Pelicans nor the HEAT could shoot – a combined 6-of-32 from three in the first half – and both teams were turning the ball over in bunches. New Orleans raced ahead to a 16 point lead off the strength of Miami’s uncharacteristic giveaways – for all of their offensive inconsistencies this year, turnovers have not been chief among them – and then Miami pushed right back in almost exactly the same way, Tyler Herro hitting a three after an offensive board and then three-straight Pelicans live-ball turnovers led to scores.

By the break, the HEAT were down just six. Considering they were shooting 38 percent, had hit just two threes, committed 14 turnovers and just generally didn’t look very good, six was about as good as it could possibly get. Good thing, too, that New Orleans was again missing Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson – as they were earlier this week – and was struggling just as much to score in the half-court. This was a it more like the Atlanta game, then, also a day-time tip, with the large deficit shrinking in a hurry in the second half. Where the Hawks had the horses to sustain their single-digit lead, the Pelicans found themselves stuck in an earlier lull. Midway through the third, the HEAT had it tied. Three minutes later, they had the lead. New Orleans still led by three going into the fourth, but at least by then the ugly offense – remember the game at Indiana about a month ago – was holding both teams back. 

Back and forth from there. HEAT by two. Pelicans by two. And so on. Shots still not falling, but the effort – and the turnovers – were for both sides. By the time Tyler Herro (26 points on 22 shots) got just a few jumpers to drop, that was enough for a four-point advantage with just under four to go (yes, another clutch game). A personal 9-0 run from Kyle Lowry (17 points on nine shots) – as aggressive off the dribble in a late-game situation as we’ve seen all season – kept Miami out front, up one in the final minute, even as stops were suddenly tough to come by. Then up two following a Victor Oladipo free-throw after Larry Nance Jr. couldn’t catch what might’ve been a go-ahead pass in the paint. McCollum still had a shot to take the lead with 6.9 seconds left, but his three missed front iron and Oladipo sealed it with a pair of free-throws, 100-96. Just another nailbiter.

2. Woe be to the lone remaining shot-creator when their team is playing Miami. With CJ McCollum by far the most talented and skilled creator left for the Pelicans, Miami had little reason to fear being punished for switching Bam Adebayo out early and often. Maybe you can question why New Orleans was running so many traditional guard-center pick-and-rolls rather than trying to find a better matchup – other teams try to bring out Adebayo early but mostly when they have other attackers who can take advantage in the paint – but that wasn’t anything the HEAT were going to complain about. These weren’t your classic switches, either. Given McCollum’s abilities as a pull-up shooter, Adebayo wasn’t coming up behind those screens flat, instead jumping out at McCollum to dissuade all but the deepest attempts. And with McCollum not the type of player who has much of a chance against Adebayo – though he did draw a foul on a fake – the result was McCollum either taken out of the play entirely or working double time against the shot clock to create any semblance of a look for a team that desperately needed opportunities. With a line similar to what the HEAT can often induce out of another smaller guard in Trae Young, McCollum finished 5-of-16 from the field with seven turnovers and just five assists.

You give Erik Spoelstra an opponent lacking in multiple creators and an available Adebayo, and he isn’t going to play nice. Same as it’s always been.

3. The NBA is and has always been a copycat league. If one thing does something that works against a particular opponent, you can best believe every other team has already seen it by the next day. It was no surprise, then, that the Pelicans started the game doing exactly what Dallas did to such great effect on Friday night – they doubled Butler below the free-throw line.

Miami was so out of sync in the first half that maybe none of it would have mattered, and the Pelicans have smaller guards that make for more obvious doubling situations than Dallas’ defenders did, but coming off the heels of the significant loss in Dallas we’re forced to be on high alert for teams employing similar schemes. It worked, too, as Butler only took four shots in the first half as all those turnovers came about, though they did execute a swing-swing sequence which led to a Lowry corner three that was better than anything they did out of a double on Friday. And on top of it all, the Pelicans were putting the size of Larry Nance Jr. on when in spots, which is a strategy we’ve all seen before. By the second half the HEAT had received the memo and Butler was working less out of the post – not exactly ideal given how much they’ve ridden his matchup hunting at times – and more from the wings, while still searching out McCollum from there, getting himself back to the line including a sequence where rookie Dyson Daniels closed out hard on a Butler three-point fake and still recovered to send him to the line for an and-one. It ended up being a fairly typical Butler day at the office by the line (18 points on seven shots), but it required a bit more of an abnormal approach.