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Coup’s Takeaways: Miami Finds Their Shooting As Adebayo, Butler Seal Victory In Cleveland

1. If you watched the first six minutes you would have been forgiven for thinking the HEAT were in for a rough night. Regularly up against the shot clock, Miami had just about zero airspace against all of Cleveland’s interior length. Most notably Bam Adebayo, who the team almost always tries to establish with some early paint looks, didn’t take a shot in the first quarter.

After falling behind 16-5 in the early minutes, Jimmy Butler stabilized matters with a number of tough finishes in the paint and kept things from getting out of hand. Once Cleveland went deeper into their rotation and started staggering Jarret Allen and Evan Mobley, the paint opened up a little more and behind good ball movement and aggressive attacks Adebayo grabbed a handful of dunks. With the threes falling better than they have of late (7-of-16 in the first half), those first six minutes of offensive road blocks were easily forgotten. Cleveland kept pace behind 12 makes at the rim, only down three at the break, but their own difficulty making threes (5-of-22) offered a ton of runway for Miami’s zone.

More back-and-forth in the third. Miami would threaten to pull away as they hit their threes – shooting better from deep than from two – and enjoyed one of Caleb Martin’s best games of the season, then the Cavaliers would keep pace without them. All tied going into the fourth after Cleveland’s second buzzer-beater of the night.

Another clutch game, because of course it was. Tied with three minutes to play, because that’s what kind of season this is. It was again not a blue-ribbon offensive night despite a welcome reprieve (14-of-31 on threes) from downtown, but this is how Miami wins games. Find enough scoring somehow to at least keep it tight, then let an evolving late-game offensive package and the talents of Butler and Bam Adebayo – keeping Miami in front with late second chances – bring it home alongside toughness, physicality and tight fourth-quarter defense (Cleveland scored just 18 in the final 12 minutes). It was all enough for a three-point win against the team directly in front of the HEAT in the standings, and enough is all they need in a season that has been this competitive.

2. Adebayo (18 points on 13 shots) and Butler may have clinched a close victory, but Martin deserves credit for 18 points (on eight shots) that were almost the entire reason the HEAT weren’t playing from behind. Going 4-of-5 from three always helps, more so for the attempts than the makes given that the percentages have been there for most of the season. Martin has spoken recently about not being as aggressive as he needs to be, and when the HEAT were stuck in the mud tonight it was often Martin being willing to take a tough jumper that kept the offense moving along.

Combine it all with strong moves to the rim against Cleveland’s length and his usual on-ball defense against one of the most explosive backcourts in the league, and it could be argued that Martin saved the game before the final period. Miami doesn’t need 18 points from him every night, but they’ll need it once or twice in a tough playoff series to advance and this is exactly the type of opponent – packing the paint with length, ceding some space on the arc – they’ll need it against. Give Martin the game ball.

3. A little over a week ago Dallas brought early, decisive, deliberate doubles to Butler any time he tried to catch the ball in the post and it had Miami’s offense on its heels all night. A couple days later, New Orleans tried the same to a lesser degree and to mixed results. Since then, it’s not something we’ve seen too much of despite many members of the HEAT saying they’re expecting to see it again.

The Cavaliers looked like they wanted to double when Butler had Darius Garland in the post – someone Tyler Herro also posted up tonight, the 11th post-up of his career – and on their first opportunity they brought it the same as Dallas. After that, however, Cleveland looked more disorganized and their lack of purpose, potential doublers caught in between whether to fully rotate over or not, freed up Miami’s cutters to get some looks in the paint. It also led to some early foul trouble for Garland on a night when Cleveland’s starters were playing great and their bench lineups not so much.

Another interesting wrinkle we’ve seen before? Cleveland putting length on Butler in the form of Mobley – as we’ve seen with the likes of Anthony Davis and Giannis Antetokounmpo in the past – who did his best to keep Garland out of trouble as the game wore on. Was this the most important thing to happen tonight? Hardly. Butler still found ways to make plays down the stretch and seal the win. But how teams defend Butler is an evolving story and as important as anything as we inch closer to the postseason, where indecisiveness is not going to be part of the scouting report.