Bam Adebayo is buckling under Celtics pressure. Heat need to fix this, and other problems, by Game 6

BOSTON – The Miami Heat find themselves in the uncomfortable position of needing to make serious adjustments to avoid unmitigated disaster in the Eastern Conference finals.

It is usually the case for both teams in a competitive series, but for the first three games the Boston Celtics weren’t all that competitive. They are now, after beating Miami 110-97 in Game 5, having fully committed to Derrick White and a smaller lineup that has made the Celtics much quicker with better spacing on offense and a much more disruptive defense.

It’s the Heat’s turn to make changes, probably to the lineup and definitely to how they’re playing on offense. Thirty-two turnovers in the last two games isn’t going to cut it.

“They jammed us up several times in the paint with quick hands, strip-downs, things of that nature,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We have to shore that up. That’s two games in a row of that.”

Ten of those turnovers have come from center Bam Adebayo, whom the Celtics have committed to bothering by collapsing on him in the lane. They use Marcus Smart or White to sink down from the perimeter and apply the extra pressure, and the Heat have been too slow to counter.

The box score says Adebayo was Miami’s leading scorer among the starters (that matters because in a blowout, neither Adebayo nor Jimmy Butler played the fourth quarter). He scored 16 points on 8-of-15 shooting, with eight boards and three assists. Not bad. But at halftime Adebayo was just 3-of-9 shooting with five turnovers. He took just seven shots and coughed it up four times in a similarly frustrating Game 4 loss.

Adebayo was dominant earlier in this series. In Games 1 and 2, he averaged 21 points on 53 percent shooting, with just two turnovers per game.

“It’s borne out of respect – he was aggressive and able to get to the rim and able to get to his spots, so they have now made him operate in a crowd,” Spoelstra said. “That’s a good thing. That’s what great players usually command, is a second defender. “I thought his decisiveness on a couple plays in the second half were key.”

The counter to the Celtics’ defense can be any number of tactics, and probably more than one. Adebayo could go into his room quicker after he catches the ball, before a second defender can get to him. He can catch the ball at different places on the court, or even bring it up as an initiator – something he’s done off and on throughout his career. Or he can also pass it out to the perimeter, but that would depend in part on the movement of his teammates. If they’re stagnant and watching Adebayo struggle, he may not see them in time.

“It’s on us to get him in better positions to score the ball, get it to him in transition and stuff like that,” said Butler, who scored 14 points and took just 10 shots. “When you look at the film and look at how we can be better and getting him into his spots with the ball, with the position and with the time on the clock to score, we’ll be better at that.”

The Heat have been outscored by 44 points in the last two games with Butler on the court. After a blistering start to this series for Butler, he also has seen more double teams and hasn’t been able to get to his spots on offense with the same command we are used to seeing from him in the playoffs.

Butler was 12-of-25 shooting in each of the first two games, and Miami didn’t need much from him in a blowout win in Game 3. But in that game is where the Celtics eventually got around to defending Butler with more help, and he hasn’t recovered. He took 21 shots in Game 4 and made just nine, and 10 shots in Game 5 is simply not enough.

“Our offense was disjointed a little bit,” Spoelstra said. “We weren’t able to initiate our offense, get the ball where we needed it to go in spots where you could operate. If we can get Jimmy in his comfort zones and strength zones more consistently, he’ll be just fine.

“We’ll work on that the next 48 hours, but collectively, we do have to play with more intention and force and poise offensively, which we’re fully capable of doing.”

The Heat were without starting point guard Gabe Vincent, which caused a host of problems. Vincent is a stout defender and is a 3-point shooter. At this stage in his storied career, Kyle Lowry is not those things, at least not consistently, and he turned in just five points and one assist against four turnovers in Game 5.

Playing Lowry and Kevin Love together as starters proved problematic on defense – the Celtics sprinted out of the gate in the first quarter – and Spoelstra turned to little-used Haywood Highsmith instead of Love to start the second half. Highsmith was effective with 15 points, and Caleb Martin had another decent game with 14 bench points.

With the Celtics having committed to playing White with the starters and reducing Robert Williams III’s minutes, it may be time for Spoelstra to go away from Love all together and start Martin – with perhaps more minutes for Haywood if this has become a series for quicker wings. Love wasn’t gone from the rotation entirely in the second half of Game 5, as he played the minutes usually reserved for backup center Cody Zeller.

But if Vincent (sprained left ankle) can play in Game 6, it at least in theory would restore order to the method in which the Heat were operating when things were easier.

“We’ll see, we’ll see who is available, see if Gabe is available. I can’t answer that right now,” said Spoelstra, when asked if he needed to make a permanent lineup change. “But it’s always good when a guy (Haywood) comes in and plays some productive minutes and sees some good things happen. But we’ll see.”

The Celtics’ offense is flying high and bombing 3s at a rate much closer to the regular season, when they were the league’s second-most prolific team from deep. Jayson Tatum was one of four players with at least 20 points for Boston in Game 5, so the Heat weren’t exactly making it tough on any of the Celtics’ better offensive players after enjoying great success there through three games. Miami is still employing a zone at times to try and slow the game down and junk up Boston’s rhythm. The Celtics have obviously found ways around it in the last two games, but the Heat are using an occasional zone because they don’t think they can win playing man for 48 minutes.

“We stopped playing defense halfway because we didn’t make shots that we want to make,” Butler said. “But that’s easily correctable.”

With the series at 3-2, and Game 6 to be played in Miami, now is the time for the Heat to be making those corrections.

Related Reading

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Murray: Why the Celtics will make history if they win Game 6

King: After a bad week and a good talk, Celtics are alive again

Weiss: Derrick White’s career night rooted in message from his father

Buckley: If Celtics complete ‘atonement,’ credit goes to one night in Miami

Schaefer: Game 6 odds, expert picks

 (Photo of Bam Adebayo: Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

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Author : Joe Vardon

Publish date : 2023-05-26 12:40:12

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