The Miami Heat knew the shots would be there, it was just a matter of making them. Against the Milwaukee Bucks’ drop defense, the open space is predetermined. The mid-range will be open almost always. Get a good screen, and there will be space to take a 3-pointer without much interference.
The Heat nailed both of these things in their surprising Game 1 win in Milwaukee on Sunday, and they’ll have to do it again to take Game 2 Wednesday night.
The mid-range stuff should be mostly repeatable — Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler thrive in that area in the middle of the court. The question, as it has all season long, will be if their teammates can make the most of their chances from beyond the arc.
Some key performance indicators from Game 1:
- The Heat made 60% of their 25 3-point attempts.
- They shot 72.2% on 18 catch-and-shoot 3s. That’s a crazy-high clip. For reference, they shot 34.1% in the regular season.
- There was not a defender within 4 feet on 21 of Miami’s 25 3-point attempts, per the NBA’s tracking data.
To get this out of the way, the Heat can’t count on shooting 60% again in this series (or ever, really). But they might not need to, with Giannis Antetokounmpo dealing with a bad back, other scoring options and a chance to make up a decrease in percentage with volume (more on that later).
What the Heat should be trying to repeat is not necessarily the shot making, but the shot quality. I went back and watched all 25 of Miami’s 3-point attempts in that game. There are a few heat-checks, end-of-shot-clock heaves and other questionable shots of the sort, but less than a handful. Overwhelmingly, these were good, quality looks. You don’t get to 18 catch-and-shoot attempts and 21 open looks if you aren’t executing the key triggers of your offense.
Part of this was the fact that the Bucks prioritized taking away the paint. When Butler and Adebayo got going downhill, two defenders would stay with them, leaving open the kick out for a 3-pointer. The Heat made a bunch of those looks. But re-watch some of those possessions, and it’s also clear those shots didn’t have to be quite so open. Milwaukee’s defenders were slow to react and close out. Maybe they didn’t respect the Heat’s shooters. Maybe a week off blunted their sense of urgency. Whatever the reason, I’d expect the Bucks to close out harder in Game 2.
The other thing that stands out in the film is how great a job Adebayo did with his screen-setting. Teammates discussed it after the game, but it hasn’t gotten that much attention outside the locker room. Adebayo had eight screen assists that led to 20 points — both league-high marks after the opening weekend of the playoffs.
A key part of Milwaukee’s drop defense involves perimeter defenders fighting over screens and chasing shooters off the 3-point line. A great screen makes that much more difficult. Adebayo made a point from the jump to set strong screens and mix up the levels and angles so the Bucks didn’t know when they were coming or where from.
When he’s setting screens and re-screening like this, it makes it nearly impossible for the Bucks shooters to give chase.
The Heat made a lot of shots in this game, but a lot of them were easy. The Bucks will defend better, and the Heat will experience a natural regression.
A key to Miami winning games in this series will be out-scoring the Bucks from 3-point range. They did that with efficiency in Game 1 (out-scoring the Bucks 45-33 from distance), but the Bucks also took 20 more 3-point attempts than the Heat did. That doesn’t mean those were all quality looks for Milwaukee, but that’s still a troubling trend if you’re the Heat.
Going forward, the Heat will need to narrow that gap in attempts. That’s the tough decision when playing Milwaukee’s drop: Take the open mid-range jumper, or keep working the shot clock for an open 3-pointer that might not come?
When the shots are going in like they did in Game 1, the Heat didn’t have to be so selective. But if they get off to a slow start in Game 2 and have to play from behind, finding a way to get up more 3s could become the question that dominates the game.