Jimmy Butler dominates, starting lineup change and more observations from the Heat’s Game 3 win over the Bucks

Apr 22, 2023; Miami, Florida, USA; Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler (22) drives to the basket against Milwaukee Bucks guard Jrue Holiday (21) in the first quarter during game three of the 2023 NBA Playoffs at Kaseya Center. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 22, 2023; Miami, Florida, USA; Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler (22) drives to the basket against Milwaukee Bucks guard Jrue Holiday (21) in the first quarter during game three of the 2023 NBA Playoffs at Kaseya Center. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports /

Five observations from the Miami Heat’s 121-99 win over the Milwaukee Bucks, giving them a 2-1 lead in the series.

The Heat got the shots they wanted

A lot of the attention will be on the 48.5% the Heat shot from 3-point range, but coaches will tell you to focus less on the result and more on the process. That the Heat got up 33 3-point attempts in the game (and would have likely taken more if not for so much garbage time) is almost as important as how many they made.

Through the first two games, the Heat averaged about 30 3-point attempts a game. That isn’t nearly enough, especially against a Bucks team that does a good job generating 3s and averaged 47 attempts from beyond the arc in the first two games. That math, regardless of make rate, doesn’t favor the Heat. But on Saturday Miami got up more attempts and converted at a higher rate. That math, obviously, does favor the Heat.

Getting up more 3s was a focus for the team coming into Game 3. Against Milwaukee’s drop coverage, it can be tempting to amble your way into open midrange jumpers. It takes discipline and effort to pass up the low-hanging fruit for the good stuff at the rim and beyond the arc.

“They take the easy ones away but you got to be persistent to find openings,” said Duncan Robinson, who had 20 points and shot 5 for 6 on 3-pointers.

They did it in a variety of ways — dribble handoffs to Robinson, drives and kicks, pick and pops, drag screens, etc. — but the key was that they mixed it up.

“We’ve been one of the top three point shooting teams since the All-Star break, and we’re getting it in a lot of different ways,” coach Erik Spoelstra said.

Here’s how the Heat’s shot distribution ended up:

  • Rim: 14/20
  • Short midrange: 11/19
  • Long midrange: 4/12
  • 3-pointers: 16/33

Even though this is the second time the Heat shot about 60% from 3-point range in this series, they can’t count on that kind of efficiency going forward. What they can do, though, is try to carry out this process for the next however-many games.

Jimmy Butler was dominant

The most important stretch of the game started with 4:38 in the first quarter. Khris Middleton has just made a 3-pointer and pair of free throws and Lopez a turnaround hook shot to lead a 7-2 Milwaukee run. The Heat trailed 21-15, but then Butler scored 12 straight points, starting with a driving dunk and featuring a pair of 3-pointers to manufacture a one-man, 12-0 run and guiding the Heat to a 29-21 lead after the first quarter. They did not trail the rest of the game.

Although he uncharacteristically went 4 of 4 on 3-pointers, Butler inflicted the most pain in the paint. Despite Jrue Holiday being in his jersey, he powered his way into post-ups, push-shots and dunks. Sometimes he worked to attack Lopez and others on switches, but other times he just used his size and strength to shoot over Holiday — who players recently named in a survey as the best defender in the NBA.

Butler had 30 points on 12 of 19 shooting in 28 minutes before he injured his backside on a hard fall in the third quarter. He briefly went to the locker room but returned to the Heat bench soon after. With the Heat up by double-digits, he did not re-enter the game.

“We pushed the lead to 20. I was going to insert him back into the game if it broke 15,” Spoelstra said.

Kevin Love gave the Heat’s starting lineup what it needed

After giving up 52 paint points in Game 2’s blowout loss, Spoelstra made the decision to upgrade the size of the starting lineup by swapping Duncan Robinson out for Kevin Love, who started alongside Gabe Vincent, Max Strus, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo.

By going bigger, the Heat had a credible matchup for Brook Lopez, who dominated the Heat in the paint and on the boards in Game 2.

Love started the game on Lopez and the impact was immediate. Lopez in the last game was an easy target for the Bucks offense, but with Love on him it took away an obvious release valve. Love understood the assignment. He denied Lopez early post position, boxed him out and, when Miami was on offense, stretched the floor to take Lopez away from the rim. The Heat outscored the Bucks 46-36 in the paint.

Safe to say Love has secured the starting job for the rest of the series.

The rotation domino effect

With Love in the starting lineup, Robinson went back down to the second unit. Caleb Martin was the first player off the bench, when he checked in for Adebayo midway through the first quarter (sliding Love over to center). Kyle Lowry subbed in soon after for Gabe Vincent, then Robinson came in for Strus. Without Herro, Spoelstra made sure one of Robinson or Strus was on the court at all times for spacing reasons. Robinson (5 of 6) and Strus (2 of 4) combined to go 7 for 10 from 3-point range.

In a bit of a surprise move, Spoelstra went to a 10-man rotation and had Victor Oladipo sub in for Jimmy Butler for a stretch spanning the last few seconds of the first quarter and into the second quarter.

Cody Zeller saw minutes in the second half, with the Heat’s lead up to double-digits. Oladipo made an impact in his 19 minutes, pressuring ball-handlers and scoring eight points. But Oladipo left the game after appearing to injure his left knee on a layup. A stretcher came out, but Oladipo walked off with the help of Spoelstra and teammates providing words of support.

Giannis Antetokounmpo’s injury status

Giannis did not play for the second straight game because of a lower back contusion he suffered early in Game 1. He’s played just 11 minutes in this series, and there’s no indication if he’ll be available for Game 4 on Monday.

It’s believed to be a pain tolerance issue for Antetokounmpo, who injured his lower back when he landed hard on his backside eight minutes into Game 1. He was listed as questionable before Game 3.

“I think we’ll continue to monitor him through the day tomorrow, through the day the next day,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “These things, I don’t think it’s always just this linear thing and he’s not in a place that he can go. So, we’ll just continue to monitor him, work with him and hope for the best.”

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