As he finished a thought about the Miami Heat’s epic comeback win in Game 4 to secure a 3-1 lead in the series Monday night, head coach Erik Spoelstra banged the table with an open palm four times.
KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK.
The table wasn’t made of wood, but Spoelstra had to settle.
“The series is still going,” Spoelstra warned, “and we have great respect for the championship DNA that that group has, and we know that they are going to gear up and be ready [for Game 6 on Wednesday.]”
Message received. The Heat still have work to do to close out this series and advance to the second round. A 3-1 lead might appear comfortable at first glance, but this is far from over. You can bet Giannis Antetokounmpo won’t be dispatched quietly. If the top-seeded Bucks can win Wednesday’s game in Milwaukee, they’re looking at a potential Game 7 at home.
To a man, every Heat player who spoke after the game echoed Spoelstra’s message.
“The job’s not done,” Jimmy Butler said after his epic 56-point performance. “We got one more to get.”
Overshadowed by Butler’s 19-point finishing run in the final 6 minutes was the importance of Caleb Martin. Over that same span, Martin chipped in seven points, three rebounds and a steal. His offensive rebound off Butler’s missed 3-pointer and ensuing jumper that cut the deficit to one with 3:29 remaining was nearly as big as any sequence of the game.
“Caleb, you can’t say enough about him,” Spoelstra said.
Martin is leading all players in the postseason in on-off differential — the difference between how a team performs when a player is on the court versus when that same player is off the court.
While the raw numbers and company Martin is keeping on that list is outrageous, it does follow a trend from the regular season, when most of the Heat’s best lineups featured Martin as one of the five-men grouping.
As the Heat have toggled through different starters that lean either offense or defense, shooting or size, Martin is the best compromise. He’s not a movement shooter like Max Strus or Duncan Robinson, but he’s a reliable 3-point shooter when open. Though he’s listed at 6-foot-5, he plays bigger and stronger than his size. Defensively, he’s practiced at fronting bigger post players and creating turnovers.
Spoelstra has been reluctant to move Martin back into the starting lineup since the All-Star break, preferring instead that one of him or Butler — the Heat’s best two wing defenders — is on the court at all times. But Martin closes games and plays in the moments of most leverage. His importance to the Heat, and in this series, cannot be overstated. The Heat will need another all-around impactful game from him Wednesday.
In terms of what is sustainable and what isn’t, the Heat’s 3-point shooting definitely is not. The Heat are shooting 47.6% from 3-point range in this series, up from their 34.4% clip in the regular season. Almost all of their players are getting blazing hot at the same time.
Despite what the numbers may suggest, the Heat haven’t generated very good looks against Milwaukee’s sturdy defense. Here’s more from The Ringer’s Zach Kram:
"Their shot quality—based on factors like shot location, defender distance, and shooter identity—is actually worse than it was in the regular season, according to Second Spectrum, and is the second-worst for any playoff team.But the Heat have outperformed their expected effective field goal percentage by a gobsmacking 10.5 percentage points thus far against Milwaukee. For context, the second-largest over-performer this postseason is Boston, at plus-3.1 percentage points. The largest over-performer for any team in any series since the bubble was the Clippers against the Jazz in 2021, at plus-5.2 percentage points, or only half as large as the Heat’s gap now."
Butler’s revved up scoring, Martin’s effort, Spoelstra’s coaching — these things are sustainable. The shooting most certainly isn’t. The Heat are due for a regression. When that regression sets in is anyone’s guess.
But up 3-1, the Heat don’t need sustainability. They just need one more great shooting game. A Max Strus or Duncan Robinson avalanche, another Butler classic, a Bam Adebayo eruption. All these things could be enough for the Heat to get one of the next three and complete an upset that would shift the landscape of the NBA playoffs.