The Miami Heat have a chance to close out the New York Knicks on Wednesday. To do so, Gabe Vincent will have to keep making things difficult for Jalen Brunson.
A scan of Monday’s Game 4 box score is all you need to see Jalen Brunson’s 32-point, 11-assist performance. That alone, is impressive.
However, what those numbers don’t show you was how much he had to work to get there. Gabe Vincent making things difficult for Brunson has been one of the main reasons for the Miami Heat’s 3-1 advantage in this series.
When the series started, Vincent was responsible for RJ Barrett and barely guarded Brunson, but that started to change when Butler went down with an injury, and the results were encouraging.
Vincent became Brunson’s main defender and even in a game he only played 22 minutes, like Monday’s, he was still the one that spent the most time with the Knicks’ guard, constantly pressuring him every Knicks possession.
Game 1 was the highest-scoring game with the highest number of attempts in this series for Brunson. In that matchup, Vincent spent only six possessions defending Brunson, while Jimmy Butler took most of the burden.
Games 3 and 4 were the ones Vincent became Brunson’s primary defender, with different approaches but the same end result. In Game 3, Brunson shot almost every time he saw Vincent in front of him, going 3 for 13 from the floor with Vincent as his defender, with only two assists. In Game 4, Brunson shot only four times when guarded by Vincent.
The pressure Vincent is putting on the Knicks point guard is working, making him either take low percentage, contested shots or simply pass it off. Despite Brunson’s 32 points last night, only five came with Vincent guarding him, which attests to the job he’s doing.
Look at how much Brunson has to work to get to his shot. Vincent’s low center of gravity takes away that advantage Brunson has against the majority of NBA players. Vincent can hang with Brunson and maintain his balance through a bevy of wiggles and shot fakes. Here, Vincent takes away the left-side drive, gets a hand up on the shot fake and stays upright to contest the shot.
In the pick-and-roll, Vincent goes over the screen and knows Brunson will look for contact to gain an advantage. So he stays with him on the screen and avoids the contact, which enables him to go contest the shot more quickly than if he had let Brunson put his body into him.
Disciplined yet aggressive. Brunson attacks the baseline and Vincent stays with him, putting just enough contact in at the end of the drive, forcing Brunson to come down before going up and allowing the help of Strus to arrive in time for the block.
Monday’s game brought a different kind of approach, with Vincent pressing full court and Brunson letting go of the ball much quicker. In this instance, Vincent denies the entry pass to Brunson after a score, so Knicks forward Julius Randle brings the ball up court and looks to hand it off to his point guard. Vincent knows this and stays in the passing lane to collect the steal. It ends with a Bam Adebayo putback dunk.
This possession ends in a score for the Knicks, but shows how Vincent changed Brunson’s approach. This is probably a pull-up/floater up until Game 3, but Vincent’s on-ball pressure after the screen turns Brunson into a facilitator. Kevin Love comes to help and Butler is expecting the kick out, so Mitchell Robinson ends up with an easy dunk. Still, Vincent took the Knicks out of their first option and that’s most of the battle.
Again, the level of difficulty for Brunson. This is like most of the shots he took in Game 3, with Vincent avoiding the screen and staying ready for the bump, without putting his hands on the ball. Instead, his hands are up and he’s in an upright position, awaiting a charge if Brunson’s bump is too aggressive. It wasn’t and so he ends up with an off balance shot.
Vincent went from averaging 20.5 points in the first two games to 16.5 in the last two. One could judge that as a drop in production but, more accurately, Vincent’s role in the series has simply changed.
Vincent’s job is to stop the Knicks’ main offensive weapon, even if it means a lack of points at the other end. He’ll be tasked with doing the same in Game 5 on Wednesday as the Heat look to advance to the Eastern Conference finals.