With their disappointing Game 5 loss at Madison Square Garden, an old regular season topic has reared its ugly head once more: the Miami Heat’s struggles to hit outside jumpers.
The Heat, 27th in the NBA in 3-point percentage in the regular season, defied all odds in the first round of the playoffs against the Milwaukee Bucks, shooting a blistering 45% from 3 despite losing their best shooter, Tyler Herro, to a fracture in his shooting hand in Game 1.
Unfortunately, it seems the regression fairy has come hunting for Miami as the Heat are shooting just 31.2% from 3 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Against New York on Wednesday, Miami shot 13 of 42, but it was a tale of two halves as Miami was a dreadful 3 of 19 in the first half before going a respectable 10 of 24 in the second half, most of the makes sandwiched between the late-third and mid-fourth quarters with Miami trailing by double-digits.
Per NBA tracking data as shared by the Miami Herald’s Anthony Chiang, the Heat certainly had enough makeable looks (though you can debate the nuances of the tracking data reliability).
After the Heat took a 24-14 lead in the first quarter, the Knicks quickly erased the deficit with a 36-point second quarter while the Heat misfired their way to a 1 of 10 quarter from 3-point range.
It became a true chicken-or-the-egg scenario as you could argue Miami’s poor shooting spearheaded a more uptempo New York attack or that the Heat were unable to push the pace and hunt easier baskets themselves as New York’s made shots and free throws meant they could set their defense.
So what’s specifically happening? Miami’s 3-point shooting woes have largely been on the shoulders of their starting lineup. Max Strus has managed to do his job, going 16 of 42 in the series (38.1%), but two starters, Gabe Vincent and Kevin Love, are, between them, shooting 16 of 64 (25.0%) in the series.
With their two best players being non-shooters in Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler (though Butler was a willing and accurate marksman against the Bucks, a truly nice bonus for the Heat offense, his attempts and makes have plummeted back to his regular season norms), it has resulted in the return of the sludgy offense of November-March that gave even the most ardent supporters of the Heat low expectations heading into the playoffs.
Love had his worst postseason outing in Game 5, going 0 of 7 from 3-point range in just 16 minutes of action. The Knicks have conceded open looks for the historically accurate big man shooter in service of keeping things cluttered in the painted area for Butler and Bam, but Love simply hasn’t made them pay nearly enough.
Jimmy Butler + stretch big lineups are something that have historically worked well for Miami, so these are shots Love just flatly has to make. The Milwaukee series (43.3% from 3) gave hope that his regular season shooting as a member of the Heat (29.7%) was an aberration, but if Love continues to struggle from beyond the arc, Erik Spoelstra may again have to have a short leash with Love.
As for Gabe Vincent, after three consecutive 20-point games (Game 5 Milwaukee; Games 1-2 against New York), his shooting has nosedived, going 5-25 in his last three games (1-12 from 3).
Vincent’s 3-point diet differs from Love in that he takes a mix of catch-and-shoot as well as pull-up and stepback attempts. The miss above is not an easy shot, but it’s one that Gabe has shown he can make from time to time.
When Miami initially leaned on Vincent to get shots up in light of Herro’s absence, the results were mixed but necessary to buoy Miami and offer floor balance. Lately, however, Vincent’s been back on the margins of the offensive gameplan, and it seems to have negatively impacted him.
As a starting point guard in the throes of a postseason run, Vincent has to be able to make more of an impact on the game, especially with his direct matchup, Jalen Brunson, appearing to have solved Vincent’s on-ball pressure (70 points, 18 assists, and 23 free throw attempts in his last two games).
With Game 6 at home, the old adage that “role players perform better at home in the playoffs” will ideally ring true for the Heat. The Knicks appear fully committed sending ample help to Butler and Adebayo, and Butler, who looked physically limited at times Wednesday night, is showing that he’s going to continue to look to pass (19 assists in his last two outings) rather than hijack the offense and try to beat the Knicks by himself.
Perhaps there could be more opportunity for Duncan Robinson, who snapped out of his own mini-slump (5 of 10 on 3s in Game 5), or the Heat just manage to make more of the shots they need to.
They don’t need out-of-this-world shotmaking, but they need to approach Game 6 with the seriousness it deserves and find lineup combinations that can keep the Knicks defense honest in order to advance to the conference finals.