After two blowout losses, the Miami Heat need to make a change. Haywood Highsmith provided a bright spot in Game 5’s loss and could be the answer.
On a night when Haywood Highsmith may not have expected to play at all, his most impressive moment was midway through the second quarter.
Playing at the top of the Miami Heat’s 2-3 zone, Highsmith cheated toward Jayson Tatum, handling the ball at the top. Tatum saw Highsmith moving in, so he whipped a right-handed pass to Al Horford, positioned across on the left wing. Highsmith saw it coming, even baited Tatum into it, and like a pro-bowl cornerback intercepted the pass with both hands. In one smooth motion, he turned, put his head down and laid it in at the other end. These may have been the easiest points in a game the Heat struggled to generate many such opportunities.
The Heat lost Game 5 to the Boston Celtics, 110-97. What was a 3-0 series is now 3-2, with the pressure having shifted heavily on the Heat who, if they lose this series, would be the first of 150 teams to blow a 3-0 lead in the playoffs. The wrong side of history is looming in the rearview mirror.
Fortunately, they may have stumbled on something to help steady their lineups that have become out-matched in these last two blowout losses. After the Heat dug a 15-point hole in the first quarter, coach Erik Spoelstra turned to Highsmith, who checked in at forward to start the second quarter. He never came off the floor. In his 36 minutes, Highsmith collected 15 points on 6 of 9 shooting (3 of 4 from 3-point range), two rebounds, an assist and two steals. In a game the Heat lost by 13, he was a plus-two.
Highsmith’s impact was an immediate one. He changed the look and feel of Miami’s lineups, especially when playing alongside Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo in place of Kevin Love who, after his initial five-minute stint, did not play again until the game was out of hand in the fourth quarter.
There was this improvised give-and-go with Butler, triggered by Highsmith’s drive against Grant Williams.
He did a nice job playing off Butler’s drives, positioning himself in the strongside corner like PJ Tucker 2.0 (Highsmith models much of his game after Tucker).
There was this canny drive on Tatum, who had been giving Butler fits all night and may not have expected this assertiveness from someone who hadn’t played a minute in this series prior to Thursday night.
He made two of his three corner 3-point attempts against a defense that had abandoned the edges of the court to pack the paint. Those shots were open, and Highsmith made the most of them while his teammates combined to make just one corner 3 all game.
It was apparent going into Thursday’s Game 4 that the Heat needed to make a starting lineup change. Besides starting Kyle Lowry in place of injured Gabe Vincent, they didn’t. Love started at power forward and Cody Zeller remained Adebayo’s backup in the first half. For more on that argument, you can read this article here.
However, Spoelstra may have hinted that change is coming in Game 6 when he elected to start Highsmith over Love in the second half. Love then replaced Zeller as Adebayo’s backup. By then, the Heat already trailed by 17. Highsmith wasn’t going to dig them out of that hole, but there was a lot to like from his impromptu minutes. Spoelstra stopped short of saying the starting lineup change would carry over to Game 6, but he has the same film we do.
“It’s always good when a guy comes in and plays some productive minutes and sees some good things happen,” Spoelstra said. “But we’ll see.”
The Heat have been outscored by 12 points with Love on the court this series but have beaten the Celtics by 17 with Caleb Martin and two points with Highsmith. I thought we’d see Martin starting in Love’s place in Game 5 but Spoelstra has been adamant about bringing Martin off the bench, preferring his production to help steady the second unit and ability to give Butler for a few minutes of rest.
Perhaps Highsmith is a happy medium. Start Highsmith (whose defensive numbers against Tatum in the regular season are encouraging) alongside Lowry (or Vincent, should he return from his ankle injury), Max Strus, Butler and Adebayo. Love can play limited minutes as a backup center while Martin can retain his role as the anchor of the second unit.
What the Heat lacked in energy, speed and versatility, Highsmith can help address. Ahead of a pivotal Game 6 in Miami on Saturday, what the Heat can’t do is nothing at all.