Tyler Herro leveled up in Miami Heat's Game 2 win over Celtics

Tyler Herro led the Miami Heat not with his scoring, but with his playmaking in their shocking Game 2 win over the Boston Celtics.
Miami Heat v Boston Celtics
Miami Heat v Boston Celtics / Winslow Townson/GettyImages

The Miami Heat needed more from Tyler Herro. After a blowout loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 1 and facing the team with the league’s best record, top-rated offense and second-best defense, perhaps they were demanding too much.

Still, with Jimmy Butler and Terry Rozier still sidelined and facing longshot odds, Herro delivered.

But it wasn’t just the scoring (even though the Heat needed the scoring. Twenty-four points on 13 shots, including an efficient 6 for 11 on 3s). More important was the playmaking and composure to be the leader of an offense in need of an identity.

“That's the best playmaking you've ever done,” Erik Spoelstra told Herro in the locker room after the game. Herro finished Miami’s 111-101 Game 2 win with 14 assists. 

Miami’s game plan in Game 1 didn’t work. They scrapped it and started over. Instead of trying to drag the game into the mud, they bought it an airline ticket and let it fly.

They shot more 3s, making a franchise playoff-high 23 of 43. After the Celtics out-scored the Heat by 30 from beyond the arc in Game 1, the Heat turned around and did the same in Game 2. They took more shots early in the shotclock, and Herro created open looks by masterfully operating through the pick-and-roll with Bam Adebayo. Over and over, Herro forced the defense to rotate and kicked the ball out to the open shooter.

Here’s Herro’s first assist of the game. A drive and kick to Nikola Jovic in the occupied corner. Herro gets the dribble handoff, comes around Adebayo’s screen, brings Jovic’s defender, Jaylen Brown, in with a jump stop and spoon-feeds Jovic an open corner 3-pointer.

The Heat moved with purpose. They flew around the arc, made the simple pass and took shots quickly. What is usually a methodical offense kept things extraordinarily simple. Boston’s defense was unusually slow to react but, after Miami’s sluggish Game 1, they might not have expected this level of pop.

Herro held onto the ball for an extra beat or two when he needed to get a defender to bite. When he did, he got the ball to the closest shooter. Here, Herro comes off a screen, Bam Adebayo screens off his chasing defender and Herro holds the ball to force Brown to jump out to him. As soon as Brown lunges, Herro makes the easy pass. Like Jovic, Martin was spoon-fed open looks. He made five of his six attempts from distance.

When the simple pass wasn’t there, and Herro had to dribble more, he did. Herro can be accused of over-dribbling at times, and it’s a fair criticism because it usually leads to contested mid-range jumpers. When Herro handled the ball on Wednesday, it was to search for pressure points in Boston’s defense.

After the Celtics cut the lead to six with just more than 3 minutes left, Spoelstra called a timeout and dialed up a five-out set with Herro and Bam running a side pick-and-roll. With the Celtics loading up on one side, Herro had two receivers on the weak side, where Boston had just one defender. 

This pass looks easy, but it’s the timing that makes it sing. Wait too long, and Brown will have a chance to close out on Martin while another defender rotates over (you can see Kristaps Porzingis rushing over to Jaime Jaquez Jr. in the corner). 

Credit to Martin for letting this one go, even with Brown giving a decent closeout. The Heat too often pass out of these “good” shots searching for a “great” one that never comes. If Martin had passed to Jaquez in the corner, maybe Porzingis gets there. We know what happens next: Jaquez attacks that closeout, drives into a defense that sees him coming and the Heat are heaving something up at the end of the shot clock. Heat fans can picture it because they’ve seen it so many times this season.

If there’s a takeaway from Game 2, it’s that they have to keep taking those good shots. Great shots are too hard to come by against this opponent in the playoffs. Too often in Game 1, the Heat hesitated and ended up taking a worse shot. 

The Heat probably won’t shoot over 50% from 3 again, but the shot profile in this game at least gives them a chance to compete in this series. The math in Game 1 was upside-down. Too many mid-range shots compared to a Celtics team that led the league in 3-point attempts. 

There’s a time and place for tough shots. When the Celtics cut into the lead and the Heat needed a bucket at the end of Game 2, Adebayo hit a falling-away jumper and Herro made a tough driving floater over Kristaps Porzingis. Teams need to make tough shots to win playoff games, but they can’t all be tough shots.

In Game 3 on Saturday, the Celtics will clean up some things on defense. Their defenders will be better about hugging Miami’s shooters and not over-rotating. Porzingis probably won’t shoot 1 for 9 again. The Heat might not be able to get up as many 3s, nor make as many. The Heat were out-scored in the paint (46-26), on second-chance points (8-0) and on fastbreak points (15-7). They need to clean that up.

Game 2 won’t happen again but the Heat, led by Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo, found a template for how they want to play against these Celtics. The series changed on Wednesday night.