MIAMI -- Down 39-25 and feeling the game slip away at the start of the second quarter, Erik Spoelstra called a timeout.
Spoelstra sat, looking at his players’ faces and waited about 15 seconds before saying a word. The Heat had lost six straight games and were at risk of losing a seventh. The tension was palpable.
The Heat started the second quarter by giving up six straight points to the Phoenix Suns and missing their first three shots. The last one, a contested mid-range jumper that Tyler Herro dribbled into, came before the timeout. That and an inevitable Kevin Durant bucket prompted Spoelstra’s stoppage.
After some intentional silence, Spoelstra started giving directions. He pointed, pounded his clipboard, and handed the huddle off to team captain Bam Adebayo.
It’s unfair to blame Miami’s deficit at the time and, ultimately, its 118-105 loss, on Herro. Little has worked the Heat’s way during this losing streak. Adebayo was 3 for 9 Monday, the bench was out-scored 48-30 and the Suns shot 48.9% as a team. But something was said during that timeout that reminded Herro of what he has to be for this Heat team at this moment.
Shortly after the timeout, Herro had another chance. He came up from the baseline and peeled off an Adebayo screen. Jimmy Butler tossed him the ball and Bradley Beal flew by on a closeout. Rather than dribble north-south into another long 2, Herro took one rhythm bounce and fired a 3-pointer that cut the deficit to eight.
Herro didn’t take another long 2 for the rest of the game. He had taken three straight before Spoelstra’s animated timeout but none after. Everything from that point was a 3-pointer (10 attempts) or in the paint (three).
The Heat made runs, although they never quite threatened a comeback, but there are lessons to take away from the loss.
Terry Rozier finally snapped out of his post-trade shooting slump, Butler scored at least 20 points in consecutive games for the first time since mid-December, and Herro embraced the off-the-ball game that could help finally unlock Miami’s offense.
“Trying to sacrifice how I play to fit the team,” Herro said. “I’m gonna try to be more of a catch-and-shoot guy to fit the offense.”
It’s an admission of something the Heat have needed for a long time, and even more so after the acquisition of Rozier.
Herro is one of the league’s elite shooters off the catch. His 42.1% clip on off-the-catch 3s is tops on the Heat and consistent for his career. Over the years, he has rivaled elite shooters like Klay Thompson and Steph Curry, although on a lesser volume.
The Heat want Herro to turn the nobs more in that direction and away from the over-dribbling and long 2s that can kill their offense.
Nobody is trying to turn Herro into Jason Kapono – his pick-and-roll ball-handling and ability to get a bucket at the end of the shot clock are still important to this team – but taking the easy 3s as they come will help this offense.
With Herro, Butler and Adebayo, the Heat have three players who prefer to push paper in the mid-range. The difference between Herro and the other two Heat stars is that Herro is the only one who is a threat from deep. Adebayo has yet to develop that range, and Butler only takes 3s when he’s wide open and feels like it.
As a result, the Heat lead the league in shots taken from the inefficient mid-range while ranking near the bottom in rim attacks and in the middle of the league in 3-point attempts, per Cleaning The Glass. That formula does not equal efficient offense and is the biggest reason why the Heat rank 22nd in offensive rating.
When Herro says he needs to “fit the team,” this is what he means. If Butler and Adebayo are going to gobble up the available mid-range looks, then Herro has to sustain on 3-pointers and quick decisions. Playing off of Butler and Adebayo will help space the floor and optimize Miami’s shot chart.
This reminds me of something Duncan Robinson told me earlier in the season. Only about 1% of Robinson’s attempts come from the mid-range because he understands Miami’s shot chart already includes enough long 2s and needs him to take shots at the rim and from 3-point range.
“Within this modern NBA, the best teams, the best offenses don’t really shoot them,” Robinson said of mid-range jumpers. “And we have guys that are going to shoot those shots, that’s what they can get to. If we get eight to 12 of those shots a game and can still be a high-functioning offense, the reality is it doesn’t make much sense for me to take three or four of those.”
It sounds like Herro, with some nudging from the coaching staff, might be coming to the same conclusion.
“Sacrifice” can be a lightning rod term, but the best players on the best teams have to do it. Devin Booker has had to give up some of his off-the-bounce craftiness to play with Durant and Bradley Beal in Phoenix. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George get fewer touches playing with James Harden. Jamal Murray has learned to play off Nikola Jokic. Jaylen Brown has to pick his spots on a team with Jayson Tatum.
For the Heat to be one of those teams and snap this losing streak, Butler needs to be a more willing scorer, Adebayo needs to develop more pick-and-roll chemistry with Rozier, and Herro needs to “be more of a catch-and-shoot guy.”
If all the above happens more consistently, it could be the best thing to come out of this losing streak.