The Heat Showcased #TheKids Against the Warriors and It Was Almost Perfect
Commentary // 8 months ago
By: Rob Slater
There are plenty of legitimate reasons to be entirely turned off by this season of Miami Heat basketball, many of which have been well-documented recently. Plenty of reasons to feel frustrated, hopeless and flat out bored. But what happened last night on the biggest regular season stage in the league provided a momentary glimmer of hope and reason for optimism.
For a night, the future of the Miami Heat stood tall against arguably the greatest collection of talent this league has ever seen. And they almost pulled it off.
Down the stretch against the Golden State Warriors, it was #TheKids who traded haymakers with Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. Starting with a Bam Adebayo lob with 9:31 to go in the fourth quarter, the Heat’s young three (Josh Richardson, Adebayo, Justise Winslow) scored or assisted on the team’s final 29 points in the most moral-y moral victory ever.
It was a loss, one that dropped the Heat out of the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. But anyone with the pulse of this team shouldn’t be thinking in those terms.
If the Heat finish the season sub-.500, miss the playoffs but turn the youth loose and allow them to develop the calluses that come with late game experience against the champions, the future of the franchise will be better for it.
For all of the aimlessness of this season, just maybe we’ve found our theme for the final stretch outside of Dwayne Wade’s finale. In fact, could there be a more fitting ending to Wade’s career than quite literally handing the franchise off to three established players?
Let’s dive into some key plays from the final stretch, including a few featuring Mr. Wade.
1. Wadebayo Strikes Thrice
The Golden State Warriors are extremely low on weaknesses, and the only one that could qualify as such is the rust still on DeMarcus Cousins as he works his way back from an achilles injury. Eric Spoelstra wisely attacked the big man late in the game by sending a flurry of activity right at him, testing his defensive decision making.
The switch was flipped at a crucial time in the fourth quarter as Thompson started to find his footing en route to 29 points. The result: three lobs to Bam Adebayo from Wade in the span of three minutes to keep the Heat afloat.
It shouldn’t be missed that these are sets designed to get Adebayo free and to the rim. It’s a really interesting wrinkle by Spoelstra to get one of his best available athletes (come back soon, DJJ) in space going towards the rim.
The first one (above) is just Spain with Cousins as the focal point. Adebayo slips, Wade attacks Boogie and there is poor communication on the back end that frees up the lob.
About ninety seconds later, the Heat would get another one.
Wade diagnoses the play pretty early and again forces Cousins to choose. Thompson is correctly shading Wade towards Draymond Green and Cousins, but Boogie gets caught up in the Adebayo-Dion Waiters action causing him to lose depth. What’s left is a very simple two-on-one once Wade dispatches Thompson. Even though Green is in the picture, he isn’t able to really impact the play with Adebayo on the other side.
And this is the crown jewel. This is a glimpse into Adebayo’s potential. He is going to the rim the entire time. He knows Durant is closing hard on Waiters and that Winslow will occupy Green in the corner. If Kevon Looney even thinks about going over the screen, Adebayo is gone. This is a great read and a really great pass from the old man.
2. The Greatest Shot-Blocking Guard Ever
These last 20-something games will provide us with lasting Wade moments, so I recommend you cherish them. This might be the best one of the year and came at a time where it felt like no one in the gym could do anything to bother Durant.
Give Richardson some credit here for at least making it somewhat difficult on him, but the timing by Wade is just masterful. If you didn’t jump up out of sheer amazement when this happened, I don’t know what’s wrong with you.
Also, it’s important to note the discipline by Winslow to not over-help off of Steph. Pro-Tip: Never. Help. Off. Steph. Ever.
3. Richardson Swipes Steph
Richardson’s defense on Curry shouldn’t be glossed over. In 33 possessions matched up against the greatest shooter ever, Richardson held him to just three points on 1-of-4 shooting.
Length has always bothered Curry and Richardson definitely used it last night, including what appeared to be a game-sealing steal and dunk off an inbounds play with just under a minute left.
4. How Did Kevin Durant Get That F&$#!%$ Open?
Just when you thought the Heat had finally broken the Warriors, they go to a pet play: The Green/Durant dribble handoff.
Now, it’s easy to break this down frame by frame but the reality is the Warriors can run this in their sleep. The spacing is perfect and both players have such a good feel for how to execute it and how to adapt based on the defense.
It’s important to remember that the Heat are up three here, so an easy dunk from Green doesn’t hurt you as much as a game-tying three. It looks like Winslow and Wade were supposed to switch, or at least it looked like they should’ve as Winslow got clipped by Green.
Instead of closing on Durant, Wade stunts out briefly to force the stepback before retreating to cover the rolling Green. Unfortunately, when the two-time Finals MVP has a chance to get his feet set in rhythm, everyone is already dead.
Here’s an image to show how suboptimal this possession was for Miami.
5. The Final Play
In the end, after all the theatrics (and the double dribble), the Heat still had a chance to tie or win the game. In this case, going for the win feels like the better play and they did just that.
There are competing actions here and this set should look very familiar for late game situations. The Heat have run a number of variations off of this in the past to varying levels of success.
First Richardson fakes the quick lob, then Adebayo goes to screen for Waiters who works to the top as a safety valve. Richardson, sitting at a career-high 37 points, is clearly the first option here as Adebayo looks to set him free for a three or a simple jumper for the tie.
Durant does a good job of blowing up the play by pushing Adebayo further towards the baseline, clogging the space. You could argue he had him in a bearhug but don’t go looking for that call in this situation. Richardson is wiped out, forcing Winslow to go to Waiters.
The bottom line is these are the types of games where you want your young guys to shine. The Heat were on the other side of this game plenty of times during the LeBron James era, including an epic game against these same Warriors (for the most part).
Again, this season has been largely forgettable and frustrating, but if every game features Richardson, Winslow and Adebayo running the show down the stretch? Sign me up.