Coup’s Takeaways: HEAT’s Defense Dominates While Duncan Robinson Sets A Record As HEAT Take Decisive Game 1 Victory

1. It’s been a few years since we had real, honest-to-goodness playoff basketball in Miami in front of a packed house. Even though this game wasn’t competitive in the second half with the HEAT leading comfortably by 20, meaning we didn’t get many particularly tense or suspenseful moments, the atmosphere alone was cathartic. This is what we’ve all been waiting for.

As for the game itself, a dominant 115-91 performance, if you think back to last September, once the HEAT’s roster was put together, and remember what you thought this team – full of experienced veterans and defensive talent – would look like once they hit the postseason, this is probably exactly what you thought it would look like. Stifling, suffocated defense – Atlanta’s half-court offense was 84.9 points-per-play – leading a balanced, team-oriented offensive approach (only Jimmy Butler took more than 11 shots) that could hit the highs of efficiency behind a stable of mobile volume shooters. In other words, the HEAT were exactly who we thought they were. We’ll get into some of the details on how they attacked Trae Young on both ends below, but the cliff notes are that a gifted Atlanta attack had few answers with the ball and no answers when Miami was in possession. As good a start to a series as you could possibly have, with Duncan Robinson setting the postseason HEAT record with eight threes (on nine attempts).

One note, however. Back in 2016, Miami beat the Charlotte Hornets by 32 in Game 1 of their first-round series, and followed that up with a 12-point victory in Game 2. Everything was sunshine and rainbows, but that Hornets team had talent and veterans and they responded with three wins in a row to put the HEAT in position of needing a Dwyane Wade takeover on the road in Game 6 to save their season. Atlanta – coming off a play-in game on Friday after the HEAT had a week off – didn’t look good today, but this isn’t a young group that is just going to fold. This series should be more competitive eventually, you just bank wins like this whenever you can.

2. Trae Young is an incredible, and smart, offensive player. There’s no coverage you can throw at him that he won’t figure out eventually – which remains true after this game – but Miami did just about everything you can possibly do to slow him down. On the first possession of the game, Young tried to get Max Strus on the switch, but Miami jammed up the spacing so much that by the time Young had the matchup he wanted there was only five seconds on the shot clock. While the HEAT didn’t outright blitz Young with Young knowing exactly how to handle it – instead they went to their press-zone during Dewayne Dedmon’s minutes, and with Caleb Martin not in the rotation Erik Spoelstra asked Tyler Herro to apply some backcourt pressure and play the top of the zone with Gabe Vincent – they trapped and doubled when the circumstance allowed for it. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for Miami given how they have always played the driving lanes, whenever Young had the ball up top trying to break down his man, the HEAT always had a second or third defender looming in the empty spaces. Oftentimes, there was simply nowhere to go for Young but to go with the pull-up three, and he shot 1-of-9 with four turnovers in the first half. Six of those nine shots were threes. For the game, he finished 1-of-12, just the third time in his career that he failed to make multiple field-goals in a game.

Of course, the defensive star of the show was Bam Adebayo. Just about everything the Hawks did was predicated on trying to deal with Miami’s center as they tried to pull him out of the paint without outright attacking that matchup. Some of the most telling possessions of the game featured Adebayo switched out on Young 30 feet out, neither of them moving at all, while the Hawks tried to attack 4-on-4. That’s a situation the HEAT are probably happy with.

3. The other end of the court was just as much about Young outside of the HEAT shooting 18-of-38 from three and improving to 30-2 this season when hitting at least 40 percent from range. The Hawks are rarely going to switch screens so you can’t just call up Young’s man and easily get the matchup you want. Instead, Spoelstra ran his off-ball offense through Young, bringing him up for pin-downs and back screens and forcing the Hawks to navigate complicated triple-switch situations just to keep Young off an Adebayo or a Jimmy Butler without sacrificing the middle of the floor. Of course, making Young defend a simple screen or a handoff isn’t a bad option either, and The HEAT literally had him running in a circle in the second half when PJ Tucker (4-of-4 from deep) pick-and- popped into the corner.

Miami’s half-court offense wasn’t always their strong suit, but they tend to struggle more against teams who switch with length. Versus Atlanta during the regular season, they scored more efficiently in the half-court than against any other postseason team, and today they were up to 121 per 100 possessions outside of transition. The defense is the known quantity. When they can score in a slower game, which is of course helped by the lights out shooting, they don’t lose very often.

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