Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and the Miami Heat entered Monday evening’s tilt with the opportunity to close out the Indiana Pacers and begin preparing for a likely second round match-up against the Milwaukee Bucks. While the Pacers competed admirably in Game 4, Erik Spoelstra’s team managed to emerge victorious with a 99-87 victory, leading most of the way despite the fact that Butler missed a significant portion of the game with a left shoulder strain — and when he did play in the second half, he was not offering much in the way of scoring help.
With Indiana heading home from the NBA’s Bubble and Miami becoming the third Eastern Conference team to advance to the semis, both teams are looking to the future, albeit in different respects. To that end, here are three takeaways from Game 4 and the series overall.
1. Miami is in for a larger challenge defensively in the semis
With all due respect to the Orlando Magic, the Heat are likely going to meet the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round, and that is a different beast entirely. Not only does Miami have to contend with the MVP front-runner in Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the Bucks deploy a far more potent overall formula for shot creation than that of the Pacers.
On the bright side for Miami, Bam Adebayo is perhaps the best defensive archetype imaginable against Antetokounmpo. The Heat relied on Adebayo as the starting power forward for much of the season but, as the seeding games arrived, Miami shifted to a smaller look, allowing Adebayo to show off his combination of rim protection, athleticism and instincts. Against the Bucks, the Heat may need to go bigger with more of Kelly Olynyk (or even Meyers Leonard), simply to match Milwaukee’s bulk with Brook Lopez and Antetokounmpo. Overall, though, a steady diet of Adebayo vs. Antetokounmpo is in the offing, and that is must-see TV for everyone.
When the Heat are dialed in as they were at times against the Pacers, the defensive results are truly impressive. Spoelstra is a tremendous tactician, Adebayo and Butler are star-level players that also defend, and Miami has versatile, strong forwards in Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder. Lineup construction will be interesting with regard to Miami’s approach, whether that is to try to out-pace Milwaukee with an offensive barrage or slow the game down with a defense-first look. Regardless, the Heat are going to be dealing with a much more explosive opponent in the next round, and their response will be telling.
2. This isn’t a failure for the Pacers
Being swept isn’t an ideal outcome for any playoff team, much less a Pacers squad that finished the regular season on a 50-win pace. However, Indiana navigated its entire postseason run without Domantas Sabonis and, in the regular season, he was the team’s most valuable player. From there, Malcolm Brogdon and T.J. Warren were very good in Orlando, but the Pacers didn’t get much from Victor Oladipo before a resurgence in Game 4 and, on the whole, the Heat were simply the better team in this series.
That isn’t damning for the Pacers long-term, however, with the team’s entire core under contract for next season and, provided health for Sabonis and Oladipo, seemingly poised for additional improvement. Indiana does have a massive decision to make with regard to Oladipo, who is up for a potential extension but struggling to find his old, star-level form. Warren’s ascent certainly helps matters and, before the injury, Sabonis was playing at an obscenely high level on the way to an All-Star selection.
Indiana isn’t likely to enter the 2020-21 season as a favorite in the East, but they return a strong roster with the ability to add by using the mid-level exception. The Pacers could look to (finally) break up the Sabonis-Myles Turner duo in the frontcourt, but Oladipo might hold the keys to Indiana’s true ceiling and, if he can find it again, Nate McMillan’s team could be even better next year.
3. The Heat have the shooting to threaten the Bucks
To put it bluntly, the Bucks were the best defensive team in the NBA during the regular season and Mike Budenholzer’s defensive style works when accounting for the larger sample size of a marathon campaign. In the postseason, though, Budenholzer’s teams in both Atlanta and Milwaukee have been vulnerable to three-point shooting, and that is the widely accepted (potential) kryptonite for the Bucks this time around.
While Milwaukee will rightly enter a second-round battle against the Heat as a substantial betting favorite to advance, the Heat have the kind of operation that could threaten the Bucks’ potent defense. Butler is a potent No. 1 option, both in creating for himself and others, and Adebayo is a versatile, multi-level player that can help to maintain Miami’s spacing as a high-end passer and play finisher.
Your All-star point-center is cooking early tonight pic.twitter.com/v4pdoU610W
— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) August 24, 2020
From there, the Heat have a bevy of shooters, headlined by Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro, and Miami finished the regular season with a league-leading 58.7 percent true shooting. That overall shooting efficiency was buoyed by top-level three-point shooting that also persisted in the Pacers series, and the Heat will put pressure on Milwaukee’s defense with spacing.
It is fair to point out that, while Butler is a great player, he isn’t the off-dribble shooter that other top-end options are and, by proxy, the Bucks could have more success against him as a scorer. That is accurate, but Robinson is on another planet as a shooter right now and, if Miami can get top-shelf play from Dragic and a bit of hot shooting, they can pose the Bucks a real threat in round two.