Erik Spoelstra has the Miami Heat playing with extreme confidence
After a sensational fourth quarter, in which the Miami Heat outscored the Milwaukee Bucks by 27 points, Erik Spoelstra has his squad playing at an unprecedented level as they’re now up 3-0 on the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and just one game away from the Heat’s first Eastern Conference Finals appearance since 2014.
For a team that many believed would be a first-round playoff exit team before the season, you can’t help but feel astonishment for what the Heat have been able to do through their first seven games in the postseason.
Against the Indiana Pacers, perhaps it was expected. The Pacers limped into the playoffs and were a shell of their regular-season selves. They were swept by the Heat, but many saw that result coming as soon as it was announced that Domantas Sabonis would miss the playoffs.
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Against the historically great Bucks, however, no one saw THIS coming. The Heat was somewhat the trendy pick before the series, but many jumped to pick the Heat in six or seven. I don’t believe anyone, with a straight face, was picking the Heat to win the first three games of this series.
So, what has changed for the Heat and Bucks?
On one hand, it’s easy to place the blame on Mike Budenholzer. He’s an easy target. For a coach that has a reputation of not really making big adjustments from the regular season to the playoffs, he’s an easy scapegoat. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton are still playing minutes like it’s the regular season and the Bucks haven’t changed much of their offensive game plan.
If the Bucks go on to lose this series, it’s likely that Budenholzer will take the fall.
However, there’s much more happening in this series than just Budenholzer not making adjustments or playing his stars enough minutes.
On the other end of the sideline, Erik Spoelstra is, once again, showing why he’s one of the best coaches in the NBA. In this series alone, he’s put his team in a position to win a myriad of ways against the Bucks. In Game 1, it was Jimmy Butler carrying the Heat in the fourth quarter. In Game 2, the Heat looked a little like themselves by getting contributions by many – seven players scoring in double-figures.
Then there was Game 3, where Jimmy outscored the Bucks single-handedly in the fourth quarter as they outscored the Bucks by 27 in the quarter alone. Schematically, Spoelstra has been ready for nearly everything Budenholzer and the Bucks have thrown at them.
Even when Budenholzer seemed to succumb to public pressure in Game 3 and Giannis guarded Jimmy late in the fourth quarter, Spo made the simple adjustment to put Giannis in the pick-and-roll, leaving no weakside help as Jimmy wreaked havoc on the Bucks defense to clinch the game.
By the end of Game 3, Budeholzer and the Bucks looked like a team that had utilized all its ammunition through the first three quarters and were left dazed and confused by what was transpiring in the fourth.
Defensively, Spoelstra has done a great job in limiting Giannis and the Bucks by creating a wall in the paint defensively and is forcing anyone not named Giannis to beat them. It’s worked thus far. What has luxurious for Spoelstra as well is the fact that he hasn’t even had to use Jimmy or Bam Adebayo exclusively on Giannis thus far.
Instead, he’s used Jae Crowder, Andre Iguodala, Derrick Jones Jr. to take the Giannis assignment when they’re on the floor. While none of those players who be considered Giannis stoppers by any means, they’ve helped the Heat keep Jimmy and Bam fresh and help maintain the rest of the defensive integrity.
The Miami Heat might not be the better team, but they’re playing like it right now. Erik Spoelstra can’t seem to do anything wrong and the Heat players simply aren’t afraid the Milwaukee Bucks. That mindset starts at the top, with it gaining traction with every step of the way. Sitting with a 3-0 series lead, the Heat can smell blood. Can they finish the job?