'Brothers' Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo put the Heat's future on display in Game 1 win over 76ers
How the Heat turned the tables on the 76ers in Monday night's win.
The defining play of the Heat’s Game 1 win over the 76ers Monday ended with Tyler Herro darting a pass to Bam Adebayo and Adebayo getting an easy layup at the basket.
The play capped a 23-11 run by the Heat that bridged the third and fourth quarters and extended the lead to 16 after a tightly contested first half resulted in the 76ers taking a one-point advantage into halftime. After Herro’s connection with Adebayo with 6:50 remaining, the Heat lead ballooned to 21 as they cruised to a 106-92 win to go up 1-0 in the Eastern Conference semi-finals.
One can haggle about the weightiness of beating a 76ers team without MVP-candidate Joel Embiid, who is out indefinitely with a right orbital fracture, but it’s notable that the Heat turned to Herro and Adebayo when in need of a jolt. Not only did the two deliver, but they also offered a glimpse into Miami’s future.
“They’re our young guns,” coach Erik Spoelstra said after the game.
The Heat were without Kyle Lowry, who is dealing with a hamstring issue, and Jimmy Butler was clearly still bothered by knee inflammation that kept him out of the first round’s finale against the Hawks. Without their top two playmakers at full strength, the Heat in the first half struggled to generate offense and punch a hole in Philadelphia’s zone defense. By the time they were down 51-50 at halftime, the Heat were shooting just 42.2% overall and had coughed up 10 turnovers.
Meanwhile, the 76ers found early success by attacking Herro on defense. Play after play, they called up Herro’s man to set a screen, got the switch and shot over him. Even though Herro scored 12 needed points in the first half, the Heat were outscored by four in his 12 minutes.
This was always going to be a key battleground of this series. Philadelphia’s steady drumbeat of picking on Herro in the first half was reminiscent of Tobias Harris repeatedly attacking Herro in crunch time of Miami’s seven-point loss to the 76ers in March. Spoelstra knew this would be the game plan again, especially with Embiid out and James Harden running the show.
In order to eliminate another defensive soft spot, Spoelstra replaced Duncan Robinson in the rotation with Victor Oladipo. While Robinson’s 3-point shooting was missed as his teammates shot 9 for 36 (25%) from distance, Spoelstra clearly prioritized Oladipo’s reliable defense and ball-handling. Despite the poor shooting, the Heat cruised to a win so Spoelstra did not have to reconsider his decision to bench Robinson. But if Miami struggles again to make 3s in this series and the game is close down the stretch, this could be something to monitor.
“It literally can change next game,” Spoelstra said about Miami’s lineups.
Herro’s shooting, ball-handling and playmaking, however, is far too important to Miami’s offense to excise him from the rotation — especially with Lowry out and Butler limited. So even after Philadelphia took a one-point lead, the Heat stuck with Herro. Then everything shifted in the second half.
The Heat came out of the locker room having decided to tilt the offense further in Herro’s direction.
Soon after Herro made his usual check-in midway through the third with the Heat leading by four, Adebayo set a screen on the right side of the floor, Herro and Adebayo dove into the paint and, with the Sixers defense crashing, Herro flung a right-handed pass to Gabe Vincent on the left wing, who drove and finished with a layup. Herro quickly followed that up with a step-back jumper and a 3-pointer, and suddenly the Heat led by 10.
Over the next 12 minutes, the Heat went to the Herro-Adebayo pick-and-roll to generate most of their offense until 76ers coach Doc Rivers threw in the towel and subbed in his bench with his team down 20 with 4:40 to go.
The fact that two of Adebayo’s four assists were to Herro, and two of Herro’s team-high seven assists were to Adebayo, is impressive and still doesn’t show how much offense was created by their two-man game. Adebayo finished with 24 points on 8 for 10 shooting, and Herro had 25 points on 9 for 17 shooting.
“They really complement each other well and they’ve gained a lot of confidence in their two-man actions,” Spoelstra said. “We needed that in the second half.”
Miami’s pick-and-roll success and Embiid’s indefinite return revealed a glaring weakness for Philadelphia: DeAndre Jordan. Just as the Sixers hunted Herro, the Heat hunted Jordan. As The Ringer’s Dan Devine pointed out, the Heat abused Jordan by making him defend in space and outscored the Sixers by 22 during Jordan’s 17 minutes.
The Heat went at Jordan 13 times in the pick-and-roll in Game 1, according to Second Spectrum; they scored 1.62 points per possession on those plays. The best offense in the NBA during the regular season averaged just under 1.18 points per possession, so that is, um, not great.
The 76ers entered the game set on hunting Herro but, by the time the night was over, the Heat had turned the table.
This is not just important for this series, but for the Heat’s future. On a team with three of its starters age 32 or older (Butler, Lowry and P.J. Tucker) and most supporting roles filled by undrafted players with inherent ceilings, Herro (22) and Adebayo (24) are the youngest players in the night-to-night rotation. The fact that the two lottery picks are developing chemistry bodes well for the future of the franchise.
Adebayo helps clean up some of Herro’s defensive limitations, and Herro’s aggressive approach on offense meshes well with Adebayo’s instinct to get teammates involved.
“We’re like brothers,” Adebayo said.
Added Herro: “We found a pretty good connection.”
The longterm success of that connection will be predicated on a simple math problem: Can Herro and Adebayo score more points than they give up?
During last season’s first-round loss to the Bucks, the Heat were on the wrong end of this math problem as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton attacked Herro and Miami’s other weaker defenders en route to a sweep while Adebayo struggled to make an imprint on the series.
Since then, Herro has gotten stronger on defense and more resourceful on offense, while Adebayo has tapped into his offensive aggression. As both players continue to get better, the math will nudge more and more in favor of the Heat.
As Herro said after the game, their chemistry started to really develop when Lowry and Butler missed time in the regular season. With both Herro and Adebayo at center stage again, Game 1 hinted that this partnership can work in the playoffs. It isn’t exactly proof of concept because of Embiid’s absence, but there’s a lot to like.
“We both want to see each other succeed,” Adebayo said. “At the end of the day, [if] we win, everybody plays good, we go home, we’re all happy.”
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