They absolutely popped during their 121-114 win over the Los
Angeles Clippers on Friday night. I was in awe watching them toggle
between multiple coverages depending on the situation. Shot clock.
The players involved in the action. The location of the
It was poetry in motion.
You don't tap into this type of versatility without a strong
foundation. The Heat have that thanks to their All-Star duo of
Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. Add in PJ Tucker, and you have the
NBA's best defensive trio.
You can argue for others. Golden State with Gary Payton II,
Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green; Cleveland with Jarrett Allen,
Evan Mobley and Isaac Okoro; Toronto with Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby
and Pascal Siakam; Philly with Joel Embiid, Matisse Thybulle and
Be- ... ah, well, nevermind.
But Butler, Tucker and Adebayo? That blend of off-ball
excellence, on-ball chops, screen navigation and the ability to
punch above their weight against larger matchups? They're top-two,
and I don't think they're two.
On the season, the Heat are allowing an absurd 88.1 points per
100 halfcourt plays with their versatile trio on the floor — a mark
that ranks in the 90th percentile league-wide per Cleaning The
Glass. When attacking the Heat in ball screens with the
Butler/Tucker/Adebayo trio on the floor, opposing offenses are
generating just 0.86 points per possession, per Second
In short: you're just not scoring at a high clip, if at all,
with those three roaming around.
The Heat put on a defensive clinic in the first quarter of that
game, posting a 73.1 defensive rating in the opening frame. A lot of
that was their trio closing gaps quickly, or not allowing them to
be pried open in the first place.
Let's take a look at three plays from that quarter to highlight
how special these guys are.
9:15 — GETTING OUT OF TROUBLE
Great defense isn't a filthy steal or a blocked shot sent into
the 15th row, though they're obviously valuable (and super cool to
watch). More than anything, great defense is the absence of
something happening. You know what's better than a blocked shot? A
shot that doesn't come.
Below, the Clippers flow into "Chicago" action — a pindown that
leads into a dribble handoff. Reggie Jackson washes Duncan Robinson
out with a great screen, but Adebayo and Tucker are able to switch
and keep things in front.
The problem, though, is that Robinson is defending Ivica Zubac.
Zubac isn't an elite post presence, but he's generated well over
1.1 points per possession when shooting out of a post mismatch
(defended by non-centers) since becoming a full-time starter in
2019, per Second Spectrum.
Tucker recognizes the danger as Zubac attempts to establish
position, and executes a "scram switch" with Robinson to flip the
matchup. With Tucker in the fray, the possession dies thanks to
miscommunication between Jackson and Zubac.
6:05 — NOT IN MY HOUSE
Continuing the theme of great defense being the absence of
offensive opportunity, I present this possession. The Clippers try
to attack early in pick-and-roll (with an empty corner!) but Tucker
and Gabe Vincent simply switch the action.
Then the fun begins.
Zubac lifts to the three-point arc and receives a pass from
Terance Mann. With Butler keyed in on Mann, Amir Coffey (playing well lately!) runs into
a pitch from Zubac — essentially a variation of Blind
Pig action. However, it goes nowhere because of a timely switch
from Adebayo. From there, Adebayo shows why he's the best switch
big in basketball.
4:20 — LOCK YOUR DOORS
If you do want to talk about the value of
event creation, Butler's off-ball prowess is a great place to
start. He's one of the best helpers in the NBA because of his blend
of IQ and aggression.
You have to be aware of where Butler is, because he sure as heck
is aware of what's going on with you. As the Clippers pitch the
ball to Zubac to set up a two or three-man dance on the left side
of the floor, Butler senses an opportunity. With Zubac's head
turned, Butler blindsides him with a strip and score.
"I'm probably going to gamble any time somebody is trying to
throw the ball into the elbow," Butler tells Heat reporter Brady
Hawk (rising star in the business, follow him) during postgame festivities.
"Spo calls it 'timely gambling'; I'm a reckless
gambler. My teammates know that I'm going to gamble, so even when I
mess it up -- and I almost used another word — they're always there
to rotate and then help me get back in the right position on
defense. As much as I gamble, my guys are there whenever I do mess
Luckily for the Heat, Butler doesn't mess up that often.
Unfortunately for other teams, they aren't really able to
capitalize when he does.
Looking to go to the hottest
concerts, sports, theater & family shows near you? Get 100%
guaranteed tickets to more than 125,000 live events from
TicketSmarter, the official ticket marketplace of
BasketballNews.com. Order online