Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals was something the Miami Heat would like to forget.
The Heat never recovered from an atrocious start of historic proportions, missing 15 of their first 16 shot attempts in a game that never became close. Other games in this series have gone this way, but the dearth in scoring was apparent early on in the game.
The final score of 102-82 doesn’t do justice to the margin that grew to as many as 32 points in the third quarter. That Victor Oladipo was perfect from the field in the first quarter and a half of Game 4 somewhat saved Miami from a more brutal obliteration at the hands of the Boston Celtics. It didn’t even matter that the Heat went 10-men deep in their rotation as Jayson Tatum had more made field goals in the first half (6) than Miami’s starters (5). None of the members of the Heat’s starting five would end Game 4 in double figures and Tatum would even outscore them in the end, 31-18.
When Oladipo, Duncan Robinson, and Caleb Martin are your best players on offense, the changes have to begin on that end. Miami was definitely stymied by the combination of Robert Williams III and Al Horford, both of whom set the tone on both ends of the floor. Horford was particularly effective in this game as he used smarts to offset any physical disadvantages he would have had against Bam Adebayo, preventing him from effectively setting up the offense when it runs through him. Williams III also did his part in silencing Adebayo and forcing him to question his decisions and the internet wasted no time in making the most out of it.
Tyler Herro sitting out Game 4 due to a groin injury from Game 3 was certainly a factor, but it shouldn’t be an excuse for the Heat’s dreadful performance. Marcus Smart was out for Game 4 due to a right ankle sprain from the previous game, while both Williams III (sore left knee) and Derrick White (personal reasons) had just gotten back into the Celtics’ fold. Herro’s return, however, would be very much welcome since this season’s Sixth Man of the Year never took a shot he didn’t like.
Miami takes a smashmouth approach that opens up the rest of their offense, but they will have to address the rim protection that both Horford and Williams III provide. Both have the ability to extend their coverage beyond the paint and have developed a connection that has given the Heat frontcourt headaches.
Meanwhile, Oladipo continues to make up for lost time due to a right quadriceps tendon that had to be operated on twice and his energy in Game 4 especially in the more “competitive” portions should be something Miami can pick up on. Should Herro return in Game 5, he and Oladipo could form an intriguing backcourt combo off the bench that will certainly shore up their depth apart from the energy and fresh legs they could provide.
Jimmy Butler’s worst performances this postseason have come in the last two games and he will likely have at least one good game in him that can help swing the series in the Heat’s favor. Sheer force had previously worked but now that Boston has adjusted accordingly, Butler can attack the midrange whenever the Celtics dare him to shoot. Moreover, his willingness to set screens should help give Miami’s shooters opportunities to punish the Boston defense when they choose to give the Heat some space.
While the Miami Heat would like to put Game 4 in the rear view mirror, it’s a defeat they will have to learn from if they want to return to the NBA Finals. Thankfully, the loss to the Boston Celtics evened the series at 2-2 yet while things are technically back to square one, the Heat now understand that they have to strike first and strike hard.