Room for Improvement: Key takeaways from Heat Game 1 against the Bucks

The Miami Heat has a lot of work to do if they want to beat the Milwaukee Bucks tonight at 7:30.

Saturday afternoon, the team lost in overtime 109-107. 

The game was close, but the Heat’s efforts left a lot to be desired, with key issues popping up at inopportune times.

Despite the close score, the Heat was far from impressive, especially protecting the basket. The same Heat team that had the stingiest paint defense during the regular season at 41.3 points in the paint per game allowed 56 points on Saturday. 

This is an issue that will need addressing from head coach Erik Spoelstra. The Heat focused on perimeter defense, but was vulnerable to drives to the basket. The team also struggled to cap off defensive possessions with rebounds. 

A huge reason for the Heat to patch up interior defense is the Bucks’ unusually low three-point shooting night. The Bucks shot 16% from three, a poor night they are unlikely to replicate. When the threes start falling for the Bucks, Miami will need to tighten its defense elsewhere. This is where the interior defense needs to come through.

The problems didn’t come from poor positioning in the paint. The Bucks scored more off drives than catching the ball in the paint. The Heat did well limiting Antetokounmpo to 2-7 shooting when driving, but failed to defend the rest of the Bucks. Of the five other players who attempted driving field goals, four shot over 50%. The Heat’s help defense was often a step too late, giving up easy baskets at the rim to players like Jrue Holiday and Bobby Portis. 

The Heat was able to play aggressively and force turnovers early on in these drive-to-the-basket situations. Nine of the 17 turnovers Miami forced came on drives to the basket. When they weren’t able to be aggressive and had to contest at the basket, they struggled. 

Another concern for the Heat was rebounding. The team was forced to rotate to stop easy baskets at the rim, which led to rebounds for the Bucks. This led to an additional 19 points for the Bucks. Giving up second-chance points is sure to make things difficult for the team. 

The Heat’s big men will need to prioritize boxing out Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez to prevent easy second-chance points.

Goran Dragic and the rest of the Heat will need to take care of the ball more than they did in game one. (Courtesy of All-Pro Reels via Wikimedia Commons)

Turnovers were another challenge for the Heat. Although both teams had 17, the Bucks scored more points off them. The Heat’s turnovers themselves were mostly avoidable mistakes such as the ball slipping out of the players’ hands. This ultimately made a difference as the Bucks went on to win the game by 2 points.

Jimmy Butler had the most turnovers with six. As the Heat’s leader, Butler should look to limit his turnovers and set a good example on the offensive end. This can be avoided by sharing the ball a little more, especially since Butler had an underwhelming game, shooting 4-22 from the field. 

Dragic had the second most Heat turnovers with four. These should be limited moving forward, especially because Dragic was the team’s leading score. A crucial moment came when Holiday ripped the ball from Dragic due to a bad screen, resulting in 2 points off a fast break. This cannot happen in game two; Holiday is a very disruptive player who will look for any opportunity to score. 

The Heat will need Butler to lock in to win this series. (Photo courtesy of Catherine Salaün via Wikimedia Commons)

The Bucks defensive game plan revolved around pressuring Butler into shooting three-pointers – with Antetokounmpo mostly guarding him. Butler, a career 32% three-point shooter, has seen his percentage dip to 24.5% in his tenure with the Heat. 

Milwaukee was ready to exploit this weakness, refusing to guard Butler from the three-point line in the second half. They forced Butler into taking nine three-point shots, the most he’s taken in any game this season. 

Butler made a three-pointer with eight minutes to go in the second quarter, boosting his confidence in shooting from three-point range. The Bucks were ready to exploit this, as he went 1-7 in three-point attempts following that make. 

The effectiveness of Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer’s strategy was highlighted by two crucial possessions in overtime when Butler took three-point shots and missed. In such a close game, the two possessions with poor shot selection made the difference.

In game two, Butler will need to avoid settling for three-pointers and play his game. He usually settles down the Heat offense and plays aggressively at the rim. The Heat are going to need that Butler to show up and play the way teammates, coaches and fans know and expect from him.

Despite these issues, the Heat pushed the Bucks to overtime and lost to a game-winning basket by Khris Middleton with just .5 seconds remaining. This, paired with the struggles of Butler and Bam Adebayo, are cause for optimism. With so many things going wrong for the Heat, the team still pushed the Bucks to their limits in a grueling first game of the series. 

Spoelstra will certainly patch up these issues going into game two. The Heat will be prepared with adjustments and determined to even up the series before coming back to Miami for games three and four. If the Heat can return to elite interior defense, the team will have a good shot of beating Milwaukee. 

Game two tips off Monday night at 7:30 p.m. on TNT and Bally Sports.

Michael Morales is an FIU student majoring in journalism. He has an immense passion for sports and aspires to be a sports writer and podcast host.

Dan Leiferman is a junior at Florida International University who is majoring in communications. Leiferman's passions include sports, writing, and any form of creative expression.