Heat-76ers: Deferred sniper Duncan Robinson is a hot topic, but cold shooting is just one of Miami’s hot topics

If you want to argue that Duncan Robinson deserves playing time, you could start with the Miami Heat’s first shot in Game 4 of their second-round series. To get Kyle Lowry going and take advantage of the Philadelphia 76ers’ drop coverage, they lead him from a down screen into a dribble handover with Bam Adebayo, but Lowry rams the open 3 back:

Lowry is an excellent shot, but he’s coming back from a hamstring injury in the previous game and is nowhere near fully healthy (He will miss Game 5 with hamstring problems). He has yet to make a 3-point shot in the series, and Miami as a team shot 14 to 65 (21.5 percent) in the two games at the Wells Fargo Center. On Sunday, Lowry missed one of his patented transition 3 pull-ups, one with Jimmy Butler shielding him wide open, and one where James Harden chose to go under a screen:

Here’s a simple contrast: The Heat Robinson run off a relay screen on first possession of their March 5 game against Philadelphia. He lets it fly from the same spot Lowry did while Joel Embiid watches from the same angle, and it goes in:

Robinson is one of the best shooters in the world and he’s totally out of rotation. Three weeks before his DNP CD on Sunday, he opened the playoffs by shooting 8-9 from the deep and scoring 27 points in 23 minutes against the Atlanta Hawks. On Monday, his agency marked the 19-month anniversary of his 26-point performance in Game 5 of the 2020 NBA Finals with a Tweet full of emoji and subtext. I wrote about Robinson after that game and noticed how he messed up defense with off-ball moves—in one game, he smashed two Los Angeles Lakers defensemen together.

Philadelphia’s defense didn’t look similarly stunned, at least when their 7-foot anchor was on the ground. It wasn’t afraid to play Zone, trap Tyler Herro and fall against almost everyone else. Adebayo, whose two-man game with Robinson used to be a staple of the Heat’s attack, has struggled to create advantages against Embiid in a one-on-one and on Sunday they got him for every minute Embiid sat, brought to the place.

Butler dropped 40 points in 42 minutes in Game 4, but it wasn’t enough. Given how poorly everyone else shot, shouldn’t coach Erik Spoelstra have sent Robinson out?

“Obviously now you know that you look at the percentage, that’s an easy conclusion,” Spoelstra said after the game. “But we still got some really good looks.”

Spoelstra said he was thinking about bringing Robinson on. He acknowledged that Robinson could potentially help Adebayo. But he was more worried about the other end of the floor.

“We’re a great 3-point shooting team, we just weren’t able to put those down,” Spoelstra said. “The bigger story was not being able to defend them, disrupt them or keep them off the free-throw line at key moments. I think our offense probably would have been good enough to give us a really good chance, even as we were shooting from 3. But we weren’t able to pull off the kind of constant defensive stops we’re used to .

Lowry and Butler both said they had good shots and were confident the 3s would fall in the next game. The film reveals that Herro, Butler, Victor Oladipo and Gabe Vincent all gave wiiiiiiiiiiide candid looks:

And PJ Tucker airballed one from his corner office:

If the make-or-miss league stuff doesn’t remain convincing, it’s because Miami hasn’t been able to consistently free Herro and Max Strus and the Sixers don’t seem to particularly care about anyone behind the Arc. Despite all that, the Heat scored 110.2 points per 100 possessions – not great, but a lot better than the disaster (89.8 per 100) that was Game 3. Miami had a 48-34 point lead in the suit and a 24-11 advantage in points from turnovers.

“You see, we’re proud that we can find different solutions to win,” said Spoelstra. “And on this one, we felt like we could have pushed it to get it in the grind, in the mud.”

The Heat sacrificed distance for defensive versatility when they took Robinson off the starting lineup in late March and again when they removed him from the rotation against Philadelphia. They could have given Robinson some of Oladipo’s 32 minutes on Sunday, but at what cost? You may not agree with Spoelstra’s assessment of Miami’s offense, but he’s undeniably right on defense. All series trended down, and the Sixers scored 120.8 points per 100 possessions in Game 4.

Repeatedly, Spoelstra brought up the numerous end-of-clock games that kept the Heat at bay. The numbers are staggering: Philadelphia shot 13-17, including 6-8 from 3-point range, with six or fewer seconds on the shot clock, Per‘s John Schuhmann and Second Spectrum. Among them were five daggers in the last six minutes: a Harden step-back 3 on Adebayo, a Harden drive on Adebayo, a Harden spot-up 3 on Oladipo, a lob from Tyrese Maxey to Tobias Harris after an offensive rebound, and a Harden side step 3 against Oladipo.

“For the most part, we couldn’t really influence them defensively,” said Spoelstra. “Certainly not in the first half. They were in a great rhythm and could achieve anything they wanted to achieve including their role players. We were able to disrupt that rhythm a little more in the second half, but.” Again, those late-clock games were really crippling.

The Sixers scored 112.4 points per 100 possessions in the half-yard on Sunday, a mark that would have led the league by a wide margin in the regular season. If Spoelstra was primarily interested in fixing this problem, it’s understandable that he didn’t reach out to Robinson, who Harden would have immediately targeted.

However, it’s also reasonable to question whether the compromise would have been worth it. Perhaps Robinson would have knocked down a couple of back-to-back 3s, giving the Heat a boost of energy and more room for error on defense. They could have put it in when Harden went to the bank. They could have used him and played more zone defense. If he gets a chance and heats up, Philadelphia might be lured into playing more minutes against defensive specialist Matisse Thybulle, damaging their gap and making stops easier for Miami.

Offense-versus-defense tradeoffs are “what every team has to deal with during the playoffs,” Spoelstra said, speaking generally, not just about Robinson. But not every team shelved a 6-7 guy with a lightning-fast layoff who signed a $90 million contract and was swinging playoff games last summer. Robinson clocked more minutes for the Heat in the regular season than anyone but Herro and Lowry, and he played just 55 seconds of junk time in the second round. This is an extreme shift, even for a player who has already been demoted.

Basketball is not a balanced team competition. If Spoelstra can’t find a place for Robinson, the misses keep piling up, and Miami can’t get out of this series, the thinking gets louder. Is Robinson more important or less viable with Lowry sidelined for Game 5 on Tuesday? If Harden is already picking on Herro, is it that big of a deal to give him another target? There are no black and white answers to these questions.

Spoelstra knows as well as anyone how quickly Robinson can catch fire. However, he would rather win ugly than lose with a nicer offense. And he described Strus, Herro and Vincent as “flammable” for themselves.

“You see a few going under, it could be four, five, six,” Spoelstra said, snapping his fingers. “And I want our boys to think about it. I want them to be gunslingers and come out shooting.” Heat-76ers: Deferred sniper Duncan Robinson is a hot topic, but cold shooting is just one of Miami’s hot topics

Justin Scacco

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