GAME ONE / HEAT 113 @ PACERS 101
On a day when the namesake of the very TJ Warren-like stat sheet had a very TJ Warren-like 22 on 50% shooting, he was out Teej’d by two Miami lads noticeably not named TJ.
That would be the South Beach duo of Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic (who had 14 of his 24 points in the final quarter of the game). The man they call Buckets lived up to it with 28 points on 53% shooting but also went loco on the defensive side with four steals and two blocks.
Malcom Brogdon volume shot his way to 22 as well, and even with Victor Oladipo being a ghost show, the Pacers who have a knack for somehow keeping it close (even when they’ve been truly outplayed), nabbed a lead for the briefest of moments before the clock turned over for Dragic Time.
I’ll be honest, in every one of my brackets I had the Pacers coming out of this series. It’s not that I think TJ Warren, VO, Brogdan, and ⅔ of the Holliday boys are demonstrably better than Butler, Bam, and the three whitest kids you know. It’s just that the Pacers always seem to do better than everyone gives them credit for, while Miami has… Jimmy Butler, a guy whose 2K digital effigy even admits he’s never won the big one, and jokes about joining an over 50 league to get a ring if need be. If him-playing-his-digital self clowns himself about it, well, that’s the realest shit ever.
This series has my vote for getting wrapped up the fastest.
For all his faults, Jimmy Butler is a huge proponent of team basketball provided that the whole team doesn’t say a word and does exactly what he says when he says it. He just seems to thrive the most in situations when his leadership is unquestioned and that’s fair. From a parenting standpoint it’s going to be a little dubious when Jimmy tells all the kids that their art project for the day is to dig Mr. Warren’s grave. Even more so when he tells them to keep digging until there’s room for at least two more Pacers in the soil with him. I mean, someone must’ve shown Jae Crowder the proper way to gouge an eye during their down time in the bubble and I highly doubt that it was part of Coach Spo’s lesson plan. If you’re wondering who that could be, I’m pretty sure that it’s the same guy who’s going to turn Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson into uber-focused Machine Gun Kellys who actually run towards the bullets instead of away from them.
GAME TWO / HEAT 109 (2-0) @ PACERS 101 (0-2)
Duncan Robinson said that some of the team’s assistants joked that he “wasn’t there in game one.”
And followed that up with “I’m well equipped to play in empty gyms,” which is like back-to-back brutal self owns, but also a big heaping of that D3, undrafted humble pie shit that race-coded “gritty, intangible” sportscasters love to spoon feed their fanbase. This kid could be going places. Probably the Spurs.
He’s always been lethal from far, but seven of eight is bananas. His only other points came from three-for-three at the freebie line. Shooters shoot all right.
And they needed it too, because Butler was “just okay” and Bam was worse. Captain of the bench Tyler Herro played more minutes than Duncan, had nine less points and did his “shooters shoot” thing on his way to 29% from the floor.
I don’t buy what Jer said about this series is over, and the ditches have already been dug. I think this is about where the Heat are, with a very talented group of role players deferring to Butler, and on any given day, one of ‘em stands up to pick up the slack. I don’t think I’ve seen the Pacers play a true Pacers game this series yet, and they’ve hung tough. I think they snag one game at least.
That said, will the real TJ Warren stand up? Or has he? I kinda hope not. I’m not ready to stop believing in magic (a line you’ll hear me say for another, other game).
All Jimmy Butler needs is clay, soft, malleable, easily impressionable clay. With just enough of the stuff, he can mold himself a team of little soldiers that can defy their circumstances (like Duncan Robinson’s “has a real high basketball IQ” stereotype that El mentioned above) and become legitimate killers on the court. Butler’s influence has gotten in so deep that he doesn’t even need to do the talking anymore. It’s been reported that Goran Dragic was the Heat player who told Robinson to stop acting like a little bitch and just let it fly. Bonus points also for them getting Robinson to adopt the (irrationally confident) eye of the tiger. Of the two projects they have on the squad, he was the nice one.
As for the Pacers, unless TJ Warren starts putting up TJ Warren from a couple weeks ago type numbers (which is a tough ask, especially in the playoffs) it’s going to be a wrap. Jimmy and Bam both having average to sub-par games on the same night aren’t going to happen often, so if they were going to get them, this game was the game to do it.
GAME THREE / PACERS 115 (0-3) @ HEAT 124 (3-0)
The Heat came out in the first looking very nice shooting 6-of-9 from long.
Duncan Robinson scored his first two-pointer since August 12th. This stat is absolutely bananas. Shooters shoot.
Four players for the Heat scored twenty: Butler, Bam, Dragic, and Herro. Crowder and Duncan Robinson both had double figures, so a buffet for all, really.
Giving up on TJ Warren is like realizing that fling you had in New Orleans one spring is just that, and you’ll never see that person again. *wipes tear* We’ll always have NOLA. I mean Orlando. We’ll always have Orlando, TJ. For the record, he still had 22 points.
This one is over, and has been. The Pacers have no idea how to stop the three ball, and even when they stifled it, Bam and Butler gave them a big “yo!” Shoutout to Butler dumping praise on Bam, after saying “Bam don’t need more confidence.” You can tell he’s legit thrilled with his young padawan.
Man, I got this one woefully wrong. At least you weren’t the first team to go, Indiana.
GAME FOUR / PACERS 87 (0-4) @ HEAT 99 (4-0)
Welp, looks like this is it, Indiana. You had a great run in the bubble. TJ Warren was stellar for three quarters of it, a revelation. There’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of with what you all accomplished here. It’s not your fault that you just happened to run into a buzzsaw in the first round. Hold your heads high, Pacers. Like my dear friend Mike Ellis said, at least you weren’t the first team to go. (High five to scheduling!)
The Heat were one of a handful of Playoff bubble teams that weren’t powered primarily by hero ball (the others being OKC, UTAH, BOS and TOR, in my opinion). My initial impression of them in the bubble basically amounted to drill sergeant Jimmy Butler and a platoon of new recruits. Boy, was I wrong. As much as I still subscribe to the whole Jimmy Butler as the bad cop theory, what these last few games has shown me was that the real engine of this team isn’t Butler; it’s Goran Dragic.
If Butler is the classic, no nonsense father figure of this unit, then Dragic is the more nurturing and maternal counterpart, the heart if you will. I saw a clip of his interactions with his team mates from Game 3 that really crystallized this notion for me (along with the fact that he’s been a consistent 20+ point scorer during this series). In the clip, Dragic was picking his guys up from the floor, always with an arm around them, laughing, pulling them together into a huddle and most importantly of all, he was always talking, encouraging, COMMUNICATING. As effective (and well within his established character) as scowling his team mates to death for any and all reasons would be for Butler as a teaching tactic, having Dragic there to counterbalance all that weight with levity and genuine warmth must be a godsend. Check the boxscore. On a night when Butler and Duncan Robinson only combined to score 11 points in a close out game, they still won by double digits? That doesn’t come down to anything other than chemistry, led by point center Bam and (who else?) Goran Dragic with a team leading 23 points.
Hope they keep it together because there’s a much tougher test coming in the next round.
Images by Getty Images & ABABGC