Early in their series against the Philadelphia 76ers, the Miami Heat were in complete control. With Joel Embiid missing the first two games of action due to an orbital fracture, Miami comfortably won Games 1 & 2 at the FTX Arena in South Florida.
But then Embiid returned when the series shifted back to Philly, and everything changed. The Heat, who could limit the Sixers’ offensive efforts without Embiid by focusing much of their attention on James Harden, found themselves unable to employ a similar defensive strategy with Embiid back on the court. And the guy who was Miami’s most significant influence in Games 1 & 2, Bam Adebayo, suddenly became one of his team’s biggest weaknesses.
Adebayo has gotten bullied by Embiid since he returned
Adebayo is one of the most unique big men in the NBA because of his versatility on both ends of the court. Offensively, he’s such an intelligent player that the Heat can occasionally run the offense through him because of his passing capabilities. Defensively, Adebayo is so fast and strong that he can realistically guard any player he finds himself against.
And for the first two games against Philly, Adebayo feasted. He dropped 20+ points on highly efficient shooting in both games, and he made life miserable for the Sixers big man duo of DeAndre Jordan and Paul Reed, both of whom had no business going up against Adebayo in the first place.
But since Embiid has come back, it’s been night and day. Akash Murty of The Sports Rush did a pretty good job of summarizing the struggles Adebayo has experienced over the past two games:
“And since then, it’s like he isn’t Bam Adebayo at all. He had a poor Game 3 with a 9-3-1 stat line and was a game low -22 while proving to be of no use in a 99-79 loss. While in Game 4 he was better offensively, he kept switching on and off on Embiid like a flickering light bulb and allowed him to have a 24-11-2 game.” Akash Murty, The Sports Rush
With Adebayo no longer at the controls, Miami has looked lost. When the game was running through him on both ends because of the mismatches he had, there was nothing Philly could do to win. But with Embiid back, Adebayo had looked mortal again. After a subpar first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks, Adebayo’s struggles may be too much for the Heat to overcome.
How can the Heat overcome Adebayo’s struggles against the 76ers?
While this series certainly isn’t over for the Heat, things aren’t looking quite as rosy as they were a few days ago. They had the Sixers on the ropes, but since Embiid has returned, they have looked increasingly vulnerable. And unless Adebayo and the Heat can figure things out fast, this series could be over before they know it.
One thing the Heat have done in the past that may work against Philly is having Adebayo initiate the offense from the top of the key. Giving Adebayo the ball in a half-court set opens up a lot of things for Miami because they have some solid shooters on the perimeter who demand respect at the three-point line. Against a lesser center, Adebayo would feast in isolation matchups; the problem again is that he is going up against Embiid.
What Miami should look to do is draw Embiid off of him by using him as an on-ball screener. For example, if you run a handoff play where someone on the perimeter runs behind Adebayo for a handoff, Bam can set a quick pick to force a switch and get a mismatch for both him and the ball handler. Embiid is stuck on the perimeter, where he can hold his own, and Adebayo has a matchup against a smaller defender, which he should be able to abuse for an easy run to the rim or a kick out to the perimeter for a three.
This set hasn’t been used partly because Adebayo was horrible in Game 3, and Butler was on fire in Game 4. In other words, the situation wasn’t right. But with a critical Game 5 coming up, it might be the best option left for Miami. And if it doesn’t work, the 76ers, who once looked to be dead in their tracks, might be able to turn the tables and run away with this series.