Containing Miami Heat big man Bam Adebayo is a key to the Milwaukee Bucks’ chances of winning their Eastern Conference semifinal series in the NBA playoffs.
Somehow, we all knew we’d eventually get to this point. When the final playoff brackets were set, we all circled the Milwaukee Bucks versus the Miami Heat as a potential classic Eastern Conference semifinals matchup in the NBA playoffs. That’s no disrespect to the Orlando Magic, who the Bucks beat in five games, and no disrespect to the Indiana Pacers who the Heat swept; but no one expected any other outcome.
Now that we’re finally here, there’s one Heat player who Bucks fans should be especially concerned about if they hope to see their team advance to the Eastern Conference Finals: Bam Adebayo.
When fans think of the Heat, they most likely think about perennial All-Star Jimmy Butler, veteran play-maker Goran Dragic or even rookie standout Tyler Herro. It’s easy to forget that Miami has a 6’10” 250 lbs. force out of the University of Kentucky enjoying a breakout season in his third year in the league.
Not only did Adebayo average 15.9 points and 10.2 rebounds per game this season, but he was also named a first-time All-Star. He showcased the fact that he’s not just a big, strong interior player when he took home first place in the NBA All-Star weekend skills challenge. If the Bucks are going to beat the Heat and advance to this year’s Eastern Conference Finals, they must find a way to slow down and contain Adebayo.
Adebayo has proven he can damage Milwaukee Bucks’ interior defense before
Prior to the NBA’s restart in the Orlando bubble, the Bucks had not beaten the Heat this season. The lone time the two teams faced one another since the restart, the Bucks were able to hold Bam to six points and five rebounds. That’s a big reason why they were finally able to walk away from a game against the Heat with a victory.
In the previous two matchups between these two teams, both Heat wins, Adebayo averaged 16.5 points and 13.0 rebounds. Clearly, when he is more productive, he gives the Heat a much better chance at beating this Bucks team than they have when he’s not.
The Bucks have a tall team, boasting five players who are 6’9” or taller. However, the two among those trees who are in the starting lineup do not play a traditional back to the basket big-man game. It’s not uncommon for Giannis Antetokounmpo to be seen handling the ball on the perimeter and it’s also not uncommon to see starting center, Brook Lopez, hoisting up a 3-pointer on offense as opposed to banging in the low post.
This lack of a traditional big in the starting lineup could pave the way for Adebayo to have his way in the paint. Sure, the Bucks have Robin Lopez, Ersan Ilyasova and D.J. Wilson off the bench, but none of these players can match Adebayo’s physical strength and only Robin has a proven track record of playoff toughness and intensity. Wilson’s inexperience and Ilyasova’s lack of physicality could pave the way for Bam to have a field day if he’s able to get the Bucks’ starting bigs into foul trouble.
The Miami Heat have a generally more physical team than the Milwaukee Bucks
The fact is, even though the Bucks have no shortage of height, they don’t have the same level of physicality that the Heat has. In addition to Adebayo’s big strong frame, Miami also boasts Kelly Olynyk and Udonis Haslem. Olynik once ended Kevin Love’s postseason in one of the dirtiest plays you’ll see; Haslem is the last guy anyone in the league would want to face in a back alley if they had their pick, although he’s more of a coach in the locker room than an active player.
And while Giannis has been accurately nicknamed the “Greek Freak” for his athleticism, he’s proven he can be frustrated by physical play. Just ask Moe Wagner of the Washington Wizards, who found himself on the receiving end of a head butt when the 2019 MVP became frustrated over physical play and a perceived lack of calls. Bam’s physicality poses a problem, but he’s also got some very capable enforcers keeping him company should he run into any problems.
If the Milwaukee Bucks are going to beat the Heat in the NBA playoffs, it’s a must that they keep Adebayo off the glass. A glance at the season series between these two teams reveals that whoever wins the battle of the boards most likely wins the game. In three games, only once did the team who won the rebounding battle fail to win the game.
On March 2nd, the Heat lost the rebounding battle by two but won the game by 16 points; normally games with that wide of a margin have stats that are skewed by garbage time. However, the other two games between these teams support the theory that the team with the rebounding edge has the best chance to win. Seeing as how Adebayo averages double-digit rebounds, the Bucks must make a concentrated effort to keep him off the glass.
This year’s NBA playoffs are unique for a myriad of reasons, one of the biggest being that there truly is no home-court advantage. That makes coaching that much more important. Erik Spoelstra is a very capable coach, but there’s a reason Mike Budenholzer is a perennial Coach of the Year candidate. As disruptive as Bam Adebayo can be on the boards, Budenholzer will find a way to negate that.
By giving Giannis the ball on the perimeter when Bam guards him, or by giving Brook Lopez the greenlight to hoist threes when he’s Bam’s assignment, the Bucks will minimize his impact on the glass by drawing him away from the basket.
A third-year player with Adebayo’s physical gifts is bound to have his moments, but Milwaukee’s superior strategy, combined with the fact that they boast the game’s best player, should propel them to a series win over the Heat. If the season series is any indicator, these two teams are evenly matched here in the NBA playoffs.