The Celtics Must Prepare For These Specific Miami Sets

By Matt Esposito

Despite being a renowned, beachfront metropolis brimming with beautiful shades of life, there are Miami-related topics still being under discussed. Will Floridian opportunity zones increase income inequality under the guise of gainful employment for impoverished citizens? Did Will Smith really “party in the city til the break of dawn?” How is Coach Spo both highly respected and underrated at the same time?

Celtics fans are assuredly concerned with that last question, and they should be. The Heat are an extremely well-tuned team that executes with near perfection. I took the time to identify some aspects of their offense that Boston diehards should familiarize themselves with before Game One tips on Tuesday.

In particular, I shied away from detailing their much used pick-and-roll game. I also didn’t dive much into how they use Bam Adebayo along the perimeter or elbow. Those offensive elements have been talk about often so instead, let’s emphasize some lesser publicized parts of Miami’s offense.

Pistol Offense/Transition

On the surface, Miami does not appear to be a transition threat. They ranked dead last in frequency during the regular season for field goals attempts taken between 22-18 seconds left on the shot clock. Yet, this team has the tools to maximize on those attempts and make the Celtics pay.

Miami is a vastly different transition team when compared to the fast-paced Toronto Raptors. For instance, the Raptors like to run on the break while the Heat smoothly flow right into a predetermined, half-court set. They have a potent pistol offense that punishes defenses in a variety of ways.

Known for their dribble handoff plays (DHOs), Goran Dragic fakes a handoff to Jae Crowder only to continue in for a somewhat easy layup. The transition across the timeline into pistol offense is freeflowing, seamless and largely unpredictable.

In a variation of this play watch premier 3-point threat Duncan Robinson drain a triple after a pin down screen by Bam Adebayo. When they choose to do so, Miami has multiple ways to beat you in this early offense.

In a clear attempt to limit Robinson’s ability to get off a clean look, Milwaukee overplayed the dreaded shooter. This led to a lovely backdoor pass to Tyler Herro and eventually a kickout to Crowder for three.

Oh, and if you find a way to prevent a layup or pop-out triple, be prepared to feel frustrated when one of Miami’s many shot-creators buries a pull up jumper.

Fortunately, the Heat don’t spend too much time in this offense. Still, it is incredibly effective. Boston needs to make sure they communicate and switch everything in a timely fashion. If not, things could get ugly.

DHO Sets

Having studied Coach Spo’s affinity for DHOs, you can confidently color me nervous for this next series. Allow me to be egotistical and quote myself:

“Coach Spo and company elect to run DHOs with more frequency than any other team. In fact, they do so for 9.6 possessions per game which results in a frequency rate of 8.8 percent. For context, 23 others teams don’t even run north of seven DHO sets per game.”

Miami runs this offense often because it gives them loads of flexibility. The Heat have many well-rounded players who can catch-and-shoot, drive and pass. Erik Spoelstra gives his guys the autonomy to capitalize on what the defense gives them. For instance, if Robinson’s man is a half-step behind him, he is liable to shoot a gorgeous DHO triple.

Duncan is also frequently used as a decoy. He sprints towards Adebayo and causes panic among the defense, only to set an extra screen for Kendrick Nunn who sinks the DHO 3-pointer.

This 3-point shooting threat opens up a plethora of other opportunities for Miami to create good looks. The video below details how Adebayo and Robinson manipulate defenders to facilitate high percentage chances for teammates. It is truly one of the hardest schemes to defend in the entire NBA due to the secondary playmaking options.

Once more, Boston must rely on its switchability and communication. After fighting over handoff screens to ensure Robinson cannot get off a 3-pointer, the Celtics must react to the next level of breakdowns Miami will attempt to exploit.

Drag Screens

Armed with high IQ players, Miami runs savvy drag screens that also give the ball handler agency to read and react. Brad Stevens runs these sets often as well, so Boston may actually find themselves well prepared to limit their effectiveness.

Firstly, check out how this double drag screen morphs into a pin down of sorts. Jimmy Butler is one of Miami’s least reliable perimeter shooters but it is hard to miss being this wide open.

Players like to “get out” on these screens to take away the 3-point look. Plus, they are quick to tag the roller. When this happens, one of the Heat’s many handlers can drive and kick back out to a popping teammate, such as Kelly Olynyk.

Perhaps these well executed screens force defenders to switch. If so, a guy like Dragic can breakdown his slower defender and get to the rim.

Even when a team does not switch defenders, Miami still find a way to score. Because, guess what? They’re really freaking good. If you need proof then watch Herro simply take his man to the cup despite the double drag not being terribly impactful.

And if one of the Heat’s drivers get the step on his defender, a two-one-one chance occurs. Miami makes teams pay the price by lobbing to the ultra athletic Bam Adebayo. Attempts don’t get much more higher percentage than this, folks.


When Coach Spoelstra is not conducting any of the sets above, he’s likely deploying some evil genius level type of deception. I bluntly labeled this next play “Twister” due to the nature of its screens and how it left me feeling disorientated.

Once you think you have a read on how Miami utilizes Duncan Robinson, the Heat hit you with a backdoor cut. Players (and rightfully so) get caught up in fighting over screens to prevent the shot. So, Miami runs a play that springs Robinson for an easy two near the rim. Best of luck defending this.

How To Prepare

In spite the many ways I just showered compliments upon the Heat, Boston still has a solid chance at slowing down the Heat. In order to curtail Spo’s creativity, a team must be able to switch just about every screen. In addition to that, they need to have strong defensive chemistry that rests upon a foundation of communication.

Boston has all of those ingredients. Although they boast a bevy of switchy defenders, the Celtics could get even switchier when Gordon Hayward returns. To boot, their littlest player, Kemba Walker, has been playing strong defense when being forced to guard much bigger players. Expect a lot of backline talk from Daniel Theis as him and the Cs try and keep pace with a well-oiled Miami machine.

BONUS!’s Sekou Smith joined us to discuss all things related to the Miami/Celtics series. Some very enlightening insight from someone down in the bubble. Listen and sub, thanks!

Published by Matt Esposito

Founder/Writer for and contributor to Red’s Army Twitter: @Mattesposito_

3 thoughts on “The Celtics Must Prepare For These Specific Miami Sets

    1. Thanks for the feedback. We are going to upgrade to an entirely new site (same domain name) and hopefully the videos will be better. If not, we can throw them on YouTube. For more/better engagement, follow me on twitter so it can be easier to converse! (@MattEsposito_)


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