The term Miami Vice is usually a reference to the 1980s television drama and its associated aesthetics of the time. In context Miami heatthe vice principal’s discourse usually occurs in the context of the band’s undeniably cool alternative jerseys (at least the black version qualifies as such).
But if you’ll allow me to be a bit ambiguous, I’d like to direct your thoughts to another flaw: a simple tool that uses movable jaws to hold objects in place. Most vises use a crank mechanism to slow and very hard put pressure on everything within their reach.
As it happens, the vice is actually the perfect analogy for the way the Heat play basketball. They overwhelm opponents with enduring competence. Every little mistake seems to result in crushing pain.
Forgo the soft switch and leave Jimmy Butler on the wrong defender and he feasts in isolation or attracts attention, leading to an endless series of poking and kicking until Miami finds an open three. Confuse your plan away from the ball for a while and Max Strus sucks a three-pointer. Oh, you took a breath after defending Kyle Lowry or Gabe Vincent for 10 straight seconds. Look at this: they move to take an open photo.
The same unrelenting style of play applies to the Heat’s defence.
Hesitate just for a second against the zonal defense they threw at you and they’ll just take the ball and start a quick break. They dribble for too long, and the pressure they exert will swallow even very good individual shooters, forcing them to hit at high frequency.
Even if you can manage the intense ball pressure and Miami’s aggressive midfield well enough to hunt for an open hit, it’s usually done by someone the Heat have deprioritised in an area where they’re comfortable giving up.
Miami is amazing in its ability to consistently power up, make smart decisions and punish opponents for making mistakes. The Boston Celtics he learned this lesson the hard way after losing three in a row to open the Eastern Conference Finals.
Imagine Boston as a soda can in that vise we talked about. Its structural integrity may hold for a while, but now let’s add a small dent to that, and then another and another. Soon the vice will turn the can into a crumpled piece of scrap metal. That’s what the Heat did to the Celtics.
They applied constant pressure, making right decision after right decision and letting Boston’s mistakes slowly lead them to defeat. At least in the first three games, that’s what Miami did.
The Celtics were victorious in two consecutive bouts. The secret of their success? Breaking the vice itself.
The Heat win when they can dictate the terms, which they usually do with a combination of aggressiveness, physicality, and psychotic competition (plus a bit of Butler’s basketball superheroism). They force opponents into their vice, then slowly crush them.
In their two wins, Boston responded with an intensity and focus that put Miami behind. The Celtics upped the pressure and began attacking the ball, which had previously left open space to the wrong people.
As a result, they forced the Heat to 16.0 turnovers per game, compared to just 12.0 in wins for the team. Boston simultaneously cut back on their own gifts, reducing their turnover from 15.0 in losses to 10.0 per game in wins.
It’s not just resisting vice. It locks the crank so the vise can’t work.
Offensively, the Celts’ ability to operate outside of the conditions Miami prefers really comes down to shooting (slightly reducing, but still true). There’s a nuance to why Boston is dropping more threes. It’s better to work out Heat’s zone defenses and play with more precision and purpose to attack the basket and keep the advantage.
But the main point remains the same: making threes is good; no threes is bad.
The Celtics also looked good early in the series. They just couldn’t make them fall. Boston is a nightmare to defend as its threes go down, and there may be no greater microcosm Celtics fans should hope for despite the massive deficit the team is trying to come back from.
The playoff version of the Heat plays more consistently close to the best version of themselves than the Celtics, and in fact, almost everyone in the league. The vice works because Miami has a high floor. But there is a level of play that Boston can achieve, and has achieved in the last two games, that the Heat cannot match. The number of three-pointers they made was a decent barometer of whether they hit or not.
The Celtics are attempting the impossible, coming back from a 0-3 hole in the Eastern Conference Finals is a crazy job. But maybe, just maybe, they’ll succeed. Boston is a tidal wave when it shoots all cylinders at both ends. No crime can stop it.