The Miami Heat pulled off an impressive comeback against the Boston Celtics in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and their defence on All-Star guard Kemba Walker deserves a lot of credit for that.
The Heat made life as difficult as possible for Walker, who has struggled for five consecutive playoff games going back to Boston's second-round series with the Toronto Raptors.
Through the first seven games of this postseason, Walker looked like his usual self, averaging 23.0 points per game on 48.6% shooting from the field and 34.7% from 3-point range. Boston's offence was firing on all cylinders and Kemba's efficient 29-point performance in Game 3 put the Raptors 0.5 seconds away from entering a hole no NBA team has ever come out of.
From that point forward, Raptors head coach Nick Nurse made it a top priority to bottle up the scoring guard, often using a box-and-one and a variety of different pick-and-roll coverages to make sure Walker couldn't find any rhythm.
Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra appears to have taken a similar approach, as Miami's defence - and All-Star centre Bam Adebayo, in particular - did a fantastic job of keying in on Walker to keep that scoring valve closed.
MORE: Keys to Game 2 of the ECF
Walker still had 19 points and six assists in Game 1, but nothing came easy as he shot 6-for-19 (31.6%) from the field and 1-for-9 (11.1%) from beyond the arc. That marks five straight games that Walker has failed to convert more than one 3-pointer in a game, a shocking development for a player who so heavily relies on perimeter shooting.
Over that five-game stretch, Kemba is averaging just 14.8 points on 35.7% shooting from the field and 14.7% (!) from 3. While he's still getting his teammates involved to the tune of 6.4 assists per game, the Celtics have struggled without his typical 20-plus-point performances.
So how did Miami make things so tough for the four-time All-Star? It all starts with Adebayo's stellar pick-and-roll defence.
Adebayo pick-and-roll switches
Walker is a pick-and-roll maestro, constantly hunting for mismatches off of switches to create looks for himself.
With a versatile defender like Second Team All-Defence selection Adebayo, the Heat didn't have to worry about that.
Watch as Bam jumps out at Walker on this switch and is able to stay with him all the way to the basket, where Miami had plenty of help waiting:
He did it again later in the game, this time quick enough to get in front of the shifty guard and help force a turnover:
How many centres would be able to move fast enough to stick with Walker on their own, allowing their defence to remain calm in a switch like that? The answer is not many.
Man to zone in one possession
This possession is a testament to how well-coached the Heat are. It also shows that their defence earlier in the game - and again, Adebayo in particular - wore on Kemba as the contest went on.
While it's hard to tell because of all the switching, the Heat start this possession in man-to-man defence. The Celtics are trying to get Walker a favourable matchup to go to work, and eventually get their star guard one-on-one against Adebayo.
But watch as that matchup develops and the shot clock gets within 10 seconds. Miami morphs into a 2-3 zone to throw another different look at Walker.
Could Kemba still have attacked Adebayo off the bounce and gotten into the teeth of the Heat's defence? Of course he could have. But Bam's stout defence throughout the entire game made Walker passive on this possession, looking for someone else despite having what should be a big man on guard mismatch. He doesn't try to shoot or drive, instead swinging the ball to Marcus Smart who attempts to attack the hoop, resulting in a forced turnover for Miami.
And this wasn't the last approach they used on Walker, either.
In the fourth quarter, the Heat completely changed their approach on Kemba.
As if he hadn't already seen enough attention from Miami's defence, Spoelstra had one more trick in his bag to keep the All-Star guard off his game.
On this possession, Walker brings the ball over halfcourt as Grant Williams - someone who isn't seen as an offensive threat - comes up to set a ball screen. Instead of setting the screen, Williams slips to the perimeter but Adebayo ignores him completely, blitzing Walker with Tyler Herro to force the ball out of his hands.
Walker nearly steps backcourt but gets rid of the ball, setting off a helter-skelter possession for the Celtics. Miami's defence rotates as well as possible, forcing a turnover for a transition bucket the other way.
A few possessions later the Heat did the exact same thing, except this time their defensive rotation came up just short as Jaylen Brown knocks down a tough look from 3.
Again, another example of icing out Kemba to make sure he was uncomfortable at all times on the offensive end.
Following the loss, Walker was hard on himself, telling the media, "I'm just playing terrible, to be honest."
"Not much I can say, but I have to be better. I have to do better for this team on both ends of the floor. Have to make better decisions. Just have to make shots. Just overall, have to do better."
Can Walker snap this rough stretch and help the Celtics even the series in Game 2?
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