- Nick Friedell is the Chicago Bulls beat reporter for ESPN Chicago. Friedell is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and joined ESPNChicago.com for its launch in April 2009.
MIAMI — Jimmy Butler isn’t the only member of the Miami Heat who has the ability to dominate the Boston Celtics.
As the No. 8-seeded Heat continue their historic run through the Eastern Conference postseason — a stretch that is now just one game away from another NBA Finals appearance after Erik Spoelstra’s team embarrassed the No. 1 seed Celtics 128-102 in Game 3 on Sunday night — they did so by relying on a host of younger players who continue embrace the moment.
Heat guard Gabe Vincent scored a game-high 29 points, going 11-for-14 from the field, in a measured performance that his teammates and coaches have come to expect from the 26-year-old guard.
“It’s his assertiveness and aggressiveness,” Spoelstra said of Vincent. “And reading the game. I thought he had as much of an impact and put his fingerprints on the win in Game 2 as he did tonight. One of the games he had four points; another game he had 29. And he has that emotional stability to — you know, he sees guys like Jimmy and Bam [Adebayo], who are the perfect role models. Coming in as a young player, it’s about impacting winning, and sometimes it’s about making the right play and doing it on both ends of the court. That’s tough to do as a young player because so much is celebrated on just that last number on the box score.”
Sunday night’s box score gave the Heat plenty to celebrate on Sunday night. In a postseason run that has been defined by Butler’s brilliance and Adebayo’s steadiness, it was Vincent and Duncan Robinson, who scored 22 points off the bench, and Caleb Martin who chipped in with 18, who set the tone for the group. Game 3 offered another reminder of just how solid the Heat have become over the last month as they continue gain even more confidence night after night.
“To their credit, they’re playing well above their means,” Celtics guard Jaylen Brown said. “They’re ballin’ right now and I’ve got to give them respect. Gabe Vincent, Martin, (Max) Strus, Duncan Robinson, guys that we should be able to keep under control are playing their (butt) off.”
As the Heat continue to stun the basketball world by dominating a Celtics team that many expected to win the East, the fact that they’ve been able to rely on lesser-known names throughout this series only cements the strong culture that the organization is so proud of, especially as it pertains to being able to develop players over time and trust them to shine in the right moments.
While Butler is the one who receives the majority of the spotlight within the group, he has repeatedly stated that he believes in the players around him. That belief underscores why the Heat feel so strong about the roster.
“Believing in one another,” Adebayo explained. “Believing that we can get a win. Believing that we can beat the No. 1 team in the league. You know, belief is real, and we’ve got a will to win.”
Martin spoke for many within the locker room while describing what it’s been like to embrace the challenge of beating the Celtics after the same group knocked them out of the Eastern Conference finals last season.
“I just think that we got the matchup we wanted,” Martin said. “We got to see the team who took us out last year, and there’s nothing like a second crack at it. So I think that we are just trying to take advantage of that, and you know, we are playing like we have something to prove. We’re just a bunch of guys with a chip on our shoulder, so we just want to continue to prove that.”
Vincent said the key for him is to “be as present as possible,” and doing anything he can to help the group. It’s a team that appears more unified than ever before — and as Spoelstra spoke proudly about what the younger players continue to provide, he did so while praising the two veteran leaders of the group.
“Jimmy and Bam are both fueling that,” Spoelstra said. “They are just infusing those guys with confidence … But then they also know that they have to impact everybody else on the roster, and you know, we talk about it all the time. You want to breathe life into other guys, and ultimately enjoy someone else’s success, but that takes great emotional stability. You know, there’s a lot of pressure and voices and noise coming at you from a lot of different ways.
“But those guys, those guys get it. And you’re seeing some of the role players really grow and be able to expand their games. That only happens if your star players really want that.”
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