The 2020 NBA playoffs have been a showcase of shocking comebacks, ungodly individual exploits and buzzer-beaters and beautiful team performances. But not every postseason game can be a work of art. Those instant classics linger in our memory, but every team that advances to the NBA Finals trudges its way through a bog or two.
For the Miami Heat, their 112-109 Game 4 victory over the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals was anything but elegant. There were glimpses of the two-man dance of Goran Dragic and Bam Adebayo, and Jimmy Butler found 24 points in places he usually does. But very little on Wednesday night came easily until the closing possessions.
There was one exception: Tyler Herro.
In a choppy affair with so many ugly possessions, Herro was playing in a different game. The rookie guard sizzled from beyond the arc, showed off his ball skills off the dribble and crashed the glass. His 37-point output not only paced the Heat — it saved them.
After outplaying Miami minute-for-minute most of the series, Boston is now in a precarious spot, down 3-1. The first 2½ quarters were a quagmire. After attacking from the outset in Game 3 to great effect, the Celtics were tentative again in the first half of Game 4.
Forward Jayson Tatum endured a hellacious, scoreless first half, then came out of the locker room with a vengeance after intermission — one of the more bizarre, bifurcated individual efforts of the postseason, but his second-half outburst kept the Celtics afloat.
There were glimpses of vintage Heat when it counted most, including a crucial 3-point bucket from Dragic that captured the collective basketball IQ that has propelled this No. 5 seed to the doorstep of the Finals. In just four seconds, the ball traversed four zones of the court from Butler to Adebayo to Andre Iguodala and finally Dragic to put the Heat up three possessions with 1 minute, 36 seconds remaining.
With the huge hockey assist, Adebayo was the fulcrum of that possession, just as he has been at so many big moments in this Miami bubble run. Late in the fourth quarter, he appeared to have difficulty moving his left arm. He finished the final frenzied minutes of the game, but with the left arm dangling without much vigor. Adebayo’s health is crucial to the Heat’s success on both sides of the ball, and the next two days could be long ones as the Heat and their big man await a prognosis.
The Heat are now just one game away from the NBA Finals, and would be just the third team seeded fifth or lower to reach that stage. Though it would have seemed improbable just a short time ago, they have the composition of a team entirely up to the task: a gritty closer, a multipurpose big man, shooters all over the floor, veteran savvy and, after Game 4, a young playmaker with championship-level confidence. — Kevin Arnovitz
Herro flashes All-Star potential
Tyler Herro continued his scorching postseason run, exploding for 37 points in 36 minutes, setting the NBA record previously held by Andrew Toney for most points off the bench by a rookie and becoming only the fourth player in NBA history to score 30 or more in a playoff game before the age of 21.
For the second consecutive game, Herro was the best player on the floor, having scored 59 points in his past 72 minutes on 22-of-39 shooting. Throughout the series, the 20-year-old showed the confidence of a veteran All-Star, constantly in attack mode, staring down the Celtics’ bench after makes and giving Miami a much-needed spark with his energy and bucket-getting mentality.
Herro’s never-ending self-belief comes as little surprise, as he’s long been praised for his swagger and edge, even predating his “I’m a bucket” moment in Lexington.
But Herro’s evolution from off-ball, quick-action scorer at Kentucky to more of an on-ball, pick-and-roll threat has been a key development in Miami’s postseason brilliance.
A lot of Herro’s damage is by way of spot-ups, handoffs and cuts, like we saw from Devin Booker before him. Herro used only 25 pick-and-roll possessions in 37 games during his freshman season at Kentucky, yet has looked far more comfortable creating for himself and his teammates in the NBA. Veteran teammates deferred to him down the stretch and he looked calm and collected bringing the ball up the floor, getting Miami into its offense and making timely reads.
Herro dribbled into several midrange pull-ups, splashed a deep rise-and-fire triple against a drop coverage, sprinted into catch-and-shoot 3s, converted a one-legged runner and made a handful of heady drop-offs and kick-outs to open teammates with either hand.
Beyond this series, Herro’s evolution as a true ball-screen scorer and poised playmaker, in addition to his non-stop off-ball movement, gives him considerable long-term upside that few scouts saw when he was drafted 13th overall. In the interim, it’s not just Herro’s scoring that lifted Miami to a pivotal Game 4 victory.
Herro has turned himself into an elite positional rebounder, averaging 7.5 boards this series at 6-foot-6 with a lean frame and negative wingspan. He’s willing to crack down from the weak side or stick his nose in traffic to corral loose balls. The rookie is also active in Miami’s zone, stunting at shooters to make them second-guess letting it fly. Even if he’s overmatched physically at times, he’s willing to put his body on the line to contain penetration.
As he showed yet again in Game 4, Herro has the exact killer mentality that personifies this Miami group and has it one win away from an NBA Finals berth. — Mike Schmitz
Boston finds itself in a familiar situation
Teams tend to regret missed opportunities in a best-of-seven playoff series. The Celtics must be kicking themselves for the situation they’re in.
It would be one thing to be trailing the Miami Heat 3-1 in the Eastern Conference finals if the Celtics had been thoroughly outplayed by their counterparts. But entering Game 4, Boston had led for 74.7% of the minutes through the first three games.
The Celtics had a disastrous fourth quarter in Game 1, and an awful stretch in the third quarter of Game 2 — losing both games. The introduction of Gordon Hayward into the series swung things further in Boston’s direction in Game 3. But trailing 2-1, the Celtics were in a position where — if something weird happened in Game 4 on Wednesday night — they could be on the verge of leaving the NBA’s bubble.
Well, Tyler Herro and his 37 points was that weird thing. And the Celtics now find themselves in a massive hole.
The Celtics needed seven games to get past the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Boston lost two close games in that series, and only just managed to win Game 7 to advance past the defending champions.
Boston is in the same situation against another battle-tested team in Miami, and might not escape this time around.
There will be plenty for the Celtics to look back on with regret from this game. Kemba Walker was left on Herro for too long as he was torching Boston in the second half. Jayson Tatum was invisible for the first 32 minutes before finally getting going. Boston got lots of open looks against Miami’s zone defense, but missed most of them in the first half, then didn’t make enough of them down the stretch.
It’s the kind of thing that can happen in a playoff series. It’s also the kind of thing that a team can’t afford to let happen if it has already blown a couple of games it should have won. — Tim Bontemps
Goran Dragic lobs to Bam Adebayo for the one-handed alley-oop finish.
Bam finds ways to contribute on both ends
Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler have spent the bubble bouncing praise off one another. Butler has repeatedly said that Adebayo is the “heart and soul” of the Heat. Adebayo usually has smiled and relayed the same message: It’s the other way around. Adebayo’s Game 4 performance, though, offered more credence to Butler’s statements.
As Tyler Herro hit shots from all over the floor and delivered a career-high 37 points, and Butler continued to make plays late in the fourth quarter that carried the Heat across the finish line — there was Adebayo delivering one more time on a variety of levels. It wasn’t just the 20 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals — all of which the Heat needed — it was that Adebayo continued to make plays when the Heat needed them most.
In Game 1, it was the block at the rim on Jayson Tatum that caught the basketball world’s attention. In Game 4, as he has all season, it was play after play over the course of a hard-nosed contest that pushed the Heat just one win from a Finals appearance. Adebayo doesn’t have the type of flashy offensive game that will catch attention most nights, but he continues to play with the type of steady consistency that any championship contender needs.
In what has become a common theme throughout this postseason, it looks like Butler was right all along.
Dragic’s season of the ultimate teammate
How many players who started 242 games over the previous four seasons would have accepted the role of sixth man heading into a contract year?
That is what happened when the 34-year-old Goran Dragic made the ultimate team sacrifice before the season, relinquishing his starter duties to rookie Kendrick Nunn, who went on to earn All-NBA rookie honors. Dragic thrived coming off the bench, averaging 16 points in 28 minutes.
When Nunn was sidelined during the NBA restart for testing positive for the coronavirus, it opened the door for Dragic to regain his starting position.
What transpired since has set the stage for Dragic to be one of the most sought-after free agents in the offseason.
In the Game 4 win, Dragic affected the game offensively in different ways:
Two assists (a Bam Adebayo dunk and Jae Crowder 3) gave the Heat a rare five-point lead halfway through the first quarter.
A four-point play at the end of the second quarter extended the lead to six.
Dragic hit a lefty layup and followed up with a 3 in the closing minutes to put Miami up seven.
He finished with 22 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists. For the playoffs, he is averaging 21 points on 38% from 3.
How does this set up for free agency?
Dragic ranks second on the free-agent point guard board, behind Fred VanVleet.
The Heat have made a concerted effort to prioritize cap flexibility (they could have a max slot available) for the summer of 2021.
Miami can offer Dragic a one-year, $20 million contract and still have the flexibility to use their $9.3 million mid-level exception, remain below the tax line in 2020-21 and have cap space in 2021-22.
The Heat front office will need to thoroughly analyze and put together a plan if Dragic receives an offer of more than one year. Will it spend even if that means compromising cap flexibility? As Brian Windhorst wrote, the Heat do not believe in three-year plans.
“You know me, I’m all about now,” Heat president Pat Riley said earlier this season. “We’re going to press on and we’re not going to stop.” — Bobby Marks