I was first dismayed when coach Erik Spoelstra replaced Hassan Whiteside with Bam Adebayo in the Miami Heat starting five.
The mercurial Whiteside is a walking double-double for the Heaters and is a human flyswatter around the basket if there ever was one. The 7’0” center may care more about his NBA2K rating than team success, but he was Miami’s highest-paid player and was supposed to lead South Beach back to the Promised Land.
But after getting paid over $98 million for four years in 2016, the former Marshall University Thundering Herd hasn’t lived up to his contract, justifying coach Spo’s move to start Adebayo over him during the second half of last season.
Whiteside would eventually get traded to the Pacific Northwest in the offseason and Adebayo’s spot in the Miami Heat starting five was secure. He rewarded coach Spo’s confidence in him by making his first all-star, increasing his statistical averages across the board, and even winning the Skills Challenge in the 2020 NBA All-Star Weekend. More importantly, the 6’9” banger from Kentucky (that’s in shoes), has been in the forefront of Miami’s resurgent season, leading the Heat back to the playoffs together with newly acquired Jimmy Butler, veteran Goran Dragic, former Division III player Duncan Robinson, and rookies Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn.
Miami also got some help at the trade deadline when they flipped Justise Winslow, Dion Waiters, and James Johnson for 2015 NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder. Of the two, the latter has been a revelation for Miami, especially in the playoff bubble in Orlando, making over 40% of his attempts from rainbow country while usually guarding the opposing team’s top scorer.
The AAU atmosphere of the bubble in Orlando has obviously helped a Miami team that is a stickler for the often-repeated Pat Riley rallying cry of “Heat Culture.” Sans the usual distractions inherent in any playoff run, the Heat has so far compiled the best record in the postseason, sweeping the Indiana Pacers in the first round before dispatching Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks in five games in the second.
Which brings us now to Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals where Miami outlasted a young and talented Boston Celtics team in overtime. It only took some clutch buckets from Butler, the game-long brilliance of The Dragon, hot outside shooting of Crowder, and Herro posting near a triple double (12 points 11 rebounds, and 9 assists) to eke out the heart-pounding victory.
Let’s face it Herro is really the Baby Goat. Making a contested pull-up jumper from 3 after Kemba Walker cooked him on the other end speaks volumes of how gutsy this kid from Kentucky is. Dragic also kept Miami from going under in the first half, hitting shots from everywhere—floaters, 3-pointers, and 1-man fastbreaks. There’s no denying too that Crowder has morphed into Dale Ellis since joining the Miami Heat. The defensive stalwart is an automatic bucket from deep to complement his lockdown defense.
But the biggest play of the game—Jimmy Buckets’ and-1 against Celtic star Jayson Tatum that gave the Heat a 2-point lead with 12 seconds to go in OT notwithstanding—was Adebayo’s block on Tatum.
Tatum isolated against Butler and used the free throw line as a takeoff ramp for what supposed to be a game-tying tomahawk dunk. But meeting the former Duke star on the zenith of his jump was none other than Adebayo. Bam! An unstoppable force meeting an immovable object with Adebayo winning out. Laker great Magic Johnson sums it best when he said that the block was the greatest defensive play in postseason history. There might be some hyperbole in Magic’s comments, but Adebayo’s denial of Tatum was Bill Russell-like and ranks among the best blocks in playoff lore (remember LeBron James’ block on Iguodala in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Final and Detroit forward Tayshaun Prince’s rejection of Pacer great Reggie Miller in the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals?).
For his heroics against the Celts in the dying seconds of Game 1, Adebayo from now on will be referred to as Ade-block-you in my columns (Let’s see how that catches on).
Out in the west, or the other basketball court in the Orlando bubble that is, the Los Angeles Clippers exit the Orlando Bubble with their tail between their legs. As I said, the Paper Clip have no killer instinct, as witnessed by them losing leads of 16 points and 19 points in Game 5 and Game 6, respectively. And Game 7 was no different as coach Doc Rivers’ team was up as much as 12 points in the first half only to collapse in the second half as the Nuggets’ Dynamic Duo of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray proved too much for the paper tigers of the Western Conference. Jokic finished with a triple double and Murray had his best offensive game since dropping half dollars and change in two games against Utah.
The all-star duo of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George scored a measly 24 points in total in the pitiful Game 7 loss, which will hurt the next few days (or weeks if not months) for a team with championship aspirations. Chemistry problems hounded the “other” LA team the entire season and was compounded more in the bubble with the late arrivals of Leonard and George and Lou Williams and NBA Sixth Man winner Motrezk Harrell yo-yoing in and out from the NBA bubble.
The Los Angeles Lakers better not take the Denver Nuggets lightly. I dare suggest that to avoid the same fate that befell the Utah Jazz and the Paper Clips before them, the Purple and Gold should allow coach Mike Malone’s team to erect a 3-1 advantage in the series. Heck, spot them 3-0 and let The King and AD make history.