The Miami Heat are in the driver’s seat in the Eastern Conference Finals after taking a 2-1 series lead during last Saturday’s Game 3 win over the Boston Celtics.
The Heat have thrived in the regular season, the No. 1 seed in the East with a 53-29 record, and have made it to the ECF due to their veterans ensuring that the teams’ most significant strength is their communication with one another. Vets like Kyle Lowry, P.J. Tucker, Jimmy Butler, and Udonis Haslem have made sure that the Heat has held each other accountable while also letting each other know something they noticed on the court.
Having a team with solid veteran leadership makes life easier for you guys like Max Strus or Bam Adebayo, who is coming into his own as a veteran voice on the team. Haslem encouraged Adebayo to be more aggressive on Game 3, leading to the former Kentucky Wildcat scoring 31 points and 10 rebounds on a career-high 15-22 shooting from the field.
Strus (16 points on 4-7 threes) knocked down a clutch triple with two minutes left in Game 3 to stretch Miami’s lead from one point to four moments after Lowry suggested Coach Erik Spoelstra should run a play for Strus.
“To me, it’s a good thing everyone has an opinion instead of Spo always doing the talking and trying to figure everything out,” Adebayo said per the Miami Herald.
“It’s good that we have four or five guys communicating and talking about schemes so we can all get to a comfortable place where we can all agree on [things].”
Lowry has also been a critical mentor for backup point guard Gabe Vincent (11.3 points per game in the ECF). Vincent said Lowry has made sure to speak with Vincent about what he see’s on the court as an OG lead ballhandler and encourages him to maintain Miami’s preferred pace of play.
Spoelstra has solidified and encouraged the Heat’s culture of players leading the players. According to Tucker, Spoelstra permits his veteran circle so much leeway to speak up because they are high IQ players with substantive ideas to contribute to the game. Tucker further gave Spoelstra credit for not being “the dictator-type that he expected.”
“It’s about smart guys respecting each other, knowing what each other brings, and being able to bring that out of each other,” Tucker said. “Each of us calls each other out for not doing something right[but then] respect [each other] and keep going and not take it personally.”
Second-year center Omer Yurtseven summed up the Heat’s leadership structure as so: Tucker is the defensive guy, being more vocal on that side with some bits and pieces for the offense. Lowry is “very detail-oriented and very smart — he will see something and relay it to the team exactly, a clear picture.” Butler and Adebayo are vocal on both ends, and Haslem is “always talking, especially during timeouts.”
Having too many cooks in the kitchen could be a problem for some players. However, according to Strus, it helps “having a lot of guys that keep us stable.”
“All our veterans are really great about that,” Spoelstra said. “You can develop young guys all that you want, and we do — But what really kicks into another gear is just the veteran leadership of infusing confidence. That’s what Kyle has done the entire year.”
The Heat and Celtics will play Game 4 on Monday night, with Miami looking to leave Boston with a 3-1 series lead and home-court advantage heading back to FTX Arena.