After eliminating the Atlanta Hawks in Round 1 of the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Miami Heat (2-0) are dominating the Philadelphia 76ers in the conference semifinals. While numerous Heat stars are putting on impressive performances, the prodigal return of Victor Oladipo has been incredible to watch.
During the Heat’s 119-103 win over the Sixers on May 4, Oladipo scored 19 points, shooting 6-of-11 on field goals and 3-of-4 from beyond the arc, grabbed six rebounds and had and one assist. During the series-clinching Game 5 against the Hawks, he put up 23 points, along with three assists and three steals.
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It shouldn’t be surprising that a two-time All-Star is getting substantial minutes in the playoffs, but Heat coach Erik Spoelstra barely played the 30-year-old guard once he’d been cleared to return to action during the regular season and he remained cagey as to whether Oladipo would come off the bench during the playoffs. It wasn’t until both Kyle Lowry and Jimmy Butler were out before Oladipo was given real minutes.
Though it seemed Oladipo seamlessly gelled with the team’s offensive and defensive overnight, Spoelstra revealed that the team had been secretly working on his return for months. Basically, the entire team knew Oladipo would break out during the playoffs, having trained for it since February, and kept it a secret.
“You have to have the right kind of guys, that are about winning, and are willing to work through a process of it,” Spoelstra said, per Sun Sentinel‘s Ira Winderman:
“It’s not going to happen through osmosis. Now, the last three months we’ve been able to work through this, even though it hasn’t necessarily been on the wood. We’ve had film sessions, shootarounds, practices, where we’ve been able to work different combinations and put together a menu, and how we’re trying to maximize each others’ strengths.
“If we didn’t start the process three months ago in practices and all those kinds of sessions, it probably would be a little bit dramatic, trying to do this in a playoff setting. There was a time, actually, we were trying to prepare for this in January. It just took a lot longer, but not behind the scenes. So we’re just kind of methodical with that process.”
Oladipo Remains Humble, Ready to Do Whatever it Takes for the Team to Win
Much has been said about Oladipo’s patience, his glass-half-full approach to rehab and training following his season-ending surgery on his quadriceps last May.
However, the Heat guard said during his May 4 postgame news conference on that he was able to stay patient because he knew the day when he could return to All-Star form would eventually come. He just had to prepare, wait and be ready to go when his name was finally called.
“At the end of the day, that’s my role on this team and I just go in there and play it to the best of my ability,” Oladipo said. “I can’t really control anything else but my mentality and what I bring to the game. I just try to go in there and make it tough defensively. Offensively, just be aggressive, make the right reads and be smart. Obviously, I haven’t been here all year, but I’ve been watching and paying close attention. When I go in there, I trust my preparation, trust my instincts, and everything else will take care of itself.”
Herro & Oladipo’s Chemistry Will Continue to Build, Spoelstra Said
The Heat entered the playoffs as the No. 1 team in the East with an X-factor in their back pocket. No one knew whether Oladipo would be launched into action or whether he’d be able to perform even half as well as he did before his injury.
While Oladipo put up 40 points against the Orlando Magic on April 10, delivering in the playoffs is a whole different beast. Tyler Herro, who was officially given the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award prior to tipoff on May 4, said their rhythm will only get better as they move forward.
“Obviously, the first couple of games, we came off the bench and it didn’t look too good in the regular season,” Herro told reporters May 4 at his postgame press conference.
“We can play together,” Herro said, according to The Miami Herald’s Anthony Chiang. “People don’t think we can, but we can and we’ve had reps in practice and throughout the playoffs. We’re going to continue to get better with that. But just trying to find a balance of who’s handling and who’s playing off the ball. We’ll continue to get better with that.”
Spoelstra agreed, telling Chiang: “Defensively, I thought he was really good and active guarding multiple guys. He gives us another attacker. He’s also a spacer. … He and Tyler have been building a better chemistry certainly in practice.”
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