Celtics have NBA Sixth Man of Year; Heat have East finals best reserve as series moves to Miami

·4 min read

MIAMI — The NBA’s 2023 Sixth Man of the Year comes off one bench in the NBA Eastern Conference finals. The series’ best reserve comes off the other.

With all due respect to Boston Celtics guard Malcolm Brogdon and his shiny trophy, no reserve has impacted this best-of-seven series more than Miami Heat forward Caleb Martin.

For Martin, who is coming off a 25-point performance in Friday night’s 111-105 victory at TD Garden that gave the Heat a 2-0 lead, it is a matter of respect earned.

Among the facets that allowed the Celtics to slip past the Heat in seven games in last year’s East finals was utilizing center Robert Williams as somewhat of a defensive safety, making him the primary defender against Martin in name only, instead positioning him in the paint as a one-man zone.

Challenge offered.

And now challenge accepted, with the Heat two wins from their second NBA Finals appearance in four years, with the series’ next two games at Kaseya Center, starting Sunday at 8:30 p.m.

“When we got through the second round, we matched up with Boston again, I just knew from the jump, I automatically triggered my brain to last year and the playoffs and knew exactly how they were going to guard me,” Martin said in the wake of Friday 11-of-16 night from the field. “So I’ve been preparing myself the minute we beat the Knicks and we were preparing for Boston.

“I just automatically started trying to re-circuit my brain to the looks I would get and how guys are going to help off of me and me preparing to be ready and confident and assertive.”

At times, that meant stepping back into 3-point shots, closing 3 of 7 from beyond the arc. At other times it meant attacking the space offered, attacking the rim.

It made him the perfect Game 2 complement to Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo as those two filled Friday night’s box score, Butler with 27 points, eight rebounds, six assists, three steals and two blocked shots, Adebayo with 22 points, 17 rebounds and nine assists.

“Everybody has a game plan or a scheme to follow. I get it,” Martin said of the Celtics’ defensive disrespect. “When you’re dealing with guys as good as Jimmy, Bam, guys that draw so much attention, you kind of have to pick your poison. I’m on the short end of the stick when it comes to that.

“But you know, I welcome that. It’s my job to continue to prove to people that I can be the guy to do that off of. I’ve got to not only deal with that, but that’s just me doing my job and creating space and making things easier on our main guys.”

With those main guys appreciative.

“I think what Caleb did tonight was incredible in keeping us in the game,” Butler said in the victory that saw the Heat fall behind by 12 in the second period and then 12 again early in the fourth quarter. “You can’t leave him. He’s on everybody’s scouting report. He does everything that you ask him to do.”

Last summer, the Heat faced a tricky decision: re-sign veteran power forward P.J. Tucker to the full mid-level exception and lose the right to make a competitive free-agency offer to Martin or retain Martin at an equitable price point. Tucker left for the 76ers, losing to the Celtics in the previous round. Martin was re-signed, a quality starter the first half of the season, an even better reserve since.

“He’s an important playmaker for us, spacing the floor,” coach Erik Spoelstra said of the 27-year-old fourth-year veteran. “He’s not your traditional 3-and-D guy. He’s a little unconventional out of the box, so he can do a lot of different things.

“If they are going to play way off of him, he’s now had a lot of months of knocking down those kind of shots. But also off the dribble, making plays and those timely winning plays.”