Heat offer unique twist on 15 strong in support of Butler, Adebayo vs. Celtics

·4 min read

BOSTON — The 35 points by Jimmy Butler at this point almost are the 2023 NBA playoff expectation. Ditto for Bam Adebayo and his 20 points in Wednesday night’s series-opening victory over the Boston Celtics.

But it was what followed after Adebayo’s name in the box score from the Miami Heat’s 123-116 victory that so resonated in the game that produced a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals.

Max Strus, 15 points.

Gabe Vincent, 15.

Caleb Martin, 15.

Kyle Lowry, 15.

“The other guys that stepped up,” coach Erik Spoelstra said Thursday. “If any one of ’em didn’t have those kind of contributions, we might not win that game.”

Such is how the Heat are built and what has fueled them to this point heading into Friday’s 8:30 p.m. Game 2 against the Celtics at TD Garden.

This is not a team with a Big Three.

And with all due respect to Adebayo and his defensive leanings, not necessarily a team with a Big Two.

In many ways, it is all-or-nothing by committee. That is why the 15-15-15-15 created not only a unique box score, but a necessary one, a unique twist on the 15 Strong motto that Heat President Pat Riley employed as coach during the team’s run to the 2006 NBA championship.

“It’s great,” Strus said. “And we’re going to need it this series and from here on out. And we’re all capable of stepping up. We’re all ready for the moment. And we all want to help. So whatever that means, game by game, we’re all going to do our job.”

For Lowry, it has meant accepting a supporting role at this late stage of his career.

“When you build a team, you build a team for 15 guys to be able to play,” he said. “But you’ve got those stars that are the big-time guys and we’ve got to make their job easier. And I think that’s one thing about our committee, is we know what we’ve got to do to make their jobs easier.”

So Butler and Adebayo lead, and there is an eager following in place.

“I think it says a lot about our guys and what we’re capable of,” Martin said, “and pretty much just the confidence of guys like Jimmy, Bam, all our go-tos, instill in us off the ball. And I think it’s just a testament of the work we’ve put in to get ready for those moments.

“That’s what we’re here to do. We support those guys and they put us in position to make plays and help take the slack off, because they carry a large load when it comes to carrying us through the playoffs. So we’ve got to do our part.”

To Vincent, it was the satisfaction of supporting beyond the scoring column, as well.

“Obviously you want to be your best version for your teammates and help win,” he said. “And it’s great when that comes to scoring. But a lot of the time, it’s not scoring. A lot of times it’s setting the screen, getting back in transition, rebounding, whatever the case may be.”

Stolen victory

Teammates were effusive in their praise of Butler’s six steals in Wednesday’s victory, one off the franchise postseason record set by Josh Richardson in the 2018 first round against the Philadelphia 76ers.

“Three of them were like massive steals and kind of like stopping their momentum or stopping them from getting shots,” Lowry said. “But that’s just what he does. He’s arguably the best two-way player in this game right now. He’s showing up and doing what he’s supposed to do and doing even more.”

The Heat scored 26 points off Celtics turnovers in Wednesday’s victory.

“Whenever you can turn those defensive stops into buckets,” Martin said, “and just get any type of second-chance points and opportunities you can, it’s going to be very helpful at this stage of the season.”

Day of candor

Thursday was a mandatory media day for the teams, with Spoelstra clearly beyond the rhetoric of this stage of the season. “So much gets exaggerated about adjustments,” he said when yet again asked about the subject ...

Similarly, Vincent had little time for a line of questioning about the satisfaction of Wednesday’s victory. “Not satisfied,” he said. “It’s a lot of work to be done.”