Erik Spoelstra occasionally warns reporters about the dangers of judging a players’ contributions by the number on the far right of his line on the box score (point total).
Spoelstra didn’t need to do that with Victor Oladipo in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Celtics on Sunday night, because it was clear that the modest scoring total (five) didn’t begin to cover his contributions as a fill-in for Jimmy Butler to start the second half.
In those 20 second-half minutes, Oladipo had four steals (twice as many as the Boston team for the entire game) and eight pass deflections (one more than the Celtics).
What Oladipo contributes is “usually his offense,” Heat teammate P.J. Tucker said Saturday. “But his lateral slides and quickness, it was unbelievable. I told him tonight, that was some of the best lateral foot speed I’ve seen anybody have because Jaylen Brown, when he gets going, especially right, he’s tough to get back in front of. For Vic to square him up was unreal. He gave us a spark.
“We talked about it at the half, knowing he was about to start the half and play. To not play at all and then step in and do what he did in the second half, that level of professionalism is few and far between.”
Former NBA guard Jamal Crawford tweeted: “Vic Oladipo’s stats won’t justify the game he actually played. They don’t win this game without him.”
The performance came on a night when Spoelstra had seemingly bypassed Oladipo in the rotation, using Caleb Martin and Duncan Robinson in the first half.
But when trainers determined that Butler should not play in the second half because of knee soreness, Spoelstra turned to Oladipo, who’s shooting just 37.9 percent in the playoffs and 26.7 percent on threes.
“Everything about it, it speaks to his competitive character,” Spoelstra said. “That was not easy. We went with a slightly different rotation because Kyle came back. That is going to force some changes throughout the rotation. So he didn’t play in the first half.
“We’ve had so many guys that have had to take on different roles and sacrifice. We say it’s always easy to sacrifice when you’re not the one doing it, and he’s had to sacrifice many times. That wasn’t easy. That wasn’t necessarily the way we were going to go the first half. Just things were going really well. We just kept going with that. Then all of a sudden, boom, Jimmy is not going to go in the second half. Then him to be stable enough and not be frustrated and not be rolling his eyes and like, oh, okay, now I get an opportunity.”
So nobody cared that Oladipo shot just 1 for 4 from the field, with a rebound and an assist.
“He’s just steady,” Spoelstra said. “Stays the course. He’s made himself available. Made himself vulnerable through this whole process. He’s prepared behind the scenes. His minutes in the second half were so important defensively against their two studs, and then offensively, he just gave us a facsimile of a lot of the stuff we do with Jimmy. And I mean that as the ultimate compliment.”
The Heat remains hopeful that Butler can play Game 4 on Monday in Boston (8:30 p.m., ABC).
Oladipo, speaking before a team meeting on Sunday, cracked: “You can’t really prepare yourself to be Jimmy. Just went out there and played as hard as I could at both ends of the floor.”
THIS AND THAT
▪ The Heat’s 19 steals were its most ever in a playoff game and the most in any NBA playoff game since 2015.
▪ Despite scoring 40 and getting to the line 12 times, Brown complained about the officiating afterward:
“They let a lot of stuff go tonight, especially when I feel like I drive and I get to the basket, I feel like it’s two hands on me all the time,” Brown said. “I never get those hand-checking calls.”
Brown committed seven turnovers.
▪ Per Elias, the Heat is the first team to have a lead after three games of a series after outscoring the opponent in just two of 12 quarters.