As they offered their earned exhale Wednesday, the Miami Heat rested amid the reality that, for all their postseason relentlessness, even their leading man has taken a measured approach to the entire process.
Scan the NBA’s list of leading playoff scorers and you have to scroll for a bit until the first Heat player appears. That would be Jimmy Butler, at No. 17 in terms of postseason average, at 21.8 points per game.
Behind two Los Angeles Lakers, two Dallas Mavericks, two Denver Nuggets and two Boston Celtics. And that’s with Butler having produced 40- and 30-point games this postseason.
“It takes the right kind of group and the right kind of star players to be able to allow that type of team to grow into that,” coach Erik Spoelstra said of the Heat’s balance. “If you have a star player who’s only thinking about scoring 35 points a game, then guys like Bam (Adebayo) wouldn’t grow into the role that he did.
“Jimmy and Goran (Dragic) have really allowed guys to grow as the season went on. Our young guys, we learned pretty early on that we were going to rely on them. So they’re going to need a lot of guidance and leadership and confidence in them. So more guys have to contribute.”
In terms of scoring average, Dragic exited Tuesday’s series-clinching victory over the Milwaukee Bucks at No. 20 in postseason points per game, without another Heat player listed until Adebayo, at No. 40.
“We’ve got a lot of guys on this team who can do a lot of different things,” backup center Kelly Olynyk said, “a lot of guys who can put the ball in the basket. And, for us, when the ball’s moving, everybody’s involved, everybody’s in the flow making plays, that’s when we’re at our best.
“That’s what makes us tough to guard, makes us tough to scout. And you can’t really key in on one thing, because we’ve got a lot of guys making plays, making shots and that’s huge.”
Consider that in the closeout games, in the first round against the Indiana Pacers and then Tuesday against the Bucks, Butler scored a combined 23 points.
And exited each series with a smile.
“We’re legit in it to win it. We don’t care about stats,” Butler said, with the Heat awaiting next week’s start of the Eastern Conference finals. “We don’t care about fame. We don’t care about none of that. All that we all care about is winning a championship. And I’m telling you, that’s why we’re playing the style of basketball we’re playing right now.”
To see Butler cede some of the scoring is to see the rare smile that Spoelstra flashed as Tuesday’s victory approached its conclusion.
“He’s totally cool with the young guys growing and becoming new players, better players as the season goes on,” Spoelstra said. “He’s not territorial about it all. He’s just about winning, and he understands that he needs guys with him.
“All the big winners get that, and he has been around long enough to know that we’re going to need everybody, and everybody playing at a high level.”
Including the Heat’s neophytes, players like 2019 first-round pick Tyler Herro.
“The veteran players are giving them confidence. That’s everything in this game,” Spoelstra said. “As a young player trying to learn and figure out this league and trying to figure out how to help a team win, if your veteran players are beating you down all the time, it’s tough to have confidence.
“Our veteran guys feed these guys so much confidence, and it’s born out of respect. They see how hard they work and how pure they are. So it’s a symbiotic relationship. It’s cool and it’s unique.”
©2020 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)