Miami Heat All-Star big man Bam Adebayo made one of the most memorable blocks in NBA history at the end of a 117-114 overtime victory over the Boston Celtics in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday night.
It’s a play that both saved the game for his team and earned him recognition from across the basketball world.
With the Heat clinging to a 116-114 lead as the final seconds ticked away in overtime in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, Celtics All-Star guard Jayson Tatum drove down the lane past Heat swingman Jimmy Butler. Tatum pulled his right arm back to throw down a ferocious dunk, which would have tied the game and likely sent it into a second overtime.
That’s when Adebayo, who was watching the play from the opposite end of the paint, came racing over and jumped up with his right arm and blocked Tatum at the rim. It was a play that left Heat players and coaches beaming and set Adebayo up for a lifetime’s worth of highlights of the defensive stand.
“That can be a poster dunk and a lot of people won’t be willing or aren’t willing to make that play and put themselves out there,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Jayson Tatum got into the launching pad, and [Adebayo] just made a big-time save for us. I mean, Tatum did have an angle, and it looked like he had an open lane to the rim, and sometimes when you have, you know, great competition like this, you just have to make plays that you can’t even really explain, and that was Bam tonight.”
Said Tatum: “I was open. He made a great play. That’s all it is. He made a good play. Can’t do nothing about it.
Hall of Famer Magic Johnson tweeted after the game that it was the best defensive play he had ever seen in the playoffs.
Adebayo called it the best play he has ever made in his career.
“No. 1,” Adebayo said. “No. 1. Playoffs, game on the line, No. 1 play.”
Butler also agreed with Johnson’s sentiment, speaking with pride about the young star who he has repeatedly called the “heart and soul” of the group.
“It was a huge play,” Butler said. “And I would agree with [Magic]. I really would. I think what Bam did to save that game and to make sure that we win it by putting his body on the line, that really is a really great play.”
As he has done throughout the NBA postseason, Butler made several great plays down the stretch, hitting a clutch jumper with 22 seconds remaining in regulation that gave the Heat a brief lead and then completing a three-point play with 12 seconds left in overtime that gave Miami a lead it would not relinquish.
“That’s just his makeup,” Spoelstra said of Butler’s ability to repeatedly raise the level of his game late. “The moment’s not too big for him. And he’s willing to — he’s vulnerable enough to put himself out there, and that’s why we have him.”
A confident player throughout his career, Butler brushed off the notion he has gained even more confidence in the bubble playoffs. But his teammates know better. They know he’s the man who sets the tone for the rest of the group, and they know he has the ability to take the game over when needed. Butler’s belief in himself makes those around him believe even more in their own respective games.
“I think my confidence in my guys grows every single second,” Butler said. “Because they’re not scared of anything, of any moment, of any team, of any shot. That’s where my confidence is, I’ve got all the faith in the world in these guys to make sure that we have an opportunity to win. I’m glad I get to be part of the leaders that we have here.”
As happy as Butler was about his own performance, and the big shots that rookie sharpshooter Tyler Herro hit late, it was Adebayo’s block that made him most pleased. That was the play that ended the game, and that was the one that will be remembered for a long time.
“That’s one of those ones, it’s championship-style defense,” Heat forward Jae Crowder said. “That’s some stuff, we’ll look back 10, 15 years from now and watch that play. It was an amazing play.”
It’s a play that will rank up there with LeBron James’ block late in Game 7 against the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals and Larry Bird’s steal of an Isiah Thomas pass late in Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern Conference finals against the Detroit Pistons.
Adebayo described the sequence almost matter-of-factly after it was over.
“I had to make a play,” he said. “It’s the playoffs, and I made a great play.”
It’s a play that left Johnson and the basketball world singing Adebayo’s praises after it was over.
“You hear that, Magic?” a happy Adebayo exclaimed when told about Johnson’s tweet. “It’s just you get on that big stage, you just got to make big plays and I made a big play. Coming from Magic, that’s a great comment from him, and you just have got to keep getting better throughout the playoffs.