'Heart and soul of our group': Heat's Bam Adebayo answers call and delivers in Game 3 win over Celtics | Opinion

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BOSTON — Bam Adebayo knew his performance prior to Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals wasn’t good enough.

Game 1 didn’t matter so much with Jimmy Butler dominating in a Miami Heat victory. In a Game 2 loss, Adebayo’s performance was pronounced: six points on just six shots.

Adebayo turned in All-Star performance Saturday with a team-high in points (31), rebounds (10), assists (six) and steals (four) in Miami's 109-103 win over the Boston Celtics that gives the Heat a 2-1 series lead.

"Just a different mentality," Adebayo said. "Like I said, they beat us like we stole something in Game 2. So that woke a fire up in all of us."

That aggressive mentality was noticeable from the start. He scored on a driving layup on Miami’s third possession, and by the end of the first quarter as the Heat built a 39-18 lead, Adebayo had 12 points.

"We need Bam to be aggressive and make plays for himself and for everybody else," Heat forward P.J. Tucker said. "The way our team is built, he triggers the most out of everybody. His versatility just opens everything up for everybody. You've got to attack and you've got to be there when he gets the rolls. Offensive rebounding. He's such a force. His versatility, people got to be there and it helps open the 3s up, be able to get in the pocket, pick-and-rolls, a lot of stuff.

"So it's essential for him to get going."

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The 24-year-old’s production was that much more necessary with Butler (right knee inflammation) missing the second half.

Adebayo had 16 points in the first half, which matched his total from the first two games, and 15 in the second half, including eight in the fourth quarter when Boston cut a 15-point deficit to a point late in the game.

"Just on the catch, he was a lot more assertive," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Then when Jimmy was out in the second half, he just stabilized us. It got a little gnarly out there and when it did, we were able to get the ball to Bam and just get something coherent."

After the blowout loss in Game 2, the Heat realized they would have trouble winning games with Adebayo restricted offensively.

At Saturday morning’s shootaround at the arena, Spoelstra addressed the topic.

"We want him more involved, and I have to do a better job of that, of making sure that he's involved, engaged, getting us to our triggers. ... He's a very important part of our offense and how we function."

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Adebayo, who was named to the NBA’s All-Defensive team for the third consecutive season on Friday, unleashed that two-way play with eight defensive rebounds, the steals and a block.

"It wasn't just the scoring," Spoelstra said. "That's what everybody is going to recognize, but he did so many things in terms of getting us organized, facilitating, playing point guard for us at times, running offense in the post through him, and then defending like he always does one through five against a team that presents a lot of challenges."

Adebayo looked more like the player who helped the Heat reach the 2020 NBA Finals in the Orlando bubble, especially offensively.

Bam Adebayo scored a team-high 31 points for the Heat.
Bam Adebayo scored a team-high 31 points for the Heat.

Adebayo was quiet in his postgame press conference, not offering too much insight into his performance other than saying, "they beat us like we stole something in Game 2," three times and acknowledging that longtime Heat veteran Udonis Haslem was in his ear between games.

"I've seen him play great basketball in the playoffs. I really have," Spoelstra said. "He's a winning player. And you know, he really is the heart and soul of our group. You can count on him all the time. He doesn't get caught up in all the noise and everything. He's just out there competing. Playing winning basketball. Doing it on both ends and doing what is necessary.

"Tonight we needed the scoring and we needed kind of that offensive punch early on."

A big unknown for the Heat entering the series — and even more so after Game 2 — was who would provide scoring alongside Butler.

Adebayo for at a least a game answered. For the Heat to win the series, they need that to continue.

Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Heat's Bam Adebayo answers call and delivers in Game 3 win vs. Celtics

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