The Heat is hearing voices, and it has made a big difference in playoff run

·5 min read
Al Diaz/adiaz@miamiherald.com

In bringing together this collection of veterans, the Heat not only has assembled a battle-tested, tough-minded, strong-willed team with a defensive bent, but also a group that’s seemingly never at a loss for words.

If you want a quiet place where players keep to themselves, this team isn’t for you.

If you want a group that’s big on communicating, and calling each other out (without holding grudges) and sharing nuances that they notice, this is a very good place for you.

“They all like to talk, every one of them,” Max Strus cracked when asked which player speaks the most to teammates, with Strus then offering P.J. Tucker as his final answer.

In this case, hearing voices is a good thing. Some teams lack much of any veteran leadership. The Heat has enough to stock three teams, and it’s evident in these Eastern Finals that continue with Game 4 in Boston on Monday (8:30 p.m., ABC).

There are many examples depicting how having a smart, talkative team has made a tangible difference, including Kyle Lowry suggesting a play for Strus — a play that coach Erik Spoelstra then ran — moments before Strus’ big three stretched Miami’s lead from one to four with a bit more than two minutes left in Game 3.

Udonis Haslem imploring Adebayo to be more aggressive in Game 3 also made a difference; Adebayo responded with 31 points on a career-high 22 field-goal attempts.

Adding two players with advanced communication skills — Tucker and Lowry — to the group of Jimmy Butler, Adebayo and Haslem has had the desired impact, not only on the floor but off it.

“To me, it’s a good thing everyone has an opinion instead of Spo always doing the talking and trying to figure everything out,” Adebayo said.

“It’s good that we have four or five guys communicating and talking about schemes so we can all get to a comfortable place where we can all agree on [things].”

Another upshot is that Haslem can be more selective when he speaks.

“Having more veteran leadership has helped me in my journey,” he said. “It’s easy to lead and be the guy that sets the standards. I’m human. I have down days. I have bad days. I have tired days. We preach leadership on all levels.”

Even while missing time during these playoffs with a hamstring injury, Lowry has remained an active participant on the bench, offering counsel to everyone, particularly his young understudy, Gabe Vincent.

“We talk about pace a lot, make sure we keep our pace,” Vincent said of the input Lowry offers to him during games. “He will communicate different reads or where the angle is on a pass. Sometimes I don’t see everything out there. He’s a different eye than me. Especially being off the court, he can see a little bit more than I can at times. He does a good job of sharing that with me.”

Several players said Spoelstra not only permits players to speak up in team meetings but encourages it.

That’s not unusual for coaches, Tucker said, but it’s a sound approach with this roster because the vocal leaders (Lowry, Tucker, Adebayo, Butler, Haslem) are high IQ players with something substantive to contribute.

“Most teams do that, let their veteran guys speak up,” Tucker said, adding that Spoelstra isn’t at all the dictator-type that he expected. “It’s a players league.”

With the Heat, “it’s about smart guys respecting each other, knowing what each other brings, and being able to bring that out of each other,” Tucker said. “Each of us calls each other out for not doing something right [but then] respects [each other] and do not take it personally.”

So who talks when?

Allow Omer Yurtseven to explain:

“I would say they take turns,” he said. “P.J. is very vocal when it comes to the defensive end. He’s not so much on offense. He has bits and pieces that he says. But his focus is mainly on defense.

“Kyle is very detail oriented and very smart. He has a high basketball IQ. He will see something and relay it to the team exactly, a clear picture. This is what’s going on, this is what has to happen. He sees the first and then the second play. That’s a huge help. I started calling him a ‘point coach.’”

Yurtseven said Butler and Adebayo speak up on both ends, and Haslem “is always talking, especially during timeouts. That’s his biggest push to the team; he’s vocal during timeouts. Everybody chips in and Spo encourages that too. He wants us to lead ourselves while he’s leading us overall.”

And the chorus of voices expands further when a half dozen assistant coaches are adding to the mix.

But instead of being chaotic, Strus suggested it can be calming.

It helps, he said, “having a lot of guys that keep us stable.”

Victor Oladipo singled out Butler for offering helpful input during the fourth quarter of the Game 5 closeout win against Atlanta, which Butler missed with knee soreness.

“All our veterans are really great about that,” Spoelstra said. “You can develop young guys all that you want and we do.... But what really kicks into another gear is just the veteran leadership of infusing confidence. That’s what Kyle has done the entire year.”

The benefit to hearing many voices?

“It adds a lot of perspective,” Yurtseven said. “Guys from a lot of different backgrounds. Jimmy is the fire that ignites everything.”

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