The Heat’s developmental system doesn’t simply transform undrafted, overlooked G League players into contributing rotation pieces.
In the case of Gabe Vincent and Max Strus, it helps make them contributing, winning rotation pieces.
The Heat is now 5-0 with Vincent starting in place of the injured Kyle Lowry in postseason. Lowry will miss Thursday’s Game 6 with a hamstring injury.
Miami is 21-5 with Strus starting during the regular season and playoffs. Credit those two players and their teammates for that.
But the tangible impact of Vincent and Strus goes beyond the won/loss record.
Miami has outscored opponents by 119 points with Strus on the court, by far the best plus/minus of any NBA player this postseason. Jimmy Butler is second at plus 102, while Giannis Antetokounmpo was third at plus-97, entering Milwaukee’s playoff game on Wednesday night.
With Vincent, not only is Miami unbeaten in his five starts this postseason, but the Heat has outscored teams by 59 points when he’s on the floor in those games.
“He just gets after it,” 76ers guard James Harden said when asked about Strus and Vincent and what he most respects about Vincent. “Him and Strus play hard. Their shooting ability is key. They are able to create shots and create space in their offense.
“In Games 3 and 4, we did a good job of slowing them down. Strus gets off and gets them going [in Game 5]. They just keep coming at you.”
From a defensive perspective, Vincent has the second-best field-goal percentage against among all guards who have defended at least 70 shots this postseason, behind only Milwaukee’s Jrue Holiday. Players guarded by Vincent are shooting 35.7 percent (25 for 70) in the playoffs. Those players shoot 46 percent overall.
And look at what skilled offensive players have done in their matchups with Vincent on defense in this postseason: Atlanta’s Trae Young shot 3 for 11 when guarded by Vincent, with four assists and five turnovers.
Philadelphia’s Tyrese Maxey is shooting 3 for 10 when Vincent is defending him, with two assists and one turnover.
Tobias Harris is 2 for 6, Joel Embiid 0 for 2 and Harden 1 for 2.
As a ball-handler, Vincent has 16 assists and just five turnovers in the five games that he has started this postseason.
“Gabe is probably the most selfless dude,” Heat forward PJ Tucker said. “That dude could go from starting and playing 30 minutes for months to not subbing in. He’s been through it all. He literally has played every position on this team throughout the year and been ready. He has the same attitude every day, gives the same effort every day.
“He’s unreal. One of my favorite teammates. So to see him be able to go from not playing to Kyle getting hurt again and being out, to starting and giving us everything that he does, is amazing.”
As for Strus, not only did he score 19 in Game 5, but his 10 rebounds were most in the game and twice as many as Joel Embiid’s total.
“I’m toughest on Max probably more than anybody on our team,” Tucker said. “I’m on Max’s case a lot. But I see a lot of really good things in Max. I think he’s going to be a heck of a player in this league for years to come. For him to be able to contribute the way he is and play as hard as he is, it’s amazing.”
It was Strus’ first double-double as a Heat player.
“He knows he belongs on this team,” Jimmy Butler said. “He knows he belongs in the league.”
Strus, who shot 7 for 13 in Game 5, said he decided after the two games in Philadelphia (where he shot a combined 5 for 16) that he needed to be more aggressive.
“I had open looks in Philly, but I just wasn’t shooting them,” he said. “I think that was the key for me tonight to come out firing. Make or miss, it doesn’t matter.”
Strus’ defense also continues to improve. Players he’s defending this postseason are shooting 43.7 percent, compared with the 46.2 they shoot overall. He has 10 steals and four blocks in 10 playoff games.
Strus and Vincent are both under contract next season, at $1.8 million.
Among the 76ers talking points after their 120-85 loss in Game 5: They must make the game easier for Embiid, who appears to be affected not only by the Heat’s defense, but the orbital injury that necessitates wearing a mask.
Embiid said it was “pretty painful” when a basketball crashed off the mask that is protecting his facial injury. Does the injury deter him from attacking the basket?
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m just trying my best… I’ve got to dig deeper than I have and try to forget about what’s going on.”
The Heat did a good job in Game 5 of preventing him from getting the ball in position to take high-percentage shots. Often, the Heat sends a second defender to help.
“They’re not letting the game come to me,” Embiid said. “They’re not even allowing me to catch the ball. I will try to get back to the dominant guy I can be.”
James Harden said “we can make it easier on Jo getting him the ball closer to the basket.”
76ers coach Doc Rivers said: “We have to establish Joel at the beginning of the game. That’s who we have to establish every night and I don’t think we did that.”
Meanwhile, Rivers was irked about many things from his team.
“They were just more physical,” he said of the Heat in Game 5. “We played at a snail’s pace. Everything they did [in Game 5] was harder and better. Their stuff was better than what we ran, their energy was better, their toughness was better. I haven’t said that very often about us. That’s on me to make sure they’re ready and that’s on them to be ready. We were not.
God-awful transition defense. Our passing was awful. I’ll probably watch [the Game 5 tape] because I have to, and then I’ll burn it.”
Embiid put it this way: “We didn’t play hard. We didn’t follow the game plan.” But “I like our chances to come back here” for a Game 7 on Sunday. Game 6 is 7 pm Thursday in Philadelphia.
▪ The series shifts to ESPN for Game 6, with Dave Pasch and Hubie Brown on the call.
Game 7, if needed, would be at 3:30 pm on ABC on Sunday (if there’s no Game 7 of Milwaukee-Boston) or on TNT on Sunday night otherwise.
This story was originally published May 11, 2022 12:48 PM.