Caleb Martin thrives as 6th Man in NBA playoffs

Published 1:49 pm Tuesday, May 2, 2023

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By Brian Pitts

Enterprise Record

With Caleb Martin thriving as a sixth man, the Miami Heat pulled off one of the biggest series upsets in NBA playoff history in the first round against Milwaukee.

The Heat beat the Bucks four games to one, marking just the sixth time that a No. 8 seed took out a No. 1. It was the first time a No. 1 seed did not win more than one game against a No. 8. Milwaukee star Giannis Antetokounmpo missed two games with an injury, but Miami went 3-0 in the games in which he played.

Martin was a stud off the bench, averaging 11.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 26.8 minutes for the series. He nailed 19 of 30 shots and hit 7 of 16 3s. He scored 15, 15, 12, 12 and two points. In his 134 minutes on the court against Milwaukee, Miami outscored the Bucks by 50 points.

Martin was a starter for 49 games. At the All-Star break, Miami acquired forward Kevin Love. That’s when Martin became a reserve. In 28 straight games as a reserve, Martin is shooting 50.9 percent from the floor.

“That’s the kind of X-factor that he is,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He has just a burst of energy and effort where you feel him immediately. He was really good for us as a starter. But I think as a bench guy, it just gives us that instant change of energy that I think fits very well with that unit.”

In Game 4, Miami wouldn’t have won without Martin, who played 44 of 48 fourth-quarter minutes in the first four games of the series. Miami was down 12 with 6:09 to go; it won by five as Martin played all but five seconds of the fourth, when he piled up 10 points, five rebounds, one assist and one steal.

Martin nailed one of the game’s biggest shots following his offensive rebound at 3:43. He passed the ball, got it back and banged a jumper over 7-footer Antetokounmpo to cut Miami’s deficit to one. Miami would win 119-114.

“Any way I can contribute,” Martin said. “Most of the time, I know it’s going to be on the offensive end. So to be able to come in and knock down timely shots when I needed to was big. I just felt comfortable in those moments.”

Martin is rewarding Miami’s faith for resigning him to a fully guaranteed three-year deal worth 20.4 million last summer.

Love said: “Honestly, he can start or come off the bench. He’s been incredible since I’ve been here. He does whatever the team needs for us to win. He’s getting out in transition, he’s guarding the team’s best player, he’s picking them up 94 feet, he’s hitting 3s, he’s getting extra buckets, he’s getting rebounds.”

Spoelstra said: “Caleb, you can’t say enough about him. You need guys that are willing to sacrifice, willing to dominate and be a star in their role. He’s also just a supreme competitor.”

Miami advanced to play No. 5 New York in the second round. That series began April 30.