Martin becomes major factor for Heat in playoff run

Published 11:28 am Monday, May 29, 2023

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By Brian Pitts

Enterprise Record

The Miami Heat’s playoff run and the Boston Celtics’ comeback has produced so much history that it’s hard to sum it all up. In the middle of this riveting series in the Eastern Conference finals is Davie County’s Caleb Martin, who has made the sort of impact that he must see in his best dreams.

The Heat had a less-than-stellar regular season (44 wins, 38 losses). They had to survive the play-in tournament to even think about making a run in the playoffs. They did that but drew top-seeded Milwaukee in their first best-of-seven series. They bounced the Bucks in five games to advance. Then they faced New York and eliminated the Knicks in six games.

By doing that, Miami became the second No. 8 seed in NBA history to reach the conference finals. Awaiting Miami in the conference finals was No. 2 Boston, which won 13 more games than Miami in the regular season.

The Heat had to play in Boston in the first two games, but they won both (123-116 and 111-105). When Miami romped 128-102 at home to take a three-games-to-none lead, everybody was saying how in the world is Miami doing this?

But Boston refused to die. The Celtics won the next three games (116-99, 110-97 and 104-103). Going into Monday’s Game 7, they were on the brink of the greatest comeback in NBA playoffs history. They became just the fourth NBA team to erase a 3-0 deficit and force a seventh game. When Miami won Game 3, it became the 151st team to grab a 3-0 series lead in a best-of-seven. All 150 of the previous teams finished the job.

The Celtics tried to do what hasn’t been done in 76 years of the NBA and done only five times in American major pro sports – win a series after trailing three games to none.

Meanwhile, Martin, whose twin brother Cody plays for the Charlotte Hornets, has been incredibly impressive for the Heat.

In Game 1, he had 15 points and hit 6 of 11 field goals. In Game 2, he scored 25 while nailing 11 of 16 shots. In Game 3, he went 7 of 11 from the floor to put up 18 points. In Game 4, he scored 16 on 6-of-8 shooting. In Game 5, he had 14 points on 5-of-12 field goals.

In the first five games against Boston, Martin was a spark off the bench. In Game 6, he replaced Kevin Love in the starting lineup and delivered another in a long run of amazing deeds. He had 21 points (second on the team) and a game-high 15 rebounds while going 7 of 13 from the floor.

After averaging 9.6 points in the regular season, the scrappy overachiever scored 109 points in the first six games against Boston, good for an 18.1 average. His percentages are jaw-dropping: 42 of 71 on field goals (59 percent), 18 of 39 on 3-pointers (46 percent) and 7 of 8 from the free-throw line.

The Heat had a 103-102 lead in Game 6 with three seconds left. Boston’s Derrick White scored on a putback with one tenth of a second remaining to give the Celtics a shot at history and hand Miami a devastating loss.

The Western Conference champion, Denver, was awaiting the Boston-Miami survivor, with Game 7 being played May 29 in Boston. The NBA Finals begin June 1.

No matter what happened in Game 7, what Martin has accomplished in the 2023 postseason will endure.

Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra said: “He’s taken on a lot of different roles. And he’s taken on roles that you typically don’t want to take on if you’re coming into this league, doing all the little things, the dirty work, defending. Starting for the majority of the season, and then not having any kind of issue coming off the bench, and finding a way to be really impactful in both those roles. Those kind of guys are hard to find.”

Miami assistant coach Caron Butler said: “This story is amazing because of the work that Caleb put in. We gave him a platform and an opportunity (in the summer of 2021), but he’s been beyond what he’s supposed to have been like. He’s amazing.”