Heat rookie’s Herroics in Game 4 have Celtics reeling

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I spent nine minutes today watching a video on YouTube entitled “Tyler Herro Summer Highlights”. It features a 17-year-old Herro, just out of high school, showcasing his talents against other youngsters in front of many NCAA scouts in the summer of 2017. After seeing him demolish the Celtics in Game 4 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals Thursday, it was difficult to spot the differences in the performances separated by a three-year gap.

I mean, you could have easily swapped the footage, and if it weren’t for the color of the jerseys and Daniel Theis’s tattoos, I would have hardly noticed anything different. Totally unfazed by the enormous size of the stage he plays on now, the Milwaukee-born guard was just being himself.

As in high school, Herro is still tough to defend when he uses his crossover and drives to the hoop. He still has excellent court vision, still doesn’t rush things on offense when he runs the point, eventually coming up with a smart solution, and he can still score from any spot on the court. Oh, boy, is he a shooter!

Long story short – three years after emerging as a hot college prospect, Herro plays with the same ease, coolness and swagger he had shown while building up the portfolio that eventually landed him at Kentucky.

Early in the postseason, Luka Dončić stole the limelight in the Disney Bubble. If you were sorry (I was) to see the young Slovenian superstar’s playoff run halted in the first round, you may relax now – there is another exciting young player whose talent, skill and maturity will let you savor the game of basketball.

On Thursday, Herro was an unsolvable mystery for the Celtics defense. He poured in 37 points, including several key baskets down the stretch during a late Boston rally, all the while making you wonder how could someone so young be so composed and cool on the court with so much at stake. Herro will turn 21 only next January, but in Game 4 he played with the confidence of a 10-year NBA veteran. In his debut season, he is one game away from making the NBA Finals.

In this series, the Heat has hurt Boston offensively in a number of ways as Dragić, Butler, Robinson, Adebayo all had their stellar moments on the Celtics’ half of the court. Herro was part of that group, too. Going into Game 4, he was scoring 14.8 points per game in the playoffs, and everyone on the Celtics team knew he was a legitimate offensive threat. In one night, however, he turned from a “consistent, reliable scorer” into a “game changer”, scoring by bucketload in the clutch and being virtually impossible to stop.

As they seek to extend their playoff run, the Celtics will have to make adjustments in order to keep Herro in check in Game 5. His scoring highlight reel from Game 4 (he shot 14-of-21 from the field, and converted five of his 10 three-pointers) is really impressive, but when it comes to defending him you don’t have to be Brad Stevens to see some evident things:

  • Kemba Walker and his backup Brad Wanamaker are no match for Herro when he drives to the basket. At 6-5, he’s taking every bit of advantage in height, and his quick first step and long strides allow him to easily blow by shorter defenders.
  • He’s just as dangerous when getting the ball after dribble handoffs on the perimeter – he accelerates, pulls up for a midrange jumper, and sinks it.
  • Herro is confident in his shot, and the biggest mistake you can make on the perimeter is to give him space. If needed, he can create it himself, but when a defender “offers” him a couple of feet of unguarded air, he’ll shoot a three and make you pay.
  • He’s patient with the ball and eager to share it, too. When the Boston defense converges on him driving to the basket, he won’t seek a shot at all costs – beware of a smart, last-second pass to an open teammate who can punish you.

Herro is definitely a special player and he knows it. Whoever thought the kid was bragging when he coined a phrase “I am a bucket!” can now see that it’s a justified nickname. He’s a bucket indeed.

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