Here came another heartwarming chapter in the Victor Oladipo Story. Yes, it’s a capital letter now. A Story. Put it in the Disney motif of wholesome lessons and positive themes and, as the Miami Heat playoffs progress, ever-expanding possibilities.
It just keeps getting better. Oladipo had 10 fourth-quarter points to close the Heat’s Game 2 win against Philadelphia on Wednesday. He played extended minutes for a second straight game with the Miami Heat’s core of Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo.
Oladipo did it on his 30th birthday, too. That’s one of those dividing-line milestones in anyone’s life – and that idea gets underscored for a pro athlete who’s missed much of the last three years to injury.
Oladipo laid in bed Wednesday morning, thinking, “Man, I don’t feel 30. I feel 21.”
Welcome to the aging process, old man.
“Wait, don’t say 21, say 25,’ he said.
Hey, it’s his story to write at this point. It keeps going to re-write, too. This latest chapter comes at the time of year teams typically lose players. Just look at this series. The Heat have lost Kyle Lowry with a hamstring injury.
Philadelphia lost All-Star center Joel Embiid with an orbital fracture and concussion, even if he might return this weekend to change the look of the series. In the other Eastern Conference series, Milwaukee has been without All-Star Khris Middleton and Boston missed Keith Smart, the defensive player of the year.
The Heat added a star. No team does that. But then there’s not another story out there like Oladipo’s. He played eight games in March in his first appearances his this season. He then sat the first three playoff games against Atlanta and it looked like his chance his with the Heat was done.
Lowry’s hamstring then happened. Oladipo got a chance. The Heat instantly got an impactful player.
“You can see how he’s a big-time X-factor for us on both sides of the floor,’ Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
There’s the beauty of Oladipo’s game. It was too much a line-up liability for Spoelstra to play Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson play at the same time. Each is a dynamic scorer. Each is a glaring defensive problem, too. Caleb Martin? He’s a dynamic defensive player.
Enter Oladipo. He can score as his 19 points Wednesday again showed. He’s also a defensive stopper, too, as he was one in the cast on Atlanta’s Trae Young and now Philadelphia’s James Harden.
Robinson doesn’t play now. Martin’s moments are limited. None of which anyone saw coming a few games ago. That’s how quickly Oladipo has gone from injury afterthought to central idea moving these playoffs.
Herro won the Sixth Man of the Year award this week. Is Oladipo the Seventh Man of the Playoffs if this continues? Can you see the game-changing talent the Heat bring off the bench now?
“We didn’t expect it would look like this,’ Spoelstra said.
This is Oladipo making three-of-four 3-pointers. This is him providing a 6-4 frame to defend the perimeter. This, too, is Oladipo being the first to greet a courtside-sitting Dwyane Wade and his wife his, Gabrielle Union, after Wednesday ‘s game.
Wade and Oladipo were each coached by Tom Crean in college. Wade became a mentor, then a friend. So Oladipo knew of the Heat culture long before becoming part of the year.
“He’s helped me through all this,’ Oladipo said of the past few years of injury.
It’s been an odd, injury-filled time for him. He was returning from a knee injury when traded from Indiana to Houston, part of the four-team deal centered on Harden landing in Brooklyn. The Heat later acquired him from Houston for Kelly Olynyk and Avery Bradley.
The idea was to rehabilitate Oladipo’s knee injury to provide help in the playoffs. He returned last May only to tear his quadriceps muscle. He needed surgery that put him on the shelf for nearly a year.
And now he’s 30.
“In the grand scheme of things, you look back on my life not even 10 years ago, but just a year ago,’ he said. “I just think about my year and what my last year has been like. For me not to believe in myself, my team, the people I have in my corner – I’d be foolish.
“I truly believe in everything I’ve done. My work ethic. My game. I believe in everything. I believe there are better days to come, too.”
Maybe they come this weekend in Philadelphia. Maybe they’re in another chapter waiting to be written. Happy birthday, old man.