Last Action Herro

As He Pushed Back Boston In Game 4, Tyler Herro Showed You Who His Teammates Said He Was
Tyler Herro
by Couper Moorhead

Nobody is supposed to do this, so young.

Almost nobody has done this. Before last night, only Magic Johnson (42 points in Game 6 of the NBA Finals) had scored as many points in a playoff game before his 21st birthday. Derrick Rose is the only other name on the list.

And yet here is Tyler Herro, the No. 14 pick in the 2019 draft, dropping 37 on the Boston Celtics to take a 3-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals. Nothing about the numbers were inflated, either, as Herro dragged a Miami offense constantly trying to find traction across the finish line.

“Herro’s shot-making was . . . the difference in the game,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said.

It wasn’t just the sheer point total. The historical fact noted above would be impressive enough on its own, a fun bit of trivia to help you out the next time bars and trivia and groups of people being inside are things that happen. What was so impressive about what Herro did, what has continued to impress about him all year long, was when he did it.

Despite a first half where both teams seemed to playing with all the energy of a podcast being played at three-quarters speed, Miami was for the first time in the series playing with the lead. Boston kept on keeping on, at times clawing their way through possessions just to find points. The threat was looming. Constant, but never fully realized. You know the old phrase about a team never quite being able to get over the hump? Herro was the hump.

Every time the Celtics were about to manifest doom at the top of the stairs wearing a Michael Myers mask with a butcher knife in hand, Herro was at the bottom waiting to say, “Gotcha”.

“The context of those makes are the big separators in this league,” Erik Spoelstra said. “Those are pressure shots. We had to step up against a really good defense. He was making plays at the end of the clock. That’s a skillset that he has. He can create off the dribble. They can jam you up and you need guys that can break the defense down and create opportunities that you don’t necessarily see that are there.”

Let’s look at that context, the when that makes Herro different than just another up-and-comer.

First Quarter: Tied 18-18

Nothing gets Spoelstra to call a timeout like his team allowing a score in transition, so he did after Kemba Walker burst down the floor for a layup off a defensive rebound. It was still early going, but the HEAT were playing with just as little energy as their opponent. Boston had gained a double-digit lead early in each of the first three games in the series, and this was as good an opportunity as any for them to do it again if they could string a few more possessions together.

When Jimmy Butler is on the court, Herro has a fairly modest usage rate of 19 percent against Boston. But when Butler sits and the HEAT need a little more playmaking, Herro’s usage has jumped to 26.7 percent – a number many primary scoring options will sit at over the course of an entire season. In other words, when Butler is on the bench (with most of those minutes in this series coming in the first half), playmaking is required of Herro. There’s no get to your game in the flow of things. Since the onset of the bubble, the bench minutes have meant Herro is going to get the ball and he has to do something with it.

Tied early here, Herro runs a handoff with Bam Adebayo – more on this later – feels Gordon Hayward trailing him over the top of the contact and darts into the lane before finishing over the outstretched arm of Robert Williams. One possession later, he sees an opportunity to attack Walker as the rest of the HEAT did early and often, and gets to the rim. Four points in a minute, and Miami has a small cushion again.

Second Quarter: Boston 25-24

When the Celtics took their 10-point lead early in the second period of Game 3, it was Herro keeping Miami afloat then, too, as he scored 16 points in the quarter. In Game 4, Boston took the lead back with a pick-six steal only for Herro to repeat the previous outing, first with another handoff-into-pull-up over Williams and then with a straightforward catch-and-shoot via an offensive rebound.

Then, with the lead grabbed back, Herro takes advantage of Boston just kind of forgetting about him for a split-second after the ball was knocked loose.

“Boston was jamming up, as they tend to do,” Spoelstra said. “And Tyler was able to generate a lot of offense on random situations, which you need against a very good defense.”

Second Quarter: Tied 40-40

Boston ties it up again, and again Herro answers. He drives on Walker, drawing the help of Daniel Theis before he drops the pass off to Adebayo. One possession later, he again hits a jumper off the dribble when the Boston big drops back in pick-and-roll.

You can’t overstate how important those dribble jumpers are to Miami, and the league in general. The further you get into the playoffs, the more valuable any decent opportunity becomes. Players like Herro who can consistently and comfortably shoot when the defense offers a pocket aren’t a luxury anymore. They’re required.

“We need his skillset,” Spoelstra says.

While Theis isn’t quite Adebayo he’s more than capable of switching out on plays like this. The problem is that Adebayo has been so good slipping switches that when there’s any contact on the handoff that might give Adebayo a free roll to the rim, Boston tries to forgo the switch and instead Theis drops back and concedes space. Herro is the perfect antidote to that coverage.

“First of all, I don’t believe he’s 20 with how he’s playing,” Goran Dragic said.

Third Quarter: Miami 70-68

After going scoreless in the first half Jayson Tatum comes alive. He scores his seventh and eighth points of the third quarter on a turnaround jumper. Again, Boston is at the doorstep.

And there’s that drop coverage again. Adebayo makes contact on the screen, Robert Williams sits back at the free-throw line to prevent the drive and Herro takes what is right in front of him.

“That rim must have looked like the ocean to him,” Stevens said.

About a minute later, after Tatum again has his team within two points, Herro hits his toughest shot of the night, a left-to-right eurostep that he finishes with his right hand off his right foot.

That’s not a shot Herro hit very often before the season was suspended in March. It took months of film work with assistant coach Chris Quinn, taking notes and then translating that knowledge to workouts. Herro has always had the soft touch required to finish in the paint, but everything seemed to come together during the time off. By the time he was making just about everything at the rim in seeding games, it was clear another dimension of his game had been unlocked.

“Everybody overestimates what you can do in a day and underestimates what you can do in months of work,” Spoelstra said. “He is relentless in his work ethic.

“He had a lot of tough moments. He had some moments when it was up and down. Learning about our demands on defense. But he is a worker, and he shows up the next day trying to get better. It’s that daily grind, when nobody is watching and doing it when most people don’t.”

Fourth Quarter: Miami 77-76

There’s Tatum again. Another jumper gets Boston within two at the end of the third.

There’s Herro again. Two more jumpers against drop coverage because the Celtics were so tortured by Adebayo’s rolls to the rim in the first three games.

“I haven’t been surprised because I knew what the kid can do,” Adebayo said. “He doesn’t back down from the moment.”

Fourth Quarter: Miami 86-85

Herro is a mystery, of sorts. Time and again this season he’s been asked some variation of ‘Where do you get your confidence from?’ Herro always tries to answer, but there aren’t too many people who can psycho-analyze themselves on the fly. Do Herro’s shots go in because he’s confident, or is he confident because his shots go in? Don’t try to solve that one.

One explanation is that while Herro was confident coming into the league, he’s been imbued with professional confidence by those around him.

“My teammates, from top to bottom, trust me,” Herro said. “From the oldest guy to the youngest guy, and that's big. The vets are like that, they’ve really shined light on me ever since I've been in Miami. Jimmy has been the biggest influence for me and he just continues to teach me and help me. Without my teammates, I don't think that would be possible, especially as a rookie.”

Butler had plenty to say about Herro before anyone else took notice. He’s a player, he would say. You’re going to love him. It seemed at the time that Butler was overdoing it, given that he started talking Herro up during preseason, but perhaps that was the method all along. Butler saw all along what the world is seeing now.

“That's my guy,” Butler said. “I think the world knows that. I think so highly of him.

“He's always willing to give the credit to somebody else. But he's done this. He's worked at it. He's studied the film. He's the one that's in the gym. He's the one that's communicating like a vet to the vets. He did that. I didn't do it. Nobody else did it. Spo didn't do it. We just pump him with a lot of confidence and I think he pumped himself with twice as much confidence. He goes out there and he performs, man. That's on him. That's on nobody else. He's done that.”

It was a shock when Herro was pulling up for step-back threes with the game on the line against the Philadelphia 76ers earlier this year. The audacity, at the time, was shocking.

It isn’t anymore.

Fourth Quarter: Miami 95-90

The offense is stalling out again. Someone has to make a play.

So Herro sizes up Marcus Smart, one of the best defenders in the league.

There’s a special sound reserved for a very small group of players in the league. When those players, the Steph Curry’s and Damian Lillard’s and probably now the Jamal Murray’s of the league, shoot their shots, you can hear crowds gasp with a sense of nervous wonder. No player froze time when they put the ball in the air like Herro did at AmericanAirlines Arena this season.

What a sound that crowd would have made when Herro put this one up.

Big shots have been in Herro’s repertoire all season. Anyone could see that. It was the duration of the game where he would struggle in all the ways that rookies struggle. If you had watched Herro through March and then never watched a second of HEAT basketball until the HEAT were clinging to a five-point lead in the Conference Finals, nothing about Herro hitting this shot would have surprised you.

Sure, but what else did he do in the game, you might have replied. And then your jaw would drop upon learning what you just learned, on top of being informed that Herro was leading the team in assists while being the second-leading rebounder in the series.

Then you would see it. The vision he’s put before us.

Maybe then, like the rest of us, you would have stop focusing on what he can’t do, and appreciate what he can be.

Rookies, of any age, aren’t supposed to do this. Not in their first Conference Finals. But Herro laid the groundwork before last night. Nothing about his brand of special feels unearned. He can’t be a One Hit Boy Wonder because this is who he’s been, all along.

“I’m just going to bet on myself,” Herro said. “I’ve been doing that my whole life.”

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