The Miami Heat knew going into this season that big-name free-agent signee Jimmy Butler would be their star. What they didn't expect, at least not in year one with this group, was for third-year center Bam Adebayo to become just as important, if not more so, for a team that on Sunday night closed out the Boston Celtics to reach the NBA Finals.
"He's the heart and soul of this thing, he really is," Butler said. "I keep saying it, but he's going to be the reason we win a championship."
Adebayo took over at both ends of the floor in the fourth quarter to outlast the Celtics. He finished with a career-high 32 points—10 in the fourth quarter—along with 14 rebounds and five assists.
Just 48 hours before, Adebayo blamed himself for the Heat's Game 5 collapse. On Sunday, he powered them past Boston at Walt Disney World Resort, where they'll face the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals. That team will be led by LeBron James, who played for the Heat the last time the franchise made it this far, four seasons in a row from 2011 to '14.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has asked Adebayo to take the toughest assignments in each playoff series due to his ability to defend both on the perimeter and in the paint. He will have to spend time in the Finals on both James and Anthony Davis.