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It was about a year ago. Victor Oladipo was sitting alone in a dark room. The realization that he needed a second surgery on his right leg was settling in. Frustration, fear, sadness and anger just came pouring out of him.
He broke down.
“I was at the lowest point I could be at,” Oladipo said.
That moment is clearly not forgotten: Oladipo gave his recollections of what went on in that room Tuesday night, to illustrate both where he was and where he is. He scored a team-high 23 points in Miami’s series-clinching 97-94 win over the Atlanta Hawks, a victory that sent the Heat to the second round of the playoffs.
It was only the 10th game this season for Oladipo, including the regular season. But with Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry sidelined, the Heat needed someone to step up in Game 5. Many did, including Oladipo, who needed two surgeries to fix a right quadriceps tendon, spent basically a year rehabbing after each of those procedures, and has been limited to 66 games in the last three seasons combined.
“I can’t really explain why I’m going through what I went through,” Oladipo said. “I can’t really explain why I’m here today. But I’m staying in the moment and making every moment mean something. Just going out there and playing hard, man. We had a great win. A great series. But the job isn’t done yet. There is still a lot more basketball left. We’ve just got to keep getting better. That’s what I’m focused on doing.”
It’s the 12th time that the top-seeded Heat have moved into the conference semifinals; Game 1 against either fourth-seeded Philadelphia or fifth-seeded Toronto will be in Miami on Monday.
For Oladipo, it’ll be a first. He’s appeared in 18 playoff games in his career, all of them of the first-round variety.
“I really admire him. I do, for this journey for the last three seasons where he’s been dealing with injuries and frustration, and then really working to make himself available for us without a guarantee to play,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He’s just giving to the team. That’s why everybody roots for him. He always comes in with a smile on his face and lifts people up.”
After nearly a full year of rehab from surgery No. 2, Oladipo made his season debut on March 7. That was the first of six appearances he made over the next four weeks, averaging 6.3 points. He was in and out of the rotation, a frustrating thing for a former All-NBA player. The Heat already was pretty set in its ways on who was playing where and when.
Oladipo wasn’t given a job. He had to wait for his moment.
He scored 21 points in a win at Toronto on April 3. He scored 40 in his next outing, the regular-season finale against Orlando on April 10. He made his postseason debut this year for Miami in Game 4 against the Hawks, going plus-28 in his 23 minutes and sparking a huge turnaround. Then came Tuesday, when Oladipo hit his first four shots to spark the crowd and start the momentum toward a series-clincher.
“He’s been through a lot,” Heat center Bam Adebayo said. “Behind the scenes, y’all don’t get to see him, but he’s working out every day, two to three times a day. We always tell him, ‘stay ready so you ain’t gotta get ready.’ … The fact that he was ready, and he performed, that reminded me of the Indiana Victor a little bit.”
And Indiana Victor was pretty good.
He was a two-time All-Star with the Pacers, before getting hurt in January 2019. He returned a year later, good but clearly not the same, and Indiana traded him to Houston in January 2021. The Rockets didn’t keep him long before moving him to Miami, with whom Oladipo played four games in March 2021 before getting hurt again.
That’s when the second surgery came along, and more rehab, and more uncertainty.
But on Tuesday, all was right again.
“I understood this process wouldn’t be easy and it hasn’t been,” Oladipo said. “I never shied away from work ever and I didn’t plan on doing it now. I couldn’t control the circumstance, but I could control my approach. I could control my mentality. When my number was called today and they needed me, I was able to perform at the level I performed at. And again, I’m still improving. I haven’t played enough basketball to be super comfortable yet. But I’m getting there.”