It is common for the players who score the most points to get the most praise. They get the credit on SportsCenter and are viewed as the stars of the night. But there is another kind of player who typically doesn't get the credit they deserve, whose importance to the team is not often illuminated.
Enter Victor Oladipo.
In Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics on Saturday night, Oladipo's 5 points didn't make the ESPN highlight reel or pop out in the box score. His stat line wasn’t highlighted on the NBA TV recap.
After being bumped out of the rotation in the first half in favor of Caleb Martin and Duncan Robinson, Oladipo could have pouted and had an attitude. This is something that happens at every level: a player doesn’t play in the first half and mentally checks out. Sometimes, they are visibily disgruntled. You may be able to see it during halftime warm-ups or in his demeanor on the bench.
Oladipo didn’t do any of that. He stayed locked in and was ready and prepared if his number happened to be called. Then, it happened. Jimmy Butler went down and could not return to the game in the second half. Butler has been carrying the team throughout the series; he is who the offense runs through, who the team relies on every trip down the court in some capacity. When he couldn't return due to a knee injury, Oladipo’s number was called and he was ready.
In just 20 minutes, Oladipo had 4 steals (twice as many as the Celtics had as team for the entire game) and 8 pass deflections (one more than the Celtics). After the game, PJ Tucker raved about Oladipo's play.
“It’s usually his offense everybody talks about,” Tucker said. “He comes in with a spark. But his lateral slides and quickness were unbelievable. I told him tonight, 'That was some of the best lateral foot speed I’ve seen anybody have.' Jaylen Brown, when he gets going — especially right — he's tough to get back in front of. For Vic to square him up was unreal. He gave us a spark.
“We talked about it at the half, knowing he was about to start the half and play. To not play at all and then step in and do what he did in the second half, that level of professionalism is few and far between.”
Former NBA guard Jamal Crawford tweeted: “Vic Oladipo’s stats won’t justify the game he actually played. They don’t win this game without him.”
Vic Oladipo’s stats won’t justify the game he actually played. They don’t win this game without him.— 🏁 Jamal Crawford (@JCrossover) May 22, 2022
“Everything about it, it speaks to his competitive character,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said of Oladipo. “That was not easy. We went with a slightly different rotation because Kyle [Lowry] came back. That is going to force some changes throughout the rotation, so he didn’t play in the first half. We’ve had so many guys that have had to take on different roles and sacrifice. We say it’s always easy to sacrifice when you’re not the one doing it, and he’s had to sacrifice many times. That wasn’t easy. That wasn’t necessarily the way we were going to go the first half. Just things were going really well. We just kept going with that. Then, all of a sudden, boom: Jimmy is not going to go in the second half.
"For him to be stable enough and not be frustrated and not be rolling his eyes and like, 'Oh, okay, now I get an opportunity.... he’s just steady. Stays the course. He’s made himself available, made himself vulnerable through this whole process. He’s prepared behind the scenes. His minutes in the second half were so important defensively against their two studs (Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown), and then offensively, he just gave us a facsimile of a lot of the stuff we do with Jimmy. And I mean that as the ultimate compliment.”