For years, Victor Oladipo wondered. Now he knows: life is different here.
No, not necessarily life with the Miami Heat, but rather life deep within the NBA playoffs.
Before the Heat’s playoffs, the veteran guard had never been out of the first round of the playoffs, and even then he’d only appeared in one three-game playoff series in his first eight seasons.
In 2017, he was part of an Oklahoma City Thunder team that lost 4-1 to the Houston Rockets in the first round.
In 2018, his playoff run with the Indiana Pacers was limited to a 4-3 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round.
And in 2020, his Indiana Pacers were swept out of the first round of Disney World’s quarantine bubble by the Heat.
He didn’t play in the Heat’s 4-0 first-round sweep last season at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks, following his quadriceps surgery in May 2021.
“It’s just different. It is explicit. That speaks for itself,” Oladipo said ahead of Game 6 of Friday night’s Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. “You are close to the final. In the Eastern Conference Finals, everything is harder, everything is harder. That is just about everything.
Oladipo, who had his moments for the Heat this postseason, said you don’t know until you know it.
“Everything is different from the outside looking inside,” he said. “Every point of view is different. I can give perspective on your life, but I won’t really understand because I’m not in your shoes.
“I can watch the Eastern Conference Finals and watch it from afar. But until I’m in it, I won’t really grasp the intensity and feeling of actually being in it.
Sheer opportunity, the 30-year-old former All-Star said, had made this season’s run especially enlightening.
“It’s a lot harder all the time, basically being the difference,” he said. “My career, my first three years, I wasn’t even in the playoffs. One year I had a great first playoff experience and the next year I lost again in the first round. After that, I just got hurt. But I’m happy to be here. I am lucky, blessed.
Forward Max Strus, who spoke after Oladipo in Friday morning’s shootout, agreed that you don’t know the intensity of such a deep playoff run until you’ve been through such a race.
“It’s a grind,” he said, last season’s first-round sweep at the hands of the Bucks his only playoff experience. “You learn a lot about yourself, you learn a lot about your team, you learn a lot about basketball.
“It’s a whole different kind of basketball. You learn a lot.
There was little reaction from the Heat to Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green late Thursday night, already declaring the Celtics Eastern Conference champions ahead of Friday night’s Heat-Celtics Game 6.
Green told TNT after Golden State eliminated the Dallas Mavericks 4-1 in the Western Conference Finals: “I’ll tell you who I think we’re going to play against. We are going to play against Boston. That’s who we’re going to play against.
Said Heat forward PJ Tucker before Friday’s game against the Celtics: “I don’t pay attention to anything, I don’t really watch TV. I kind of stay away from it all.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra says just advancing to Game 6 of the Eastern Finals should be reason enough for such singular focus.
“These are times that you train for, that you train for, that [you’re] work, sweat and cringe in July and September,” he said ahead of Friday night’s game. “Then you do the six and a half months of the regular season. It’s for those moments. You have to earn it. It’s not about all the dialogue and storytelling out there, wild swings and opinions.
“That’s when you feel most alive. You’re put in a game like this where you’re on the brink.