You'd think that inserting a 23-year-old offensive dynamo coming off a career year in scoring and 3-point shooting into any lineup would be a no-brainer, but you can't blame the Miami Heat and their fans for not wanting to disturb whatever South Beach mojo they've conjured during this improbable run to the NBA Finals.
Conventional postseason logic dictates that you ride whatever's working, and the Heat have been on an absolute tear since Tyler Herro went down with a broken right hand in the team's first playoff game of 2023. With Herro gingerly clapping in a cast and bucket hat on the sideline, Miami has kicked, fought, clawed, bullied and willed its way to within three wins of its first NBA title in a decade. Role players-turned-household names Caleb Martin, Gabe Vincent, Max Strus and Duncan Robinson have more than carried their weight, begging the question of whether the Heat should even entertain the idea of bringing a healthy Herro back in medias res.
After an arid offensive effort in Wednesday's 109-94 Game 3 loss to the Denver Nuggets, however, it became aggressively clear: The Miami Heat need Tyler Herro.
Jimmy Butler was engaged and active early en route to 28 points on Wednesday, but seemed to run out of gas late, taking just eight shots in the second half compared to 16 in the first. Bam Adebayo, who had been excellent in the first two games of the series, finished with a pretty line of 22 points and 17 rebounds, but went just 7 for 21 from the field. Without Butler and Adebayo having A-plus games, the Heat desperately needed someone -- anyone -- to step up. And it just didn't happen.
Vincent, who had been the Heat's second-leading scorer over the first two games of the Finals, scored seven points and went 2 for 10 from the field, including 1 of 6 from 3-point range. After rebounding from his disastrous Game 1 with a huge Game 2, Strus was quiet once again on Wednesday with three points on 1-for-7 shooting. Martin and Robinson had their moments, but finished with 19 points combined, while Kyle Lowry added nine.
It's become apparent that even in subpar games the Nuggets are going to put points on the board, and Herro may be the Heat's only way of keeping pace.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra remained coy prior to Wednesday's game, saying that Herro had still not been cleared to play, so any discussions of him returning were "really just hypothetical." But, facing a 2-1 hole and what amounts to a must-win Game 4 on Friday, it seems more and more realistic that if Herro is fully healthy, they'll have no choice but to get him on the floor -- despite the tremendous success they've had without him.
There are two main arguments against bringing Hero back -- assuming that he's a reasonable facsimile of the 20-point scorer he was during the regular season. First, he's somewhat of a ball-stopper on offense. The Heat have flourished with a relentless, movement-oriented offensive attack that generates open shots for all the role players we've already mentioned. Herro did average over four assists in the regular season, but he does most of his damage -- scoring and passing -- out of the pick-and-roll and isolation. During the regular season, mostly with Herro, the Heat ranked 25th with 112.3 points per 100 possessions. In the playoffs, almost entirely without him, they're fifth among all teams with 115.2 points per 100 possessions.
Second, Herro would immediately present a wiry, 6-foot-5 moving target for Jamal Murray and various other Nuggets to take their turns trying to exploit. With most of Herro's minutes going to Martin, Vincent and Lowry, Denver has no such player to consistently hunt. The Nuggets offense isn't built on mismatch basketball, but having Herro out there could provide a lucrative default option when things get stagnant.
Those two points are salient, but here's the thing -- they don't matter. The Heat have done a decent job in containing the Nuggets, keeping them under 110 points in each of the first three games of the series. Miami has "held" Denver to 117.6 points per 100 possessions, which is a victory against a team that came into the Finals averaging a historic 119.
These aren't the Bucks with a hobbled Giannis Antetokounmpo, the offensively deficient Knicks, or the occasionally scatterbrained Celtics. This is a well-oiled, unendingly productive Denver Nuggets offense. In order to keep up, the Heat need someone who can consistently and confidently create shots for himself and for others.
Tyler Herro is that player, and Miami had better hope that he's ready to suit up sooner rather than later.