Adebayo’s swat, which is sure to be replayed on postseason highlight reels for years to come, came after Tatum, Boston’s all-star forward, attacked the paint hard with less than 10 seconds remaining in overtime. Trailing 116-114, Tatum drove to his right past Jimmy Butler from the top of the arc, slicing to the hoop and leaping off one leg for a right-handed dunk attempt.
With Tatum rim-bound, Adebayo left Marcus Smart in the corner and rotated to his left, waiting for Tatum to take off before he rose to challenge the shot with his left hand. Replays showed a clean block up top, with the force of Tatum’s attempt bending Adebayo’s left hand back nearly into the rim.
“At that point, I had to make a play,” said Adebayo, who finished with 18 points, six rebounds, nine assists and two blocks. “It’s the playoffs, and I made a great play. It’s hard to explain because it happened so fast for me. Y’all want answers from me? Instincts, I guess.”
The ball ricocheted into the air and Adebayo recovered possession, forcing Boston to foul him. Adebayo made one of two free throws on the other end to provide the final margin. Jimmy Butler’s and-one drive past Tatum gave the Heat its go-ahead points.
“That can be a poster dunk and a lot of people won’t be willing or aren’t willing to make that play and put themselves out there,” Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Jayson Tatum got into the launching pad and [Adebayo] just made a big-time save for us. Tatum did have an angle, and it looked like he had an open lane to the rim and sometimes when you have great competition like this, you just have to make plays that you can’t even really explain. That was Bam tonight.”
Tatum finished with a game-high 30 points, but he missed all seven of his shot attempts in the final seven minutes of regulation and overtime.
“He made a good play,” Tatum said, tipping his hat to Adebayo. “Can’t do nothing about it. … I guess it’s disappointment. You never want to lose a game. But it’s not the end of the world. Best-of-seven. Just get ready for Game 2.”
Adebayo’s clutch block occurred in a nearly empty gym in the NBA’s Disney World bubble, but it produced a storm of praise on social media. Hall of Famer Magic Johnson excitedly wrote on Twitter that it was “the best defensive play I’ve seen ever in the playoffs!!!!”
“You get on that big stage, you just got to make big plays,” Adebayo said, when told of Johnson’s compliment. “I made a big play. Coming from Magic, that’s a great comment from him, and you just have got to keep getting better throughout the playoffs.”
Adebayo, a third-year pro who went one-and-done at the University of Kentucky, enjoyed a breakout campaign in his first full year as a starter, posting career-highs of 15.9 points, 10.2 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 1.3 blocks.
“My emotions were everywhere, but everybody else around me was happy,” Adebayo said of the Heat’s joyous reaction to his memorable block. “This is one of those things, it doesn’t hit you until the game’s over. When it happened, I was looking at the clock … like, let’s get ahead and close it out. We did that. After that, celebrated and we’re focused on the next game now.”
The East finals will continue with Game 2 on Thursday. And the Heat enjoy a 1-0 series lead thanks to its defensive anchor.
“That seals the game for us,” said Jimmy Butler, who put Miami ahead late in regulation with a three-pointer and again with a three-point play right in overtime right before Adebayo’s heroics. “I love how he does anything and everything that you ask him to do, I really do. That’s a winning play, putting your body on the line and then rotating the way that he did. We talk about it. We go through it over and over but Bam’s been our savior on that so many different times throughout the year.”