The Miami Heat are full of surprises. On any given night you can expect a different player to play savior. In Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals it was center Bam Adebayo, who infantilized the Boston Celtics’ Jason Tatum with a game-saving block. The Heat turned a five-point deficit into a five-point margin of victory during the closing minutes of Game 2 thanks to Goran Dragic’s offense and Jimmy Butler’s defense. And when it came time to spin the bingo cage on Wednesday to see which letters would spell hero in Game 4, the results were almost literal: Rookie Tyler Herro scored 37 points off the bench, leading his team to a 112-109 victory and a 3-1 series edge.
Sportscasters tend to refer to confidence as a mysterious intangible that exists outside the empirical realm, but Herro’s self-belief is as obvious as his jersey number. Rookies usually don’t take huge shots at the end of crucial playoff games. When they do, it typically doesn’t go well, even when they are Kobe Bryant. See the 1997 Western Conference semifinals for reference.
But when the 20-year-old Herro pulled up from long range on Wednesday, the entire world expected the ball to go in. And it did.
When reporters told Butler after the game that Herro had credited him for his development, the Heat’s veteran star demurred. “He’s done this,” he said. “We just pump him with a lot of confidence, and I think he pumps himself with twice as much confidence.” Herro’s performances in the bubble shouldn’t be a total shock. The 13th pick of the 2019 NBA Draft was hitting clutch shots all the way back when people were actually allowed to watch games in person.
That isn’t to say anyone expected him to join Magic Johnson and Derrick Rose as the only players under the age of 21 to score 30 points in an NBA playoff game. But Herro’s performance in Game 4 didn’t look aberrant or accidental. Herro may have a smooth outside shooting stroke, but he’s just as comfortable cutting into the lane with or without the ball. Combine all that, and you can understand why he calls himself “a bucket.” (In case that’s not totally clear … it’s because he scores a lot of buckets.)
Way back in 2017 and 2018, when he was a Milwaukee high schooler, Herro’s highlight tapes made him an internet folk hero. Those old highlight clips started popping up on Twitter while he was torching the Celtics on Wednesday, and they serve as evidence that his style has remained perfectly intact as he’s transitioned from high school to college to the pros.
Herro initially committed to the University of Wisconsin, which, ignoring geography, was an odd choice. The Badgers aren’t exactly known for their stylistic verve, and for decades their squads have been composed entirely of sentient hay bales. Herro smartly decommitted from Wisconsin in favor of Kentucky in 2018. The switch made him a villain in his home state, but it prepared him to enter the NBA after just one college season, something he believes he wouldn’t have been able to do as a Badger. (He also probably would have been banned from dribbling between his legs had he stayed in Wisconsin.)
Herro seems like he’d be easy to dislike, as he looks like a TikTok star who films himself pulling pranks in nursing homes. His youth alone should make him worthy of scorn.
But then you watch him play, and you can’t help but enjoy the Herro experience. He’s just too damned good. He always knew this. Now the rest of the world knows it, too.