The Miami Heat are headed to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2014 because Bam Adebayo saved the biggest performance of his life for the moment his team needed it most.

The All-Star big man delivered an epic postseason performance with a career-high 32 points, 14 rebounds and 5 assists in 39 minutes as the Heat finished off the Boston Celtics 125-113 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals.

What made Adebayo’s night even more special was the fact that he carried the Heat after taking the blame for Friday’s Game 5 loss in which he struggled defensively and appeared to be favoring an aching left arm. His teammates and coaches never doubted that he would bounce back, and that’s exactly what he did in a closeout game for the ages.

“Bam is one of the great competitors already in this association,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after the game. “He’s going to become one of the great winners in the history just because he’s so competitive. He moves the needle in every single day. You can’t put an analytic to his game and that’s probably why he was overlooked in college. He competes every single possession. He’s really going into a leadership role. Way beyond his years. His offensive game is just growing daily. And he wants the responsibility, and he wants the accountability, and he isn’t afraid of putting that responsibility on his shoulders, and that’s what he did the other night.

“All the greats in the history of the game have done that before. It was not his fault. That was a collective effort, including the coaching staff, but he wanted to take a step forward and put it on his broad shoulders, and he backed that up tonight. He was sensational. And just from a competitive standpoint, all across the board.”

Adebayo’s performance was a fitting bookend to a series in which his block on Celtics guard Jayson Tatum saved a Game 1 win that set the tone for everything the Heat did. Every time the Heat got down and things looked bleak down the stretch, another member of their talented roster would step up and make a play. On Sunday, Adebayo repeatedly rose to the occasion, delivering on a personal challenge to himself that he had to play better.

“I let my teammates down in Game 5,” Adebayo said. “I had to realign myself with who I really want to become and I showed that tonight. You say you haven’t seen me be a scorer in the fourth before? Well, there ya go. It is just one of those things. Coaches want me to be better and they want me to do great things. That is the first time I have gone play to play to play, back to back to back, so being in that moment and embracing it and taking over as we win the conference finals is a great thing for me. At the end of the day, we have four more. Business isn’t done yet.

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