The constant with Caleb Martin is that he does not capitulate.
Should he have been out there on Friday night on his sprained left ankle? That’s not what mattered to the Miami Heat’s starting power forward. What mattered was that he could.
“I wanted to try to play, contribute to a win,” he said, with the Heat instead losing to the visiting Indiana Pacers. “I wanted to make sure I did everything. If I could help to contribute to a win, I was going to try to.
“I wouldn’t have felt right. I don’t know if my Christmas would have been the same if I just had not played. So I was trying to get a win.”
But, no Martin said, he was not himself.
“I wasn’t 100 percent,” he said. “But if I could give 10, 15 minutes and try to defend, just bring energy, I was going to try to bring that.”
Ultimately, his night was limited to 19:05, fewest minutes of any of the Heat starters.
And at the game’s moment of truth, he was a spectator, Erik Spoelstra not playing Martin in the fourth quarter. That left the Heat without their best remaining perimeter defender for the sequence when Indiana’s Tyrese Haliburton converted the winning 3-pointer with 4.3 seconds to play, with Jimmy Butler already sidelined by an ankle sprain of his own by then.
“Caleb, at that point, everybody felt that he had cooled off that much that he wouldn’t be able to go in at that point,” Spoelstra said, with the Heat turning their attention to Monday’s visit by the Minnesota Timberwolves, in the third game of this four-game homestand that concludes Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Lakers. “But I was encouraged that he was able to even do what he was able to do.”
Other than missing the previous two games with the significant ankle sprain suffered in the Dec. 15 road victory over the Houston Rockets, Martin’s only other absence this season was his NBA fighting suspension on Oct. 24 against the Toronto Raptors.
“He was an absolute game-time decision to be able to play,” Spoelstra said of Martin’s Friday fortitude. “That’s why we all love that guy so much. If it was an ideal world, he probably would have waited until [Monday] to play.”
As it was, Spoelstra said he found himself reconfiguring his rotation on the fly, with the status of Martin, Gabe Vincent and Dewayne Dedmon uncertain until just before Friday’s tip.
Dedmon was unable to play due to his ongoing foot issue, while Vincent was cleared after missing the previous eight games with knee pain.
With so many moving pieces, Spoelstra said he felt it was best to defer Vincent’s return.
“I didn’t even know who was going to be available,” Spoelstra said. “We had three guys that were going to try to warm up with the intention to play. Two of them actually did make themselves available. One couldn’t go, in Dewayne.”
So Spoelstra said he was candid with his players pregame.
“I said, ‘Look, there’s a lot of moving parts. I can’t do role definition right now, 90 minutes before the game,’ ” he said of holding Vincent out. “And we’re just going to have to try to figure this out.”
He praised Vincent for being prepared to play.
“We all really appreciated that,” he said. “We’ll take a couple of days to figure out how we’ll get this rotation now and then we’ll just figure it out.”
Instead of reintegrating Vincent, Spoelstra stayed with Victor Oladipo as the de facto backup point guard.
“He’s had a major impact defensively, going back to last year,” Spoelstra said of Oladipo, who still is working to find his offense, less than three weeks into his return from preseason knee pain. “And that’s been the quicker thing from his standpoint. And I think in the second half of the season, you’re going to see his offensive game really start to grow, as well, as he starts to get a little more comfortable, more reps, more game minutes, more practice time. All of those things I think are great signs.
“I really like where he is right now and I think we’ve done it at a healthy rate. And we’ve just quieted all the noise and all the opinions. And we have a plan and we’re going to be very methodical with this plan. But he has absolutely embraced who has to be for us defensively. And he really can be a game changer for us on that end.”