When opportunity knocked, Gabe Vincent knocked down shots.
The former UCSB basketball star, playing under a two-way contract that was meant to shuttle him between Sioux Falls of the G League to Miami of the NBA, made a big case on Tuesday night for sticking with the Heat.
Vincent responded to his first NBA start by scoring a career-high 24 points in a 137-134, overtime defeat at Philadelphia. He’s expected to start again tonight when Miami, down to just eight players because of COVID-19 protocol, faces the 76ers again in its two-game series.
“Opportunity comes few and far between,” said Vincent, a 2018 graduate of UCSB. “We just try to be ready for when it does.
“I’m not happy about the circumstances. I’d love for the rest of our team to be here and be competing with us. I just try to take advantage of it and try to impact the game on both sides of the floor.”
Eight Miami players including NBA All-Stars Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo were sent home to Florida on Monday because of contact-tracing protocol. By halftime, Vincent had already surpassed his previous career-high of nine points. His 12-point second quarter put the Heat in the lead, 63-55.
“Gabe was terrific all game through, running the point for us,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Guys really wanted to get out there and compete.
“We’ve been holed up in a hotel room for the last 48 hours. Guys really wanted to get out of the rooms and get out there and play.”
Vincent made 9-of-20 shots including 4-of-12 three-pointers.
He led UCSB to a 23-9 season in 2018 — the most wins in school history — while averaging 12.4 points and 3.3 assists. He topped the Big West Conference that season with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.7.
He graduated as the Gauchos’ ninth all-time leading scorer with 1,441 points and also set a school record with 243 career three-pointers.
Vincent showed his shooting prowess last year in the G League, winning its Most Improved Player Award while averaging 20.9 points with a league-best 4.2 three-pointers per game.
His versatility was on display Tuesday with several scoring drives through Philadelphia’s defense. He also had three assists, two rebounds, and two steals.
“This world loves labels,” Vincent said. “We’re so quick to label people for everything but I’m a basketball player at the end of the day.
“I can make plays off the ball. I can make plays on the ball. I can handle (the ball). I can defend. I was able to showcase a little bit of that in terms of getting to the hole and shooting the three. It’s a little bit of everything.”
He converted a key three-point play with 3:29 left when he hit a 16-foot jumper while being fouled. His free throw drew Miami to within 112-110 in a game it would eventually take into overtime before losing.
“It’s a shame because our guys did more than enough to put ourselves in a position to win,” Spoelstra said. “It wasn’t a matter of lack of want or lack of effort. Our guys emptied it all out there.”
Vincent has been dealing with a knee issue which kept him out of all but one game during last season’s NBA playoffs. Miami wound up advancing to the NBA Finals before losing to the Los Angeles Lakers.
He received arthroscopic surgery during the offseason and was listed on Tuesday’s injury list as “probable” because of knee soreness.
But with the Heat down to eight players, Spoelstra had Vincent play 36 minutes.
“Our guys have done a great job of conditioning and preparing themselves as if they would play 25, 30 minutes,” Spoelstra said. “Now the conditioning and court work they’re doing behind the scenes is not the same as game minutes, but it’s as close as you possibly can get. And they’ve been very diligent with their conditioning programs.”
Vincent could become the latest G League player that Miami develops into an NBA star, following in the footsteps of Kendrick Nunn, Duncan Robinson and Derrick Jones Jr.
“We’re not just trying to develop for the future,” Spoelstra said. “We’re trying to develop guys to learn how to win at the highest level this year, right now.”