INDIANAPOLIS — When Udonis Haslem speaks, his teammates listen.
Just 90 minutes before Wednesday’s game against the Pacers, coach Erik Spoelstra said guard Tyler Johnson would miss his second consecutive game with a strained left shoulder. But then Haslem, one of the Heat’s three team captains, spoke to Johnson and everything changed.
“When I got here, U.D. was just whispering in my ear, ‘If you can just suit up and give us four, five minutes, plug minutes,'” Johnson said. “My plan wasn’t to go in and play like I did. It was just go in and fill the void.”
But Johnson did more than that. He played 31 minutes in Wednesday’s 114-106 win over Indiana, finishing with 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting to go with five rebounds and two assists.
Johnson saved his best work for the fourth quarter to score a team-high 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting in the final period.
“That’s why you love Tyler Johnson so much,” Spoelstra said. “At the walk-through he still was jammed up in his neck. U.D. and Tyler talked before the meeting and Tyler came into my office and said, ‘Hey, I’m going to give it a shot. Five minutes, if I can help you at the end of the quarter.’ I looked at him like he was crazy. So I called up [Heat athletic trainer Jay Sabol] and he said it’s really up to him, just play it by ear.
“So I went with the Mike Miller role, just playing him to the end of the quarter, just get us to the end of the quarter and he did a couple of good things in that first quarter and I went to take him out and he said, ‘What are you crazy?’ So we let him roll. A winning locker room can cure a lot of different things. So we have thankfully some time before the next game. The shoulder feels fine now. Now it’s all in his neck.”
Johnson admitted after Wednesday’s game that he’s still feeling pain from the injury. But it wasn’t enough to keep him out or deny Haslem.
“They just gave me some pills to try and relax it, try and relax the muscles that kind of tighten up,” Johnson said. “I still can’t really turn my head. It’s still hard to turn my head. But we got it to somewhere where it was manageable, the pain, the movement and being able to at least lift my shoulder up, which to me was the most important part.”
Considering Johnson’s past issues with his left shoulder — rotator cuff surgery in February 2016 — it’s a good sign that Johnson was able to make a fast return after sitting out just one game. He will now have time to rest the injury, with the Heat’s next game coming Sunday at home against the Milwaukee Bucks.
“Luckily we have a few days here to try and figure it out,” Johnson said when asked what the next step in his recovery is. “All I can do to get that, the muscles or whatever it is, to calm down. But these three days are going to be critical.”