Heat vs. Hawks: Duncan Robinson goes nuclear in Miami’s Game 1 win, a testament to his talent and humility

MIAMIDuncan Robinson is a professional shooter, and he rode both those descriptors into a five-year, $90 million contract last summer. The shooting part is obvious, and we’ll get to that shortly. But the professional part is easier to overlook. 

Robinson’s shooting struggles to start this season have been well chronicled. He made just 32 percent of his first 200 3-pointers of the season. But undrafted guys who have made their way in the NBA via the G League, slowly grinding out measures of respect on the stress of two-way contracts and inconsistent opportunities, guys who had to begin their college career playing at the Division III level? They don’t give in easily. And they don’t have an ego. 

All Robinson has is his work ethic and the quiet confidence that if he stays the course, like he always has, the shots will eventually go in. The approach certainly paid off on Sunday, when Robinson drained a Miami postseason record eight 3-pointers as the Miami Heat blew the doors off the Atlanta Hawks, 115-91, in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series. 

“Duncan needed that,” Kyle Lowry said of Robinson’s performance. “For us, we need that as a team. We’re happy for him and we just gotta continue to build on it. For [Duncan], just continue to fire the ball like he was. We just need him to fire the ball and shoot the ball with the confidence he did tonight, because he shot the ball extremely confident tonight. Every shot he took looked good.”

For Robinson, every shot didn’t just look good. Except for one, every shot was good. His eight 3s came on nine attempts and he was 9-for-10 overall. His 27 points are the third-highest postseason mark for a bench player in Heat history. 

That “for a bench player qualifier is an important note. On March 28, after the Heat had lost four straight, Robinson was taken out of the starting lineup. When Twitter rumblings started that Robinson was perhaps on the brink of losing his rotation spot altogether, you knew the honeymoon period was over, as will happen when you sign for $90 million. People expect you to earn that kind of money. It would’ve been easy to buy into the narrative that Robinson’s move to the bench was an overdue demotion rather than something of a strategic rotational shift within Erik Spoelstra’s grander plan. 

“It’s one of the things that I really disliked about making that decision [to take Robinson out of the starting lineup]. I knew that people on the outside would be jumping to a bunch of different conclusions,” Spoelstra said after Miami’s win. “In my mind, Duncan was still going to be a major factor.”

Spoelstra, as usual, was right. Rather than whining, if only inwardly, about being stripped of his starter card, Robinson, again, was a pro about it. He went out that night and hit five of his eight 3s in a win over the Kings

Indeed, it’s been an up-and-down season for Robinson, but he’s been slowly building toward a performance like he put together on Sunday, He made 41 percent of his 3s in January, March and over five games in April. 

“This season, I’ve learned a lot,” Robinson said. “A lot of different ways, a lot of different experiences. The beautiful thing about this time of year, you just gotta lock in with what is in front of you. Everything that was, is in the past. Whatever I can do to help us win, I’m all in for. Whatever that looks like, I’m willing to buy into it and I am buying into it.”

“There are challenges that come with [adjusting to a bench role], for sure,” Robinson added. “For me, it took a little time, which is expected. I’ve started most of my career, at least wearing this jersey. In that sense, yeah, it was a little bit of an adjustment. But like I was saying earlier, at this time of year, it’s not about who’s starting, this, that, whatever. It’s literally about just bottom line: Can you win? Can you help your team win? One thing I know for sure, the coaching staff, team, whatever, they want guys out there that are going to help them win. That might change night to night based on matchup situations and all sort of things. For me, it’s just about having the mental stability of locking into doing whatever I can to help us.”

Robinson certainly did more than his part to help the Heat win on Sunday. He’s not going to make eight 3-pointers every game in this series, but if he can continue to shoot it well, and be that off-screen and dribble-handoff quick-trigger threat that makes defenses so jumpy, the Heat become a much more difficult team to deal with. 

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