What a ride it’s been for this Miami Heat team.
It seems as if just yesterday they were in the midst of clinching a trip to the NBA playoffs, falling to the Charlotte Hornets 109-98 on Tyler Herro’s return from injury. In typical regular-season fashion, they blew an early 20-point lead, as Devonte Graham sprayed Miami on 11 of 19 shooting.
Suddenly, that was the end.
COVID-19 abruptly put a hold to the season, leaving the entire NBA in shock and uncertain of what was next. Many used it as an excuse, while others allowed it to be an opportunity to improve their craft.
That’s when the Heat struck.
Full of grit and grind players desperate for success, Miami’s bubble play was a chance to exemplify the legitimacy of this team. Underlooked and underappreciated at its finest, almost everybody on the roster was aware of the capabilities they truly possessed.
All they did was put it to show.
Translate that to today, and Miami’s 12-3 postseason record has them just 4 games away claiming their fourth NBA championship in franchise history.
Two words: Heat Culture.
“We believe in guys like that. That’s part of our philosophy, part of our culture. Guys that are extremely motivated, driven, have a passion for this game, have a passion for competition, and have a willingness to fight for it. That’s our fabric,” coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Not many teams shaped like the Heat have gotten very far into the playoffs. In fact, the closest comparison would be the 2004-05 Detroit Pistons, who through the likes of Ben Wallace, Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince were able to shock the world by holding the Los Angeles Lakers from its fourth title in five seasons.
Coached by Larry Brown, there was no significant superstar on that Pistons team. Instead, an overall group of guys willing to prove the world wrong. And they did so, knocking down a Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal led squad 4-1 in what’s considered as one of the greatest upsets in the history of U.S. pro sports.
“It’s about players,” Brown said following his first NBA championship of his coaching career. “This sport is about players playing the right way and showing kids that you can be a team and be successful and it’s great for our league.”
Now it’s the Heat’s turn to shock the world and put the league on notice that an all-around effort will outmatch a duo of stars.
“Teams like this are unique. A bunch of guys that have been overlooked in a lot of ways… A lot of guys in our locker room have been told that they are less than,” Spoelstra said.
This time around, the Lakers will be run by LeBron James and Anthony Davis, arguably the greatest 1-2 punch since Bryant and O’Neal. Unlike L.A., Miami will look for contributions from all its players, starting with five-time All-Star Jimmy Butler and finishing with rookie Tyler Herro.
As expected, they’ll open as underdogs, something they’ve cherished as part of the culture.
“We been underdogs our entire life, everybody up here got a chip on their shoulder,” Butler tweeted after Miami’s Game 6 win over the Boston Celtics.
To add along, it’ll be Miami’s first rodeo in the Finals since the departure of James, who played a crucial role in the Heat’s four straight appearances to the league’s biggest stage.
Holding two championships and two Finals MVP’s under his belt with the club, there’s simply no telling how important a best-of-seven series victory would mean for both sides.
For James, it’ll be an opportunity to one-up his historic legacy. For the Heat, they’ll have a chance to embrace the culture and show how effective it is for success.
Lastly, a win would leave a stain on NBA history in general. the 2019-20 champions will be remembered for decades to come, and Miami is built to spoil that from the likes of other teams once expected to be in their position.
It has the chance to be a storybook finish, to say the least.