The Miami Heat.
What a crazy time it is to be a sports fan. With the MLB playoffs beginning this week, the NFL getting off to a great start, the NHL Stanley Cup Finals in full swing, and the NBA Finals starting on Wednesday, it is important that we do not overlook one thing. The Miami Heat are very good at basketball. They have been forgotten about all season, but now it is time to sit back and realize what this unit has accomplished.
Boy was it a long road. At certain points, I never thought we would see basketball again in 2020, and if we did, I was sure that the Miami Heat would not be competing in the NBA Finals. They were a good team and surprised some people by securing the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, but realistically they were a long shot to make the NBA Finals. With LeBron now in LA the East has been wide open over the past two seasons but with Giannis Antetokounmpo putting up one of the best seasons we have ever seen while winning his second straight MVP Award, the East was all but Milwaukee’s. If the Bucks somehow faltered and did not reach the Finals, the next team-up would be the young Boston Celtics team that was finally clicking on all cylinders. Jayson Tatum had asserted himself as a superstar and with Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart playing key roles the Celtics had their second-best winning percentage in the past ten years. Kemba Walker was an All-Star for the fourth straight year and seemed to be a much better fit than drama-filled Kyrie Irving who left for the Brooklyn Nets. If it was neither Boston nor Milwaukee the only other logical choice for the Eastern Conference crown would be the Toronto Raptors. The defending champion Toronto Raptors had their best winning percentage in team history in 2020, even with Kawhi Leonard departing for the Los Angeles Clippers. Pascal Siakam was a starter in the All-Star game and Kyle Lowry was named to the team as well. Serge Ibaka had one of his best seasons playing a key role as a sixth man and Fred VanVleet had slid into a starter's role and put up career-high numbers. With these three powerhouses being in the Eastern Conference the Miami Heat became an afterthought. Their starting lineup consists of only two players that were first-round draft picks and an undrafted second-year player. So, how did we get here?
The Miami Heat franchise broke into the NBA as an expansion team in 1988. After many years of mediocracy, their fate changed when Pat Riley became the head coach and President of the team in 1995. The Heat won their first title in 2006 with Dwayne Wade and Shaquille O'Neal as their leaders and the team was very good until the 2008 season. After Pat Riley retired, he handed over the reins to his hand-picked successor assistant coach, Erik Spoelstra. Spoelstra was a former college player and before becoming an assistant coach he was the video coordinator for the Heat. After working his way up the ranks Spoelstra became the first-ever Asian-American to be named a head coach in the history of the four US major sports. In his first season as head coach, Spoelstra led the Heat to the playoffs after they went 15-67 in the previous season under Riley. Spoelstra and the Heat won the NBA Championship in 2012 and 2013 with the trio of LeBron, Wade, and Bosh. Year in and year out, the Miami Heat are a tough ballclub that never quits. That's what Spoelstra preaches and has exemplified throughout his career. He was never the best player, but he still committed to his hometown college. He was the assistant coach for a German basketball team from 1993-1995 but he was never named the head coach which led him to pursue the job of video coordinator for the Miami Heat. With a long history of never quitting it should come as no surprise that this Heat team is in the finals. Even with the lack of many stars in a super-team league, this squad still gets the job done. From their leader in Jimmy Butler to the rest of the roster, this team never quits.
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The Miami Heat celebrate their Eastern Finals Championship after defeating the Boston Celtics in Game 6 125-113
When Jimmy Butler chose to leave the Philadelphia 76ers for the Miami Heat every NBA fan thought the same thing. Jimmy was tired of being on teams with other drama-filled players that he did not enjoy, and he went to Miami to get a max contract. They would be a playoff team, but a low seed nowhere close to the NBA Finals. We all underestimated what Spoelstra and Butler could do together. Butler was the 30th overall selection by the Chicago Bulls in the 2011 NBA Draft and spent his earlier years as a defensive grinder with low production on the offensive end. After developing his game and leading the Bulls to success he was shipped off to Minnesota to be teamed up with Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. It was very publicly known that Butler did not get along with these two, citing their lack of effort in practice before being traded to the Philadelphia 76ers. After not fitting in well with Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Tobias Harris, the then 30-year-old Butler was a free agent with not many suitable destinations. The Heat was a perfect choice and Butler quickly became the leader of the franchise. He was named to his fifth All-Star team and averaged a career-high in rebounds, assists, and blocks per game. He took many players under his wing and embraced the underdog mentality. One of the players that he has formed a special bond with is Tyler Herro.
Herro was the 13th pick in the 2019 NBA Draft after his freshman season at the University of Kentucky. Herro started the year pretty strong but got injured for a large portion of the season. Herro was always a threat when on the court at Kentucky but lacked true firepower to be a top 10 pick in the NBA. After working with Butler and defining his game many teams wish they would have picked him earlier. In Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Herro scored 37 points and became the second-youngest player ever to score that many points in the playoffs behind Magic Johnson. Herro credits his success to the great players around him and says that Jimmy Butler is like a brother to him. Butler, who does not praise people often, had this to say about the rookie.
"Tyler has been phenomenal all year long."
This compliment from the 31-year-old Butler is very high praise, considering Butler labeled Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns "soft" and Butler did not invite any family to the NBA bubble because he explained that he is on a "business trip". Herro is one of the many players that have been playing above expectations including the starting small forward Duncan Robinson.
The 6'7 wing player out of the University of Michigan has been putting up stellar numbers for the Heat all season long. Robinson was unrecruited out of high school and ending up at the DIII Williams College. After two seasons there, Robinson became the first player in college basketball history to transfer from Division III to Division I on a full scholarship. After his senior season at Michigan, Robinson began filling out job applications and was looking at his future outside of basketball. He ultimately found an opportunity with the Miami Heat, and he signed a Summer League contract with the team. Robinson made the G League roster and appeared in 15 games with the Heat in the 2018-2019 season. After bulking up in the offseason, Robinson became a pivotal role player for the Heat in 2019-2020 and he became a starter for the team a couple of weeks into the season. Robinson averaged 13.5 points and shot 44.6% from three-point range, which placed him fourth in the NBA. Robinson went from a Division III college in 2014 to a starter for the 2020 Eastern Conference Champions Miami Heat. Pretty incredible.
The remainder of the Miami Heat’s starting lineup consists of Goran Dragic, the twelve-year veteran who was the 45th overall selection in the 2008 NBA Draft, and Bam Adebayo who was the 14th overall selection in the 2017 NBA Draft out of the University of Kentucky. The 6'9 center Adebayo was an All-Star in 2020 and Spoelstra uniquely let Adebayo handle the ball on the perimeter often to utilize his court vision. The 14th overall selection was not known for his passing abilities at the University of Kentucky, and he averaged 0.8 assists per game in his only season there. In the role that Bam plays in with the Miami Heat, he is averaging 5.1 assists per game which is only 0.1 assists per game less than point guard Stephen Curry averaged in the 2018-2019 season. Bam also won the 2020 NBA All-Star Skills Challenge after entering the contest as a 10/1 underdog. Every player on the Miami Heat has embraced the underdog mentality and it has fueled them to their success. Pat Riley has done a terrific job surrounding the team with winners who put the team before themselves. The veteran presence of Jae Crowder, Andre Iguodala, and Myers Leonard mesh perfectly in the locker room and every person on the roster plays a role in their success.
The Heat entered the 2020 NBA Playoffs facing off against a hot Indiana Pacers team with TJ Warren playing the best basketball of his career. After a feud earlier in the season between Butler and Warren the hype surrounding this series was gaining some attention. The Heat quickly silenced the Pacers with a 4-0 series sweep. Miami then faced off against the number one seed Milwaukee Bucks with Giannis Antetokounmpo playing great basketball and looking for his first NBA Finals appearance. Miami silenced Giannis and handled the Bucks 4-1 in a shocking upset. The Heat then were labeled underdogs once again against the Boston Celtics with Gordon Heyward returning for Game 3 of the series. Butler and Bam Adebayo teamed up to dominate the series, with Herro shining in Game 4 with his 37-point performance. The Heat finished the Celtics off and completed the series victory 4-2, silencing the few critics that still remained.
The Miami Heat will begin the 2020 NBA Finals on Wednesday, September 30th against LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the Los Angeles Lakers as heavy underdogs, but if we have learned anything about this gritty team by now, a victory over the Los Angeles Lakers is all but impossible. As always, if you want to tune into continued coverage of the NBA Finals and everything else sports-related, check out the MoeCast Podcast available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and YouTube, with episodes out every Monday.