Miami’s Magical Playoff Run Reaches Its Scorching Moment


Just over a month ago, the Miami Heat trailed by three points with under four minutes to go against Chicago. This year’s postseason hadn’t even started yet.

Miami, who finished 44-38 this year after a 53-win campaign in 2021-2022, found itself minutes away from becoming the first seventh seed to lose back-to-back games in the Play-In Tournament. Heartbreak was inevitable.

However, emphasis on was.

Somehow, Miami closed that game versus the Bulls on a 15-1 run, sparking what should now be considered the most impressive postseason run by an eighth-seed in NBA history. 35 days later, the Heat achieved the unthinkable: winning back-to-back games against the Celtics in Boston, taking a 2-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Heat, cooled for most of this season, find themselves scorching hot at the right time and in unforgettable fashion.

Miami’s playoff run started off strong, becoming the fifth eighth-seed to defeat a one-seed after taking down Giannis Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee. It ranks as one of the most improbable playoff upsets by NBA standards. The Heat entered the series versus the Bucks as +750 to win, making it the fifth-longest outcome in an upset since 1976-1977.

The magic never stopped there. Miami got by New York in six games before heading to Boston and reached its second-straight conference finals and third in four seasons.

Now, Miami’s matchup is a Celtics team the Heat are now playing for the third time in four postseasons. FanDuel set Boston as -550 favorites to beat Miami. Yes, by the numbers, it was statistically likely for the Heat to win Game 1.

But two in a row on the road

From here, regardless of what happens, this year’s postseason run ranks as a historically-unthinkable one for Miami. But its implications remain captivating.

Butler was born for the playoffs 

First, Jimmy Butler‘s postseason heroics come to mind when we’ll think of this Heat run decades from now.

Hearken back to the 2022 postseason, where Butler submitted a then-all-time playoff performance by league-history standards. Joining Michael Jordan as the only two players ever to score at least 40 points and have at least four steals two or more times in a single postseason and not make the Finals? Check. The only player in franchise history with multiple 45-point playoff games? You bet.

This season, Butler clinched his first All-NBA second-team nod. The second-team nod is new to him, but his jaw-dropping playoff moments are not.

Again, his playoff production now outpaces his regular-season numbers:

  • 22.9 points per game –> 31.5
  • 5.9 rebounds per game –> 6.5
  • 5.3 assists per game –> 5.5
  • 1.8 steals per game –> 2.1
  • 54% field-goal percentage (13.9 attempts per game) –> 52% (21.1 APG)
  • 35% field-goal percentage (1.6 attempts per game) –> 38% (3.6 APG)
  • 85% free-throw percentage (8.7 attempts per game) –> 80% (10.1 APG)

Now, here comes the important question: what does this mean for Butler’s resume when you rank the all-time greats? You’re looking at a six-time All-Star, five-time All-NBA player with a proven track record to elevate his game in the postseason. Under his watch, Miami reached an NBA Finals and three total conference finals.

Then, consider where his career was before he joined the Heat. Remember the controversial stints in Minnesota and Chicago? How about the “what could’ve been?” scenario with Joel Embiid and Philadelphia?

Yet, Butler’s masterpieces in the playoffs have given Miami life this year. Nobody described Butler best than one of our writers following the Heat’s shortfall in 2022 to the Celtics:

“He will not quit. He played all but two minutes in the final two games of the season. He’s the perfect player to ride or die with, so let’s trust him when he says that the Heat will be back and better than ever. He absolutely can be the best player on a championship team, as he proved with this historic postseason. Ride or die with Jimmy, regardless.”

Heat Culture shocks the basketball world

Even with all of this, there’s other incredible factors to consider here with this magical Heat run.

Miami fielding seven undrafted players, most of which — like Max Strus, Gabe Vincent and Duncan Robinson — carved out irreplaceable roles within the roster? That’s impressive. Striking gold on lottery picks like Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro? Critically important. Achieving all of this success without Herro or Victor Oladipo for most of this postseason? It doesn’t make sense.

Actually, maybe it does.

First, look back to where Miami was following its Finals run in 2020. The Heat stood pat over the offseason, banking on keeping its core together. In an era defined by player empowerment and teams constantly needing to improve, Miami stuck to its game plan.

Then, consider the following circumstances. With Butler approaching his mid-thirties and time winding down on the Heat’s championship window, there was an immense sense of urgency.

So, could the Heat really embrace continuity with NBA teams engaged in a Cold War-like arms race to improve?

Clearly, absolutely. How?

Especially during this playoff run, the Heat are embracing winning on the hustle front.

For example, per the NBA, Miami ranks first this postseasons in most of the “energy plays” like deflections per game (16.3), loose balls recovered per game (6.8), and charges drawn (1.31 per game). This is a scrappy team fighting on every possession. And then, consider the background of this roster, a collection of individuals who needed to fight to get to where they are right now. That, now that’s heart more than anything.

The result: a five-year retool following LeBron James‘ departure in 2014 turned into a Finals berth and four-straight years of quality basketball.

And now, Miami (yet again) finds itself two wins away from a second Finals appearance in four years. An eighth-seed, which seemed to have originally lost its spark, reignited its fire.

Do you believe in magic? Heat culture certainly does.

They also just believe in themselves.

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About Dominic Chiappone

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