Heat

Miami’s Underdog Mentality Pushed Heat to Dynasty Status

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Nine days ago, all seemed well for the Miami Heat. Up 3-0 against the -550 favorites in the Celtics, the Heat came off a dominant home win.

Usually, that’s that, right? Teams up 3-0 are 150-0, and just three series in league history ever reached Game 7.

Well, Boston did just that and won three in a row, including a crushing Game 6 loss courtesy of a Derrick White game-winner. Miami entered Game 7 — just nine days after going up 3-0 versus the Celtics — as nine-point underdogs heading back on the road. The team looked shattered, puzzled and defeated.

But, like with most of the Heat’s unthinkable success this postseason, Miami fought back against all odds and defeated Boston 103-84 in Game 7— its third road victory in this series alone. Incredible.

The Cinderella run keeps on going, huh? Even better: Miami found itself on the right side of history.

Instead of becoming the first team to blow a 3-0 lead, the Heat are now the second-ever eighth seed to reach the Finals— its second in four years and

(Note: Miami also becomes the first eighth seed to make the NBA Finals in an 82-game season. The 1999 Knicks made it, but in a lockout-shortened year.)

Miami enters its Finals matchup versus Denver as +290 underdogs, per FanDuel. It’s an uphill climb for sure, but it’s not like anything the Heat aren’t used to.

And, for now, the Heat can enjoy this savoring moment.

A playoff run for the history books

The Heat’s postseason makes no sense on paper. Just look at some of these numbers from the regular season:

In particular, Miami’s offense was nowhere no elite or even good, ranking bottom-five in the league in the following categories:

  • Points per game: 30th
  • Field goal attempts and percentage: 26th
  • Three-point percentage: 27th

Miami lost Tyler Herro (20.1 points and 4.2 assists per game), the team’s third-highest scorer this season, in Game 1 against the Bucks. All of the Heat’s outside shooters suffered a down year.

And yet, the Heat pulled off a miraculous postseason run against the two leading favorites (Milwaukee and Boston) to win the Eastern Conference crown, as well as a Knicks team with Jimmy Butler hobbled.

Again, make it make sense.

As we previously discussed, Miami did thrive in the “hustle stats,” a testament to the culture Miami built up.

But, this franchise will remember this season for all the unsung heroes. Caleb Martin‘s unthinkable playoff heroics. Duncan Robinson‘s renaissance after back-to-back subpar seasons. Undrafted glue guys like Gabe Vincent, Max Strus and Haywood Highsmith producing when it mattered most.

Even Miami’s two cornerstones — Butler and Bam Adebayo — were taken 30th and 14th in their respective drafts. this is a team loaded from the top down with chip-on-their-shoulder, tough-it-out mentalities.

And, of course, Heat fans will remember Butler’s promise after Miami fell short in the 2022 Conference Finals to Boston:

“Next year, we will have enough and we’re going to be right back in this same situation, and we’re gonna get it done,” Butler said.

Chills.

An under-appreciated Miami Heat dynasty

This postseason alone, Miami already achieved the unthinkable regardless of how the 2023 Finals play out. The franchise can add to its impressive resume since it has accumulated since 2010, which includes:

  • Six finals appearances since 2010-2011
  • Seven conference finals since 2010-2011
  • Three conference finals since 2019-2020

The last of those facts remains the most impressive, and here’s why? Regardless of your opinion, the 2020 NBA Bubble was not normal: neutral site games, no fans, and in the midst of a pandemic. There was a legit fear Miami’s 2020 run was an outlier and not the norm, especially for a franchise that took years to recover after the departure of LeBron James.

Even after last season’s conference finals run, could the Heat sustain its incredible 2022 season in 2023 without making any notable transactions?

It turns out that it could, did and will continue to do.

That also means giving out massive credits to long-time coach Erik Spoelstra, the architect behind the Heat’s resilience and culture-setting. It wasn’t always easy (remember the “glory” days of Dion Waiters and Hassan Whiteside leading the way?). And yet, Miami keeps on churning out productive, successful and, more importantly, memorable runs.

Butler remains at the center of the Heat’s recent success. Who knows what this does for his legacy among the all-time greats. Back-to-back unthinkable playoff runs (don’t forget 2020 in this discuss either, by the way), and now, the best player on a team that made two Finals and three Conference Finals in four years.

How many superstars can say they achieved that? He all but saved his resume in this Boston series with his 28 points, seven rebounds and six assists in Game 7.

The complete stats for his last two postseasons: 33 games, 27.9 points, 7.2 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.0 steals per game, 50/34/83 shooting splits in addition to all that team success just mentioned.

Beating Boston also adds to the moment, a team cemented in NBA lore since the dawn of time. Miami not only avenged its 2022 loss, but made its 2020 win even more legitimate.

To be the best, you need to beat the best. The Heat did just that.

What comes next for the Heat dynasty?

Miami faces a daunting challenge against Denver. The Nuggets enter as enormous favorites in another legacy-defining battle, this time between Butler and two-time MVP Nikola Jokic. Denver was the undisputed best team in the West this season.

But the Heat enter the Finals in the same territory it has thrived in for this entire spring. This won’t be new for this Miami team in particular, always seen as the underdogs in any battle.

Whatever happens, happens. Miami could get smoked in four or five games. Denver remains an impressive, talented team.

Yet, beating Boston — and avoiding a disastrous, blown 3-0 lead — means the everyday fan will remember this moment.

As the saying goes: “history is written by the victors.”

Regardless of what happens from here, Miami came out victorious this postseason.

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About Dominic Chiappone

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