Miami’s Improbable Run to the NBA Finals

by Ren Leong

Nobody expected them to make it far

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Heat center Bam Adeyabo blocks Jayson Tatum at the end of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference, sealing victory for his team.

The last time the Miami Heat reached the NBA Finals was 2014 when they were led by superstars Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. In 2020, with their 125-113 win over the Boston Celtics in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Heat have returned to the Finals. However, this time, the Heat did not have three to-be Hall of Famers like they did six years ago. Their unexpected playoff run had culminated in a championship matchup with a Lakers team powered by former Heat player Lebron James.

The Miami Heat embodies the meaning of an underdog. Many players on the Heat roster have been doubted throughout their basketball careers. For instance, Jimmy Butler was the last pick in the first round, Goran Dragic was the 45th pick in the draft, Jae Crowder was a second-rounder, and Duncan Robinson went undrafted. This is a team filled with players that were not expected to succeed in professional basketball.

While there is no elite superstar on this team, the players have combined their variety of talents have propelled themselves to the Finals. Jimmy Butler has been their leader throughout the postseason, averaging 20.7 PPG on 45% shooting. Their leading scorer has been veteran Goran Dragic, who has made play after play, averaging 20.9 PPG and 4.7 APG. These two have been complemented by a surplus of young stars, among them Bam Adebayo. A first-time all-star this year, Adebayo has exploded in his second playoff appearance, averaging a playoff double-double of 18.5 PPG and 11.4 RPG. Another player who has earned a starting position is Tyler Herro, the 13th pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, is another player who has earned a starting position on the Heat and has played a critical role during the Heat playoff run.. He has emerged in his first playoff appearance as a rookie, averaging 16.5 PPG, 3 more points than what he averaged in the regular season. With these impressive numbers, Herro has shown why he deserved a spot in the All-NBA Rookie First Team. Another consistent player on this Miami team has been Duncan Robinson. The sharpshooter has shot 40% from three-point range and made defensive plays when needed. While Jae Crowder has lulled in his shooting abilities late in the playoffs, his three-point shooting was impressive in the earlier rounds. Additionally, productive minutes from Kelly Olynyk and Derrick Jones Jr have pushed the Heat through the postseason. Finally, the veteran presence of Andre Iguodala, who has played in 160 playoff games, has been pivotal to a young and inexperienced Heat team.

Analysts doubted the Heat from the very beginning. After the Heat finished as the 5th seed in the weak Eastern Conference, many people predicted that they would fall to the Indiana Pacers in the first round. However, Miami swept them in four games, led by Dragic’s 23 PPG in that series. Even after this impressive showing, the Heat was dismissed as a team unable to win against the favorites, the first-seeded Milwaukee Bucks. The Heat disrupted this narrative and stole Game 1 behind Jimmy Butler’s 40-point game. Miami also won games 2 and 3, 116-114 and 115-100, respectively. The Bucks retaliated and won 116-114 in overtime in Game 4; however, in Game 5, the Heat’s depth proved to be too much, and the Heat won game 5 to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.

In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics appeared to be a tougher opponent than the Bucks or the Pacers, holding a double-digit lead in Game 1. However, the Heat came back to force overtime in Game 1, where Bam Adeyabo blocked a dunk attempt from Celtics forward Jayson Tatum to win the game. . Despite the Celtics’ efforts to relinquish a double-digit lead in Game 2, the Heat concluded the game with a 106-101 victory. Boston refused to fall 3-0 in the series and won Game 3 behind Jaylen Brown’s 26 points and Jayson Tatum’s double-double. Holding onto a 2-1 lead, the Heat needed a Game 4 win to hold onto the series. Tyler Herro displayed his prowess once again, shooting 67% from the field and scoring 37 points off the bench, a career-high. He emerged as a dangerous playmaker in this game and was the sole reason the Heat won a game, as they shot just 28% as a team from three. At the end of the first half, Game 5 looked to be the series-deciding game, as the Heat led by a comfortable margin at halftime. The Celtics refused to back down, and returned strong in the second half, taking the game 121-108. The series would extend to a sixth game.

The Boston Celtics had all the momentum going into Game 6. The Heat would need a combined team effort, and they delivered. Bam Adebayo led the team with 32 points and 14 rebounds followed by Jimmy Butler with 22 points. Duncan Robinson shot 5 for 7 from three and put 15 points on the board while Dragic garnered 7 assists. Iguodala was red hot and had 15 points, his most since the 2019 playoffs. Herro and Jae Crowder rounded out the Heat’s performance with 19 and 16 points, and the team finished the series with a convincing 125-113 win.

Miami’s next task will be to face off against the Los Angeles Lakers, a team with the great Lebron James and arguably the best center in the league, Anthony Davis. Once again the underdog, will the Heat be able to pull off their fourth upset and win an NBA championship?

***Editorial Note: After this article was written, the Miami Lost 4-2 in the NBA finals to the Los Angeles Lakers.