Has the Miami Heat’s magic finally exhausted in an extremely unlikely playoff run?


MIAMI — It’s hard to ignore the Miami Heat.

Each time they have been released they have revived in dramatic fashion. Jimmy Butler will do a masterpiece. Bam Adebayo will put on an impressive double effort. Or one of the team’s undrafted throngs ensures that millions of people know his name.

But the Heat’s unlikely season has likely reached its limit.

After losing 108-95 to the Denver Nuggets in Game 4 of Friday’s Finals, the Heat are now 3-1 down in the series. Only one team in NBA history has recovered from such a hole in the championship round, the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers led by LeBron James.

This season has been spectacular for the Heat, who have endured overwhelming overcomes at every turn. It has become their trademark, so to speak: the longer they were left to die, the brighter they shone.

But now they stand on the brink of the greatest abyss they have ever faced, and a bigger and stronger Nuggets team is bringing them ever closer to the abyss.

“I told the guys, ‘Feel whatever you want to feel tonight, it’s fine,'” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Friday. “You probably shouldn’t sleep late tonight. I don’t think anyone will.”

“…We did everything the hard way. And so it must be done again now. We’re just going to focus on getting this thing back to the 305.” [Miami’s area code]. Bring that thing back to Miami. And things can change very quickly.

This was a postseason run full of surprises. After losing a play-in game to Atlanta, the Heat made it to the playoffs by defeating Chicago in the second play-in game. They then stunned the NBA world in the first round by defeating the top seeded Milwaukee Bucks in five games. And after beating the New York Knicks in the second round, they stormed the Eastern Conference Finals 3-0 up against the Boston Celtics and eventually defeated them in Game 7.

This made the Heat only the second and eighth seeded player to reach the NBA Finals.

For Butler, this is just the team’s latest challenge – and he plans to take on it the same way he led the Heat past everyone else.

“I think we really believe in each other and in ourselves as individuals,” said Butler, who had 25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists on Friday. “We’ve done some heavy things all year, even in this playoff run. And now it’s like the hardest of the hardest. But as we always say, you know, the things you want are on the other side of difficult.”

In a way, the Heat seem made for this moment.

Not only has the team weathered so many difficult situations, but many of the organization’s key members have their own outsider histories.

Spoelstra went from being the team’s video coordinator to a two-time championship coach. Jimmy Butler went from 30th overall pick in the NBA draft to six-time All-Star and postseason legend. Adebayo went from being a one-dimensional player to one of the best two-way players in the game. And the Heat have come this far with nine players undrafted, more than any other team in the league.

“We have no end,” said Butler. “We will always fight”

The Heat showed that mentality in Game 4. With a deficit of up to 17 points, they reduced their deficit to five in the fourth quarter. But the Nuggets ultimately stood too deep and their defense around the 3-point line was too strong.

When asked what the message was from the players watching the game, Adebayo described an oppressed but hopeful dressing room.

“A lot of people were pissed off,” said Adebayo, who had 20 points, 11 rebounds and seven turnovers. “But the best thing is, first before four [wins]. That’s the biggest, first to four. We take it one game at a time. And we find out.”

Regardless of how this plays out, the Heat’s season should undoubtedly be considered a success.

Moments like Butler’s 56-point performance against the Bucks in Game 4 become playoff lore. Adebayo has taken his attacking game to a new level this season while also being one of the best defenders in the league. Guys like Caleb Martin, Max Strus and Gabe Vincent have made their mark. And the Heat reached the ultimate stage in basketball despite being without Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo for most of the playoffs.

The heat shouldn’t be here. But after losing both games at home to the Nuggets, they may have finally dug a hole too deep even for them to climb.

But of course they don’t see it that way.

“We go into Monday and do what we promised all along and win,” Butler said. “We must. We have no other choice. Otherwise we would have done all this for no reason.”

Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She has previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.

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