Maybe the Miami Heat aren’t underdogs in the NBA Finals after all


When the buzzer rang and time ran out at the Ball Arena on Sunday night, the only surprise was that the Nuggets had lost a game.

Denver’s seven-game postseason winning streak was halted. It failed at home for the first time in 66 nights, falling to 43-8 in the home arena this year, in both the regular season and the playoffs.

What shouldn’t come as a surprise, but does exist in some circles, is that the eighth-seeded Miami Heat – the underdogs – have done it again.

But here are my questions:

  • What do you think the currently unemployed Mike Budenholzer thinks of this outsider? Miami is the reason he lost his job in Milwaukee.
  • What do you think Jalen Brunson and New York City think about the heat? The Knicks put up a great fight but met a reflection of themselves – a better one. Look at Joe Mazzulla and the Celtics who fought back and took three games away from Miami only to be knocked off the floor in Game 7.

The point is: enough is enough. Doubt this Miami Heat team at your own risk. And if you actually thought you were going to lie down and get overwhelmed by the nuggets, then come along.

Jimmy Butler, Heat recovered late and won Game 2 against Nuggets, even 1-1 in the series

Jimmy Butler, Heat recovered late and won Game 2 against Nuggets, even 1-1 in the series

The way they do it was enlightening. It’s frankly absurd that the Heat went from the NBA’s 27th team in the 3-point shooting division to the top team in the playoffs with over 39% in the regular season. With performances of 45% from downtown against the Bucks and over 43% in the series win over the Celtics, what initially seemed untenable has become the norm for this team. Maybe it’s because the regular season just didn’t mean as much anymore and has lost its value. Erik Spoelstra has talked about designing offense to create more free shots and how playoff basketball has brought something more “focused” to his team’s activities.

As Yahoo’s Ben Rohrbach recently pointed out, “Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson made 151 of their 364 3-point attempts (41.5%) for the Golden State Warriors, arguably the greatest team in NBA history, on the Road to the 2017 title.” Gabe Vincent, Caleb Martin and Duncan Robinson (135-314 3P, 43%) are on track to surpass them when the Heat do the unthinkable and as a team ending the regular season on a negative note score difference completed, win rings.”

I don’t want to underestimate how unlikely the heat run was, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise what happens in this series going forward. One would assume that the NBA Finals would be hard-fought and possibly close.

There’s a championship at stake, right?

Well, the Heat are better placed than anyone else in the NBA in the closing stages, and this postseason has shown it. In 20 playoff games, the Heat have a plus-90-point lead in the fourth quarter.

The Heat’s success begins with head coach Erik Spoelstra and star wing Jimmy Butler.

Jimmy Butler on Resilience: “I Think It’s the ‘I Don’t Care’ Factor”

Jimmy Butler on resilience: "I think it's the

There’s a reason Spoelstra has led Miami to the NBA Finals for the sixth time in the last 12 years. And from his tenure as the franchise’s video coordinator in 1995 to his appointment as the organization’s head coach in 2008 at the age of 37, his rise to arguably one of the top ten coaches in NBA history at the age of just 52 has been no less Great.

Just look at the adjustment to put Kevin Love in the starting XI in Sunday night’s 111-108 win over the Nuggets. The 34-year-old was up 18 in the game. Late in the third quarter of Game 2, he switched to Robinson – who went 6-1 in Game 1. With the Heat trailing 83-75, Robinson scored eight points in the first 70 seconds of the fourth quarter to reduce the lead to 85-83 possession. That surge sparked a 15-2 run overall and gave Miami a 90-85 lead, a lead they weren’t about to give up. There were also adjustments at defender Nikola Jokic, who had 41 points but had four assists in five losses, an uncharacteristic performance for one of the league’s best passers.

The Heat have the coaching advantage in this series. This was never a question or revelation. The question now is how Michael Malone will react after losing Game 2, which saw him make some startling comments after the game, especially considering his team had just won seven games in a row.

Still, it’s a loss and there shouldn’t be a panic in Denver, but rather some adjustments from Malone, who is perfectly capable of tweaking a few things or his team wouldn’t be here now. However, it will be interesting to see if the Nuggets can recover from a difficult situation for the first time in weeks, and if they can do the same in Miami.

Back in Miami, Butler was the top closer this postseason. His tenacity, intensity and will to win were outstanding throughout the run. When the fourth quarter comes around, Colin Cowherd is absolutely right: who else would you rather have on the field for your team?

On Sunday night, with the Nuggets back within three minutes and less than seven minutes to go, Butler pulled off a triple. Two possessions later, a jumper and a free throw pushed the lead back to seven at 98-91. As Denver came back to six points at 107-101, Butler got a switch off an umbrella and jumped over Jokic to silence the crowd and take it to 109-101 with two minutes left.

And don’t forget Bam Adebayo, who was arguably the main reason Miami emerged victorious in Game 2. He was already one of the NBA’s best defensemen, but his offensive development – as evidenced by 15 of his 21 goals in Sunday’s second half – was remarkable, especially considering he was the two-time MVP on the other side of this duel protected.

In fact, for almost two months the narrative has been that the Heat came out of nowhere. Initially, that observation was entirely valid, but to continue to claim that this team can’t make the stage or doesn’t have enough is disrespectful to the Superstars they’ve already unleashed.

However, it is precisely this narrative that has fueled The Heat to this point and may be exactly what leads it to a title. After all, they’re 13-6 this postseason with Butler down (he missed Game 2 against the Knicks) and just three wins away from glory.

“Nobody cares on our team,” Butler said after winning Game 2. “We don’t care what anybody thinks. We’re so focused on what we’re good at and who we are as a group that at the end of the day we fall back on that. We decide whether we shoot or miss.” We will be who we are.

“I think it’s the ‘I don’t give a fuck’ factor.”

John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers esports in a variety of capacities from covering matches on FS1 to serving as the main presenter on the BIG EAST Digital Network to commentating on the Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.

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