2009-10: In Competitive East, HEAT Battle for Playoffs
In 2009-10, the NBA’s Eastern Conference was as strong as it had been in over a decade, and the Miami HEAT, despite making few changes to a squad that won 43 games the season before, still managed to improve amidst rampant speculation about the upcoming summer of free agency.
Where the previous two years had seen the HEAT make a number of large trades, team president Pat Riley kept to minor moves for most of the year, re-signing his own players and trading Mark Blount for Quentin Richardson. But Dwyane Wade was once again anything but minor, dropping 26 points, 6.5 assists and five rebounds per game in earning himself a spot on the All-NBA First Team and All-NBA Defensive Second Team for the second consecutive season.
But though the roster was refreshingly static for the first time in years, the battle in the standings lasted right up to the final seconds of the regular season.
Running neck-and-neck with the Chicago Bulls and Toronto Raptors for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference Playoffs, the HEAT were, in late March, on the verge of missing the playoffs completely after a resurgent 2008-09 that saw them lose to the Atlanta Hawks in a seven-game first-round series. But with contributions coming from every position on the court, the HEAT won 12 of their last 13 games to earn not only a playoff berth, but the fifth seed and the right to play the Boston Celtics in the first round.
And they clinched that seed in the final game of the season with Wade resting on the bench.
On April 14, with a playoff spot clinched and Wade resting, the HEAT engaged in an epic, double-overtime duel with the New Jersey Nets, forcing the first overtime on a Carlos Arroyo jumper, the second with a Mario Chalmers bank shot and clinching the win with a wild, banking three-pointer from Yakhouba Diawara. The game was watched by many Eastern Conference teams, including the Celtics, who stuck around the TD Garden locker room after their own final regular season game to see who their postseason opponent would be.
Eventually the Celtics would dispatch the HEAT in five games – Miami’s only win coming from Wade’s five three-pointer, 46-points explosion in Game 4 – but the positive momentum from the playoff run would set the team up for major changes that summer.