An Unprecedented Run
Looking Back On Key Moments From The HEAT’s Bubble Journey
On the afternoon of July 8, the HEAT loaded up a pair of busses at the AmericanAirlines Arena and made their way north to the NBA’s Disney bubble just outside Orlando.
They left 96 days later.
What happened in between will go down in HEAT lore for a long, long time. After going 3-5 in their seeding games, the team went 14-7 in the postseason, including 11-3 in the clutch (five-point game in the last five minutes) and became the first No. 5 seed to make it to the NBA Finals (three lower seeds had done it before). Keep in mind that all of this came off a year they didn’t even make the playoffs. Wild.
And while Miami fell just two wins shy of a championship, being one of the last two teams standing through it all was a testament to the team’s mental toughness.
“We didn’t get the final result that we wanted, but even what I mentioned to the guys, these are going to be lifetime memories that we have together,” Erik Spoelstra said. “…regardless of whatever happens in the future, we’re going to remember this year, this season, this experience and that locker room brotherhood for the rest of our lives.”
Before entering the bubble, the HEAT exceeded all expectations, set records, reached milestones and were simply a fun team to watch.
But again, they took things to a whole other level in the bubble.
In a foreshadowing of what was to come, Miami’s seeding games were highlighted by a shorthanded 112-106 victory over the Celtics behind Bam Adebayo and Duncan Robinson and a 114-92 thrashing of the Pacers six days later.
That said, perhaps the biggest development of that early stretch was Jae Crowder being inserted into the starting lineup. His ability to execute multiple defensive schemes and stretch the floor on the other end proved to be vital all throughout the HEAT’s bubble run.
Crowder showed that early and often against the Pacers in Round 1, while Goran Dragić led the team in scoring and came through down the stretch time and time again.
Not to mention, Robinson tied a playoff franchise record with seven threes in Game 2, which aided in Miami setting a postseason mark with 18 total treys. The very next game, the HEAT scored 74 points in the first half thanks to 11 threes, both of which set playoff franchise records.
Speaking of records, Robinson netted 62 3-pointers in the playoffs, which was the most in a single postseason in franchise history. Crowder and Tyler Herro had 55 and 48, respectively, which was good enough for second and third place all-time in HEAT postseason history. As you’d expect with those numbers, Miami's 268 postseason threes as a unit were the third most ever and the most in franchise history.
Long story short, Indiana (and most teams) had no answer for Miami’s shooting and were swept.
Then came the Bucks, a team that many outsiders thought would end the HEAT's run.
And well, they were just flat out wrong.
Jimmy Butler emerged as Miami’s closer in the series, as he scored 45 points on 11-of-17 shooting in fourth quarters throughout the five games. 17 of those points came in Game 3, where the HEAT outscored the Bucks 40-13 in the final period for the largest fourth quarter margin in a playoff game in NBA history. Oh yeah, they also drilled a postseason franchise-record 18 threes again in that contest.
Otherwise in the series, Dragić kept up his scoring prowess and Adebayo took advantage of Milwaukee’s drop coverage and went 8-of-14 on mid-range jumpers.
Of course, Miami’s defensive wall against Giannis Antetokounmpo and focus on Khris Middleton when the Greek Freak went down also played a role in defying the odds and eliminating the No. 1 overall seed.
Despite doing all that, the HEAT were still seen as underdogs against a familiar foe in the Boston Celtics. You know, the same team Miami had faced in the playoffs three times before, with the two most recent instances coming during the Big 3 Era. And even though you still had Pat Riley and Danny Ainge running the organizations, it was time for some new names to be etched into the HEAT-Celtics playoff lexicon.
And those names happened to be Adebayo and Herro.
In Game 1, Adebayo kicked off the Eastern Conference Finals with the block heard ‘round the world on Jayson Tatum and never looked back.
From there, the former Kentucky Wildcat continued to fare well in help situations at the rim, on switches along the perimeter and on his own assignments. He also wreaked havoc in the pick-and-roll, set great screens for his teammates and overwhelmed Daniel Theis with dribble drives quite often.
As such, Adebayo averaged 21.8 points, 11.0 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.0 blocks in the six-game series. And in the closeout game, he became the youngest player ever to record 32 points, 14 rebounds and five assists in a Conference Finals matchup.
Yeah, he’s a bonafide star now.
“I think we all feel very blessed to have somebody like Bam. That's somebody that fits our fabric, our culture,” Spoelstra said. “He is wise and competitive and savvy and mature way beyond his years. I have to remind myself sometimes that he just turned 23 in the bubble here. He feels like he's 28 years old. It feels like he's been in the league for ten years, and he's took on that kind of responsibility and leadership role for us. And there really is, there is no ceiling to his potential.”
There’s also no ceiling on Herro, who did damage off the bounce and hit timely shots all throughout the postseason. That said, nothing touched his Game 4 performance against the Celtics.
In that contest, the 20-year-old set a HEAT rookie record with a career-high 37 points and became the youngest player to score that much in a playoff game since Magic Johnson. Those points were also the most by a rookie off the bench in a playoff game and the most by a rookie during a Conference Finals game.
When it was all said and done, Herro would go on to rack up 48 treys (a playoff franchise rookie record) and 335 points, the fourth most ever by a rookie in a single postseason run.
He also became the youngest player to start in an NBA Finals game.
And in the Finals against LeBron James and the Lakers, Herro had the epic snarl in Game 3 and Robinson registered another seven-trey outing in Game 5, but it was really all about Jimmy Effing Butler.
With Dragić and Adebayo hurt for most of the series, Butler emptied the tank and gave it all he had.
(That was a rhetorical question.)
Not only did Butler put his body on the line with countless drives to the basket for tough finishes inside, wise pull-ups or feeds to his teammates (he averaged 19.3 drives per game in the Finals, and Miami scored 1.289 points per possession off them), but he also guarded James on the other end.
Most people didn’t believe he’d be able to top his 40-point triple-double in Game 3, which put him alongside Jerry West and James as the only players to do so in a Finals game. However, Butler quelled his critics as usual with a 35-point triple-double in Game 5 to become the sixth player to record multiple triple-dubs in the Finals and to stand alone as the only player to have at least 35 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists and five steals in an NBA Finals Game.
What’s more, he led the HEAT with 26.2 points, 9.8 assists, 8.3 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 0.8 blocks per game to become the second player to lead his team in every category in the championship series. (James in 2016 was the other.)
Once the season came to an end, Butler reflected on his first season in Miami.
“I think that I’ve grown in every aspect of the game, so I can smile about that,” Butler said. “And more than anything, I've learned that here, me works. Here, I'm always, always, always going to believe in my guys. And I think the one thing that I learned more than anything is how fun it is to play with these guys. It really was fun watching all my young fellas grow, having vets come in and showcase what they can still do and teach me so much. It was a great time.”
And that’s really what it was, a great time.
Sure, the HEAT ultimately didn’t achieve their main goal of winning a championship, but that shouldn’t take anything away from their remarkable run. On the court, all their records and crazy comebacks will be remembered for quite some time. And from a broader perspective, the team definitively personified HEAT culture and unified HEAT nation at a time when it was really needed.
That’s their lasting legacy.
Until next season.