The Miami Heat Continue to Defy the Odds
THE MIAMI HEAT CONTINUE TO DEFY THE ODDS – Last season, the Miami Heat were the top team in the eastern conference. And they were one Jimmy Butler 3-pointer away from earning their second trip to the NBA Finals in three seasons. Considering that disappointment, Miami was looking to regroup and come back even stronger this season. Unfortunately, things did not go according to plan.
Let’s begin with the positive first. This squad played its butt off from a defensive perspective. The Heat ranked second in scoring defense, giving up 109.8 points per contest. Miami also finished in the top 10 in defensive efficiency, allowing 113.3 points per 100 possessions.
A Regular Season to Forget
The narrative was not so great from an offensive standpoint, however. Miami was ranked dead last in scoring, as it averaged 109.5 points per contest and it had the sixth-worst defensive rating in the league as well.
Not only that, but the team’s 46.5 percent shooting percentage was also near the bottom of the league. These offensive struggles more than likely contributed to a regular season that can be best categorized as inconsistent.
Despite an inept offense, Miami managed to finish with the seventh-best record in the eastern conference, which means they needed to win a game in the play-in tournament to secure a postseason berth.
Miami’s opponent in the first play-in game was the Atlanta Hawks. While the Hawks eventually won by a 116-105 margin, the final score did not indicate how one-sided this game was.
The Hawks were dominant on the glass 63-39. This included 22 offensive rebounds, which resulted in a 22-6 advantage in second-chance points. The Hawks also were the aggressive team in the paint, beating Miami 64-46.
So, while the Hawks claimed the No. 7 seed, the Heat were now one game away from being eliminated from the playoff picture altogether. Although Miami would squander a 16-point lead against the Chicago Bulls in the second play-in game, it used a 15-1 run to close out the game and claim the conference’s final playoff berth.
Another Postseason Showdown Against Familiar Foe
Miami’s reward for edging the Bulls for the No. 8 seed was a first-round matchup against the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks. These teams would square off for the third time in four seasons.
But while Miami limped into the playoffs, this series would prove they were a far different team than what we witnessed during the regular season. As if eliminating the best team in the association in five games wasn’t bad enough, Miami overcame double-digit fourth-quarter deficits in the final two games of that series.
Jimmy Butler was virtually unstoppable against the Bucks, as he compiled averages of 37.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 4.8 assists on slash lines of .556/.444/.708.
Heat Oust Knicks in Six, Punch Ticket To Eastern Conference Finals
After dispatching the Bucks in five games, Miami’s next opponent was the New York Knicks – a team that had not advanced to the second round of the playoffs since the 2012-13 campaign.
This series started the same way as it did with Milwaukee, as Miami earned a split in the first two road games at Madison Square Garden. Miami also claimed a pair of wins in Games 3 and 4 as well, pushing the Knicks to the brink of elimination.
New York staved off elimination with a win in Game 5, thanks to 38 points from Jalen Brunson. The scene shifted back to Miami for Game 6. And if low-scoring, grind-it-out affairs are your cup of tea, then this contest was a masterpiece of sorts.
New York shot 38 percent from the field, while Miami was not much better at 40.2 percent. The Knicks converted just 10 of their 35 attempts from beyond the arc – a conversion rate of 28.6 percent. Meanwhile, Miami was even worse, shooting a woeful 7-for-27 (25.9 percent).
As ugly as it may have been, Miami came away with a 96-92 victory, becoming the first No. 8 seed to reach the conference finals since the Knicks accomplished the feat back in 1999. It is also Miami’s third trip to the conference finals in the last four seasons. They will face either the Philadelphia 76ers or the Boston Celtics, who will duke it out in a winner-take-all Game 7 on Sunday.
Although the Heat won’t be given much of a chance against either of those ball clubs, they have defied the odds thus far. And based on what we’ve seen during this unlikely postseason run, who’s to say that this squad isn’t capable of doing it again?