At least for one night, the Heat keep going
Miami got enough from its starters to pull through against the Bulls.
When the Chicago Bulls threatened to pull away from the Miami Heat early in the 4th quarter of their play-in clash on Friday, what felt like the inevitable ending came fast approaching.
Naturally, certain questions popped up:
“Is this the last time we see the Jimmy-Bam-Tyler trio?”
“Are the Heat going to re-sign Gabe Vincent and Max Strus?”
“What becomes of the relationship with Kyle Lowry?”
“Can Pat Riley make up for this?”
It felt justified. DeMar DeRozan was going on a patented offensive spurt. Coby White felt like he could hit anything. The Heat’s switching was working to their detriment. The offense, predictably, was unravelling.
Miami’s season started with a home loss to Chicago and it felt like it was about to end the same way.
The next minutes would prove two things:
A reminder of how quickly life can change in the NBA.
The Heat, at least one more time, had the ability to pull a rabbit out of the hat in the clutch.
Jimmy Butler was brilliant, Max Strus was ignitable, Bam Adebayo was sensational, and Miami set up a conclusion to their playoff trilogy, albeit as a clear underdog this time, to the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1-8 matchup of the Eastern Conference.
Spoelstra: "Our team has not been perfect this year. but I know one thing about the men in that locker room. I know how categorically and unequivocally our group wanted to get into this damn thing, to get into the playoffs and have an opportunity to compete for a damn title."
Following a dispiriting loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the Heat responded in the kind of fashion they like to articulate, which is that the goal in that building is to win, seedings and expectations be damned.
At least for this year, Miami won’t become the first team in play-in history to miss the postseason after losing two consecutive times at home as a seventh seed.
Had the Heat completely faltered against Chicago the difference in lottery placements come the NBA Draft could have been up to six spots compared to making the postseason, not to mention an opportunity, even if it is very slim, to win the lottery.
But the triumph over the Bulls provided a reminder of what it means to prevail in this playoff-like atmosphere, which came often last season, but will likely be way less in this run.
Fists pumped high in the air, the Seven Nation Army chant spreading across the arena, and the energy of a hard-won battle. For many, this is the spirit of competition and the main reason for doing all of this, whether you’re a fan at home or participant on the court.
Strus’ early shooting got the Heat going in the first half and that carried over to the final moments of the game where he hit the game-sealing triple and free throws.
Adebayo struggled immensely on the offensive end but was the game’s most dominant force on the glass and came up with the defensive highlight of the evening.
“I think Bam did all the dirty work tonight which is like I said, the reason we won the game,” Jimmy said afterwards.
Even Tyler Herro, who didn’t have a superb shooting or defensive game, still contributed with playmaking, rebounding, and a huge baseline jumper which kickstarted the finally rally.
Butler was sensational, making the case once again that he’s one of the top-5 players in the NBA when it comes to postseason basketball.
Here’s everything he did in the final 2:30 minutes of the contest:
- Successfully contested a DeRozan jumper
- Scored on the other end while getting fouled by Nic Vucevic
- Dished the ball to Adebayo where he got fouled to hit two big free throws
- Found Strus for an open made triple because the Bulls’ defense packed the paint due to the threat of his drive
- Did the same thing, but this time found Strus in the corner where he was fouled by Alex Caruso
Call him “Himmy,” at least for this evening.
As for the Heat, the smart wager is to assume their journey comes to a close against their next opponents. And then the offseason of questions will soon follow. If the goal remains the same – to contend for titles – then there’s enough proof at this point that changes have to be made.
After Miami beat Chicago on Friday night, this group huddled in the locker room and said the word “championship” on three.
Do they still believe it’s possible, even as an 8th seed?
Probably, even if one might counter it’s unrealistic.
At least for one night, even if it wasn’t perfect, they showed they can play with that exact spirit.
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That was an unbelievable victory.