- Advertisement -
HomeBasketballNBAUnsung heroes lead Miami Heat to NBA Finals

Unsung heroes lead Miami Heat to NBA Finals

- Advertisement -

Heading into Monday night’s game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Miami Heat guard Gabe Vincent said his team would make history, win or lose.

Miami made a good kind of history, routing the Boston Celtics 103-84 in Boston to become just the second No. 8 seed to advance to the NBA Finals. The Heat join the 1999 New York Knicks, who made the Finals as an 8 seed in a strike-shortened season. The Heat in its game 7 win over Boston also avoided the distinction of becoming the first team to blow a 3-0 series lead. Miami advances to take on the well-rested Denver Nuggets in the Finals, which begin Thursday.

Despite, on paper, not having nearly as much talent as the Celtics, the Heat found a way to beat Boston.

Miami outcoached Boston. The Heat out hustled the Celtics. And Miami got contributions from a host of unsung heroes.

The trio of Caleb Martin, Gabe Vincent, and Max Strus combined to average nearly 45 points a game in the East Finals. The group in the playoffs increased their combined scoring output by more than 7 points per game from the regular season.

Much has been made of Miami finding diamonds in the rough, with the Heat getting 56 points per game from undrafted players in the East Finals, but for those three undrafted players to perform in the East Finals how they did is stunning.

Martin, Vincent, and Strus combined to earn less than $10.5 million this season. That’s less than the individual contracts of Boston’s seven highest-paid players. All three are on team-friendly deals. Miami has some decisions to make this offseason, though, as Strus and Vincent are unrestricted free agents in 2023. Martin has one year left on a three-year deal, and a player option after the 2023-24 season.

Martin is the real story here. The fourth-year wing in game 7 finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds. Martin in the East Finals averaged 19.9 points per game while shooting better than 58 percent from the field and 46 percent from 3. Martin got to Miami after he was cut by the Charlotte Hornets after two years.

Martin for his career averages 8 points per game, yet somehow in the East Finals he looked like one of the best players in the world. Martin in the series win over Boston scored at every level. He made clutch shots, played solid defense, and picked up the slack when Heat star Jimmy Butler began to struggle as the series went on. Butler earned the East Finals MVP trophy, but a strong case could be made for Martin to take the honor.

Styles make fights, sure, but Martin in this series showed he could be counted on when the need arose, even more so than some of his Celtics counterparts.

Martin’s ascent is just one part of the Heat story.

Miami won 44 games in the regular season. The Heat last season were the No. 1 seed in the East and came within a Jimmy Butler 3 of making the 2022 Finals. Miami was one of the more injury-riddled teams in the league this season. Guard Tyler Herro and Butler missed 15 and 18 games, respectively. Kyle Lowry sat out 27 games. Vincent (14 games) and Martin (11 games) both missed extended time.

The Heat run almost didn’t even start.

Miami was walloped by the Atlanta Hawks 116-105 in a play-in game that saw the Heat get outrebounded 63-39. Miami in a sudden death play-in game against the Chicago Bulls was down early in the fourth quarter before a late run lifted the Heat into the playoffs.

Miami has caught some breaks on this trip. Giannis Antetokounmpo missed half of the first round series against the Heat — a series that saw Jimmy Butler essentially cement his spot in the Basketball Hall of Fame. The Heat in the second round played an overmatched New York Knicks team, and Miami in the East Finals was just mentally stronger than Boston.

That’s a testament to Heat coach Eric Spoelstra. Spoelstra this spring has proven to be the best coach in the NBA. The 51-year-old Spoelstra, in his 15th year leading Miami, made all the right adjustments. Miami this season, including the playoffs, has played more zone than any NBA team since 2005. The zone confused Boston’s players and first-year coach Joe Mazzulla throughout the East Finals. Miami mixed up its defensive looks throughout the series. At one point early in the third quarter of game 7, the Heat out of a timeout ran a full-court press.

Spoelstra has proven his mettle. Since the end of the Heat’s Big Three era in 2014, Miami has made the playoffs six times in nine years. That includes Finals trips in 2020 and 2023. Spoelstra in that time is 45-35 in the playoffs.

Spoelstra’s run comes in a season that has seen three championship-winning coaches fired in the last six weeks, including two coaches (Nick Nurse and Mike Budenholzer) who have won two of the last four NBA titles. Miami brass could have cut bait with Spoelstra when he missed the playoffs three times in five years. Spoelstra has the backing of team president and legend Pat Riley. That support is paramount in a time where a lot of teams, some stupidly, have a “championship or bust” outlook.

Is Boston going to be one of those teams? Mazzulla signed an extension after the Celtics started 42-17. Mazzulla has shown at various points this season he may not have been ready for the job — a job he got because of some tough circumstances. Does Boston get rid of Mazzulla? Or do the Celtics give him a chance to grow with a talented roster?

That roster does need some upgrades, though.

Boston has been one of the best teams in the league for much of the past four seasons. Jayson Tatum, 25, hasn’t even hit his prime and already has a lengthy resume.

The Celtics could use a tablesetter for Taytum and Jaylen Brown. Neither is great at making plays for other players, and Brown may be the most talented player in history who can’t dribble. They don’t make them anymore, but a traditional point guard is what Boston needs. The Celtics have a lot of guards, but none are great playmakers. Boston all season have relied too much on 3s. The Celtics shot 16-77 from 3 in the last two games of the East Finals. The analytics killed Boston, leading the team to completely abandon the midrange game.

Six of Boston’s top seven players are signed through the next two seasons. Brown has one year left on his deal, and will likely be the subject of trade speculation all summer.

The summer isn’t here yet, though.

We’ve got a Finals series featuring the best player in the world (Nikola Jokic) and the Cinderella Heat to steal a term used during March Madness. Denver is 6-0 in its last six matchups with Miami. The last time Miami won in Denver was early in the 2016-17 season in a game that saw Jamal Murray and Jokic both come off the bench.

The Nuggets have looked like champions over the course of the playoffs. But they haven’t seen a team as confident and as well-coached as the Heat. The best team usually wins the NBA Finals, but this run has proven you probably shouldn’t go against the Heat.

- Advertisement -
- Advertisment -

Most Popular