The Heat haven’t exactly had a good run since the turn of the year. After taking the National Basketball Association by storm with its overachieving ways to start the 2019–20 season, they promptly went a middling eight and six in January. They appeared to have righted the ship to start the next month, only to absorb three different losing skeins of three, two, and two games to finish five and seven. A glaring inability to both hold on to seemingly comfortable leads and play up to par in the crunch had them struggling to hold on to provisional fourth in the East.
For head coach Erik Spoelstra, however, it was just a matter of time before the Heat would again find their stride. After all, they boast of a clearly defined culture that emphasizes work long before the klieg lights are turned on, and that values collective over individual objectives. From the Tim Hardaway to the Alonzo Mourning to the Shaquille O’Neal to the Dwyane Wade to the Jimmy Butler eras, talent and the results it produces have worth only if they lead to team success. Which was why the outcome of their match yesterday didn’t surprise him even as it left just about everybody else in shock.
Indeed, the Heat didn’t just win. They won over the Bucks, who had hitherto been running roughshod over the competition. And they didn’t just win over the Bucks. They won in convincing fashion, turning a close first-half battle into a foregone conclusion with steady play en route to the final buzzer. To the delight of the 19,600 at the American Airlines Arena, the visitors wound up uncharacteristically outhustled. All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo, a veritable cinch to repeat as league Most Valuable Player, was held to a decidedly inefficient 13 points on six-of-18 shooting from the field.
Ask Spoelstra, and he’d tell you the triumph was no fluke. For the record, it was the second for the Heat in as many meetings with the Bucks. Simply put, they possess the tools, not to mention the resolve, to take the measure of the erstwhile bullies. And, moving forward, the feat may yet provide the spark they need to meet the playoffs with momentum. In the short term, it may well restart their quest to take the second seed in the East; their third consecutive victory has them just three and a half games behind the reeling Raptors with still 21 left to play.
Admittedly, the Heat can likewise backslide and fall to sixth in conference standings. They’re not likely to, though — not when they’re psyched anew, and not when their conquest of the Bucks underscores their capacity to stand toe to toe with the best of the best. They’ve already equaled the win total of their 2018–19 campaign, and they’re not about to stop.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.