Head coach Erik Spoelstra was disconsolate when he faced members of the media in the aftermath of the Heat’s bridesmaid finish in the 2020 National Basketball Association Finals. At the time, their inability to meet what he felt was their date with destiny hit him hard. He really thought they were going to win, he said. Never mind that the Lakers were heavily favored. He deemed the bubble environment a great equalizer for the black and red, whose uniquely united front made them greater than the sum of their parts.
Throughout the 2023 Playoffs, Spoelstra has been just as determined in his belief that the Heat are fated to succeed. It didn’t matter that they flubbed their first match in the play-in tournament, and that they then had to climb back from a fourth-quarter deficit in the next just to secure the last postseason spot in the East. And, no doubt, his charges took heart from his resolve — not merely in forging an extremely unlikely path to the conferences finals, but in thereafter upending the superior-on-paper Celtics.
Indeed, Spoelstra never wavered, not even when the Celtics charged from zero-to-three down to force a winner-take-all affair. And the Heat prepped for Game Seven yesterday, it was clear that those around him shared in his faith. Irrational confidence? Perhaps. That said, there can be no arguing the final score: They didn’t simply win. They won big, and on the road to boot. When the battlesmoke cleared, the TD Garden faithful had already dwindled and, out of courtesy, gave the Celtics a smattering of applause.
There will be time to hold the green and white accountable for yet another disappointing end to a season that began with much promise. And, when that time comes, officials doing the reckoning will be better served taking a look at how the Heat beat them. More than the accumulation of sheer talent, culture stands out. And that, in a nutshell, is why the East champions consider the Larry O’Brien Trophy theirs to take. They conquered the Bucks, Knicks, and Celtics with will, and have complete trust in themselves to do the same against the Nuggets.
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.