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The Miami Heat's Unlikely Journey to the NBA Finals

The Miami Heat Advance

The Miami Heat booked their ticket to the National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals on Monday night, becoming the only team to appear in the Finals twice in the last four years

The Heat’s Jimmy Butler scored 28 points, Caleb Martin added 26, and the Miami Heat defeated the Boston Celtics 103-84 in a lopsided Game 7. The result came as a surprise, with Boston coming into the game as heavy favorites after having won three straight games to tie the series at 3-3.

I think it just sheds a lot of light on how resilient our group is,” shooting guard Caleb Martin said, “how mentally engaged that we are and how positive we are mentally, no matter how the season has been going.” 

The Heat’s Journey

The Miami Heat, barely sneaking into the playoffs as the eighth-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, have had a highly improbable road to the NBA Finals. The stellar performance from their star Jimmy Butler, combined with huge contributions from several undrafted players, has led to the defeat of the first-seeded Milwaukee Bucks, the fifth-seeded New York Knicks, and now the second-seeded Boston Celtics.

Ending the regular season with a record of 44-38 and sitting in the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference, the Miami Heat were forced to play in the Play-in Tournament. In the Play-in Tournament, the seventh seed, eighth seed, ninth seed, and tenth seed all compete for the last two spots in the playoffs. 

Miami lost to the seventh-seeded Atlanta Hawks in the first part of the Play-in tournament and thus had to beat the Chicago Bulls to secure the final spot in the playoffs. With three minutes left in the game, the Heat trailed the Bulls by three points but came out on top, barely clinching a playoff spot.

“Nothing new for us,” said Heat guard Max Strus. "Those are situations we're used to and have been in all year."

The Heat’s Mentality

Max Strus, along with three other key players on the Heat, was an undrafted player coming into the league. He and three other undrafted players, including Caleb Martin, Duncan Robinson, and Gabe Vincent, fought hard for their place on the roster, with three of these players landing in the top five in minutes played per game for the Heat. Undrafted players also have accounted for 45% of the Heat’s points this postseason, a telling statistic in a league that rarely sees teams play undrafted players for high minutes. The type of fight that these undrafted players brought to the Heat has become a cornerstone of the team’s identity.

Jimmy Butler also had to fight his way into the league. From teenage homelessness to becoming a six-time NBA All-Star and one of the best players in the league, Butler has had to fight and scrap for everything he has. 

This all-around fighting mentality led them to believe that they had a chance against the 2021 NBA championship team Milwaukee Bucks, who sported the best record in the league and two-time league-MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. 

Although the Bucks had the best odds to win the championship coming into the playoffs, the Heat handily won the series 4-1 despite injuries to two key players, Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo. 

“It just says we’re a resilient group…We’re playing basketball the right way and good things happen when you do that,” said Jimmy Butler after winning the fifth game of the series and advancing to the next round.



Beating the Knicks and the Celtics

The Heat then beat the Knicks 4-2 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals and advanced to play the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Heat were given a 3% chance by ESPN’s analytics to win the series against Boston. However, Miami dismantled the Celtics in the first three games of the series, outscoring the Celtics by 39 points total and jumping out to a 3-0 series lead. A trip to the NBA finals seemed inevitable, but the Celtics didn’t give up.

“Don’t let us win tonight…If you let us win tonight, we feel confident,” Celtics star Jaylen Brown said before Game 4 in Miami. 

The Celtics did win Game 4. And Game 5. And Game 6. Suddenly, Game 7 was a reality, and the Celtics had the chance to be the first NBA team to ever win a series after falling behind 3-0. However, Miami didn’t waver. Jimmy Butler, in a quote that summed up Miami’s mentality perfectly, predicted what would happen in Game 7.

"I'm not gonna let anybody quit. I'm not gonna let our guys quit. I don't give a damn what happens. We gonna go in there, and we gonna win."

And they did win, beating the Celtics by 21 points in a game that never looked in doubt. Now, the Heat have a chance to play for the NBA championship, a position that very few would have guessed they would be in at the beginning of the playoffs.

The Heat are now underdogs in the upcoming series against the Nuggets. However, they’ve been underdogs in every series they’ve played. Only time will tell: can the Heat continue their Cinderella story and fight their way to an NBA championship?


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