When the Miami Heat dropped Game 6 of the NBA Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers, bringing an end to their spectacular playoff run, falling short of a championship didn’t sting the way it did in 2011 and in 2014.
If anything, it is arguable that Heat fans were proud of their team, and respect was given to the Los Angeles Lakers where it was due. As has been the case throughout the entirety of LeBron James’ once-in-a-generation career, every team he has been on – be it the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Heat or the Lakers – immediately becomes a championship contender upon his arrival.
When James took his talents to Los Angeles in 2018, the Lakers became the trendiest team to follow in basketball. Surrounded by a young core of Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and 2020 All-Star Brandon Ingram, James led the Lakers to the fourth seed in the talent-loaded Western Conference prior to being sidelined for several weeks with a left groin injury.
The offseason preceding the 2019-2020 season saw the Lakers dismantle that core and exchange Ball and Ingram – among others – for New Orleans Pelican and power forward phenom Anthony Davis. The deal solidified the Lakers’ “win now” mentality and made them a heavy favorite to win the chip in 2020.
The Heat had quite a different story. Since the departure of LeBron James in 2014, the star power characteristic of the Big Three era had largely diminished, and the retirements of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh closed the book on that iconic chapter of Miami basketball. However, the Heat sprung back into relevancy with the acquisition of Jimmy Butler last off-season.
Butler – a perennial All-Star candidate – signed a four-year, $140 million contract with the Heat to bring a championship back to South Beach. All year long, Butler and the Heat were underdogs, but they believed in themselves and had nothing to lose. That – above anything else – was exactly what made them the most dangerous team in the East.
The Heat cruised through the Pacers, Bucks and Celtics and became the first fifth-seeded team in NBA history to make it to the Finals. Despite ultimately falling to the Lakers, the Heat were the only team to beat the Lakers twice in the playoffs and had already compiled a number of iconic moments that will go down in Heat history.
Here are five of the best moments and performances that came out of the Heat’s thrilling run to a championship:
5. Tyler Herro makes history with 37-point performance versus Boston
Up until the Eastern Conference Finals versus the Boston Celtics, the Heat had yet to find a true match in an opponent through the match. After a sweep of the Indiana Pacers and a gentleman’s sweep of the Milwaukee Bucks, the Heat were able to outlast the Celtics through six games, with a signature win being led by one man.
In Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals, 20-year-old rookie guard Tyler Herro looked like a veteran, joining exclusive company with a historic 37-point game. Herro became the second-youngest player – behind Derrick Rose in 2009 – to score over 35 points in the playoffs and the youngest player to score over 30 points in a conference finals game. His 37 points was also the highest scoring output by any rookie in a playoff game since Magic Johnson’s 42-point game in 1980.
On the night, Herro shot nearly 67 percent from the field and 5-of-10 from beyond the arc. The Heat, backed by Herro’s stellar outing, were able to close out the game and take a decisive 3-1 lead over Boston with a 112-109 victory.
“I’m just going to bet on myself. I’ve been doing that my whole life,” Herro said in Game 4’s postgame press conference. “I went from a small town in Milwaukee to Kentucky, and nobody thought I would survive there, and nobody thought I would survive here. At the end of the day, it’s just betting on myself.”
4. Bam Adebayo shuts the door on Boston, Miami advances to the Finals
After a gut-wrenching loss to the Celtics in Game 5 in which center Bam Adebayo took the blame, he and the Heat responded with a 12-point statement win over Boston to clinch their first NBA Finals berth since 2014.
Adebayo paved the way with a career night in which he scored 32 points, grabbed 14 boards and tallied five assists. Going into the fourth quarter, the Heat held a narrow two-point lead over the Celtics, but Adebayo proved that he could lead Miami’s All-Star tandem of Jimmy Butler and himself by being the best player on the floor.
“He wants all of [the pressure] on his shoulders. That’s why he’s the heart and soul of this team. He’s one of our leaders. That’s what stars do,” Butler said after the game.
3. Jimmy Butler Keeps the Heat’s Championship Hopes Alive With a 35-Point Triple-Double
Facing their most insurmountable series deficit in the playoffs, the Heat had their backs against the wall going into Game 5 of the NBA Finals. However, Jimmy Butler and the Heat were determined to prove that they belonged in the Finals and that their coast through the East was not a fluke.
In one of the most impressive outings of his career, Jimmy Butler registered a 35-point triple-double with 12 rebounds and 11 assists in 47 minutes played. While his Jordan-esque performance saved the Heat from elimination for one more game, it demonstrated that Jimmy Butler is both a ferocious competitor and winner. The Heat escaped with a 111-108 victory over the Lakers and, within minutes, images of an exhausted Jimmy Butler leaning over the padding of video boards in the sidelines went viral as the basketball world applauded him for leaving everything he had on the court.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Spoelstra said in Game 5’s postgame press conference. “That’s an image of a champion before you’re a champion.”
2. Bam Adebayo blocks Jayson Tatum to secure overtime win
“Bam’s Block” sounds like something that will go down in history, doesn’t it? Well, for Heat fans, it certainly will. In Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Adebayo’s block on Celtics forward Jayson Tatum’s dunk attempt preserved a two-point Heat lead in overtime with the clock dwindling down to its final seconds.
Drawing comparisons to LeBron James’s iconic block on Andre Iguodala in 2016, Adebayo’s play secured an early 1-0 series lead for the Heat after previously being down 12 points going into the fourth quarter.
“I think that might be the best block, given the stakes, in the moment, that I’ve ever seen, ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt said.
1. Jimmy Butler wills the Heat to a win with a 40-point triple-double
Going into Game 3 of the NBA Finals, the Heat were visibly defeated and exhausted. They had been pummeled by the Lakers in the first two games, and injuries to Adebayo and Dragic certainly complicated matters for Miami.
Throughout Game 1 and Game 2, every bucket required more energy, physicality and effort from the Heat than it did for the Lakers. Just when the Heat looked to be out of gas, Jimmy Butler went to fourth gear and single-handedly willed his team to a win over a team that had flat out beaten them two times in a row.
In nearly 45 minutes of play, Butler delivered arguably the best overall game out of any player in the playoffs with 40 points, 11 rebounds, 13 assists, two steals and two blocks while shooting 70 percent from the floor and 86 percent from the free throw line. His career game was made even more significant considering he did it without two of the best members of his supporting cast in Adebayo and Dragic who were both sidelined with day-to-day injuries.
With the win, Butler not only gained praise for putting his team on his back to secure a win, but he embodied and embraced “Heat Culture.”
“Jimmy was phenomenal,” LeBron James said of Butler’s performance. “He did everything they needed for him to do tonight. He came through big time in a big-time game.”