MIAMI — There’s an element of this Heat-Celtics series that’s obvious if we’re not shocked by everything that’s going on.
“There’s nothing like a second crack at it,” said Caleb Martin, one of the Heat’s surprise heroes.
“Being No. 1 in the conference and you lose in the Eastern Conference Finals (last year), it hurts,” Bam Adebayo said.
“There are a lot of things hidden here, and we’re getting close, but you know, we still have to finish it,” added Miami coach Erik Spoelstra.
The conference finals are over after the Heat beat Boston in Game 3, 128-102, to take a 3-0 lead in the series.
There are so many surprises in this series, from how dominant Miami is now and throughout the playoffs despite being the eighth seed, to how many Heat players co-star alongside Jimmy Butler, to the incredible lack of of the poise of the Celtics. Any of those topics can get a lot of air.
Another: Stumbling and stumbling at the eighth seed, the Heat have had good injury luck up front, lost a ton of close games, and tinkered with different lineups and offensive schemes throughout the regular season. that season.
But Miami’s string of disappointments and disappointments began on May 29, 2022, when Butler missed an open 3 with 16.6 seconds left against the Celtics in Game 7 of the conference finals.
You never talk about revenge, at least not openly, when there are so many fires after the moment the Heat’s playoff hopes are about to go up in flames. The magical ride of a No. 8 seed would be going against a Celtics team that is deeper than the team that won this series last year.
But now that it’s clear that Boston’s streak is coming to an end — all 149 teams in NBA history that have gone down 3-0 have lost the series — the Heat are beginning to recognize that they have a personal about the beating they administered. .
“I just think that we got the matchup we want,” said Martin, who followed up his 25 points in Game 2 with another 18 points in Game 3. “We saw the team that took us last year. … We played like we had something to prove.”
Spoelstra said he was so embarrassed by the loss in the conference finals that it took him weeks to do an autopsy on what happened. He and his players didn’t watch the Celtics play in the NBA Finals on TV, or barely watched. Their bodies failed them — injuries hampered, limited, or knocked out Butler, Kyle Lowry, PJ Tucker, and Tyler Herro in Game 7 — but they still came close.
“We plan to play in the next series,” Herro said The Athletic in October.
The Heat didn’t make any big moves in the offseason, and essentially lost Tucker in free agency. While 44-38, lost in the first Play-In game and following the Play-In finale to Chicago in the fourth quarter, Miami advanced and then lost Herro and Victor Oladipo to injuries early in the first round against Milwaukee.
Butler led the historic upset against No. 1 Bucks through a 56-point game for the ages in Game 4, and another 42 in the series clincher. The Heat’s six-game winning streak against the Knicks is a little anticlimactic, if for no other reason than beating the top overall seed in the playoffs, knocking off No. 4 teams in the East won’t generate much buzz.
But when it came to Boston, the Heat knew they were both looking at a team coming off last year’s bitter disappointment. The only news facing Boston is the head coach, Joe Mazzulla (who was an assistant with the Celtics under Ime Udoka), and Sixth Man of the Year Malcolm Brogdon.
Otherwise, it will be the third time in four years that these two franchises have met in the conference finals, with each side winning once. Butler, Adebayo, Spoelstra, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart played major roles throughout the series.
There were a couple of minor exchanges in Game 3 Sunday night that, if you will, can be understood as the emotions that lived in Miami last year began to explode.
Butler beat up Grant Williams, his Game 2 opponent, and taunted Al Horford with a “timeout” joke after the Heat went up by 23.
But in a vacuum Butler might still be able to do things, if not for a deeper history. Williams went nose-to-nose with Butler in Game 2, and Horford taunted the Heat with a “timeout” pose in Game 1.
But Spoelstra can’t deny that something bigger is happening to his team, and warned not to let those emotions get the better of his players before the conference finals are over, instead of as if it is.
“We still have to finish it,” Spoelstra said. “You can fill in the blanks (about why the Heat are emotional), but we have respect, deep respect, for Boston.
“Everything we went through before, and some of the emotions that came out, I like that, and then we just direct and continue to focus on the task at hand,” Spoelstra continued. “You know, we’re going to decompress tomorrow but we’re really in the right mindset to finish this thing.”
(Jimmy Butler Photo: Eric Espada / NBAE via Getty Images)