There can be no such thing as a “normal” NBA championship run in 2020. The circumstances—bubble, Disney, plexiglass—prevent any such success from feeling as if it were preordained. But in the weirdest postseason in history, it’s only appropriate that a wonderfully bizarre Miami Heat team has a chance to go all the way. They booked their ticket to the Finals on Sunday by beating the Boston Celtics, 125-113, and the ease with which the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference closed out the fourth quarter belied just how unlikely their whole postseason run has been.
The common route to success in the modern NBA is to collect superstars. That’s how the Heat did it 10 years ago, when they brought in LeBron James and Chris Bosh to team up with Dwyane Wade. And that’s how Miami’s opponent in the NBA Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers, have done it. The Lakers were a joke two years ago—and then, LeBron James decided to move to Southern California. After one season of being slightly less of a joke (but still bad), they traded for Anthony Davis and, voila!, a championship-caliber squad was born.
The Heat, meanwhile, appeared sunk after LeBron left Miami for Cleveland—that guy gets around!—Bosh was forced to retire due to a blood clotting issue, and Wade left for Chicago, came back to Miami, and got old and retired. A sub-.500 team last season, they offered oft-disgruntled guard/forward/Mark Wahlberg confidant/coffee entrepreneur Jimmy Butler a max contract in the offseason. Butler joined a young, developing big man in Bam Adebayo, veteran Goran Dragic, and young guards Tyler Herro (a rookie), Kendrick Nunn (an undrafted rookie), and Duncan Robinson (who went undrafted out of Michigan after starting his college career in Division III). This was not a superteam. It was not even an obvious playoff team. Now, by some feat of alchemy—and with the help of one of the league’s best coaches, Erik Spoelstra, and a February trade that brought in Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder—they are four wins from a championship.
Game 6 was a good example of the 2020 Miami Heat experience. Down six points in the fourth quarter, they calmly rattled off a 35-17 run and kicked the shell-shocked Celtics out of Disney World like a monorail flasher. The Heat have a carousel system when it comes to big-game performances, and it was Adebayo’s turn to take center stage on Sunday night. The 6-foot-9 center assumed playmaking duties in the closing minutes, and he also managed to find the time to humiliate Daniel Theis.
Adebayo finished with 32 points (a career high), 14 rebounds, and 5 assists. When your young star does that during the regular season, it bodes well for your team’s future. But in a close-out game in the Eastern Conference Finals? That ruins the term “rebuilding” for everybody else.
Since the Heat invented the modern superteam in 2010, star players have exerted their influence on the league by whipping up sudden dynasties whenever and wherever they please. This year was supposed to be the apotheosis of that trend, with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George’s move to the Clippers and Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving teaming up in Brooklyn. But those experiments either faded out or failed to catalyze in the first place. The Heat, meanwhile, built smartly, and they have been rewarded handsomely for their efforts.
This is not to say that the superteam concept is dead. Far from it! It’s as strong as ever, especially if the rumors of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s fondness for Miami prove true. But, win or lose in the NBA Finals, this iteration of the Heat have provided us with a most refreshing intermission.