Brian Windhorst, ESPN Senior Writer May 30, 2023, 2:33 a.m. ET
CloseESPN.com NBA Writer since 2010 Covers the Cleveland Cavs for seven years. Author of two books
BOSTON — Ten years ago, after a historically painful Game 6 loss to the Miami Heat that cost them the championship after an inscrutable Ray Allen shot, the battle-tested San Antonio Spurs were left in shock.
The victory party was called off, Hall of Fame coach Gregg Popovich famously took the team to an Italian restaurant, served them wine and went from player to player, trying to coax them through the emotions in time for Game 7. They played well but lost anyway.
Saturday night, coach Erik Spoelstra looked at the rubble that was the Heat’s locker room after a similarly spirit-shattering Game 6 loss following Derrick White’s superb shot at the finish and quickly made a decision on what to do.
There isn’t anything.
“It wasn’t written down,” Spoelstra said Monday night, wearing a 2023 Finals jersey after his team stopped the Boston Celtics from making history by beating the Heat in a 103-84 Game 7 win.
“When you have such an intimate relationship with the dressing room and they have it with each other, the staff have it with them, they have it with the staff, sometimes it’s just whatever is raw, whatever is real at that moment,” he said.
It sounds simple, but Spoelstra’s reading of his team — and what must be done — is perfect. Confident and collected, the old trainer has absolutely no interest in repeating what just happened.
Facing the rest of their lives knowing they might be the first team to take a series lead 3-0, and should probably see White shoot every spring in the all-time highlight reel, Spoelstra looked his players in the eye and told them, fundamentally, it was business. as usual.
As it turns out, the Heat started winning Game 7 sometime after they lost Game 6.
“Professional sport is sometimes just kind of a reflection of life, that things don’t always go your way,” says Spoelstra. “It’s inevitable setbacks happen and how you deal with them collectively. There are so many different ways you can do that. It can demoralize you. It can bring a team down for any reason. With this group it strengthens us and brings us closer and makes we are tougher.
“It’s a lesson that hopefully we can pass on to our kids, that you can develop this grit. And sometimes you have to suffer for the things you want. Game 6, the only thing we can do is sometimes You have to laugh at things that make you cry.”
When the cast gathered Sunday to fly to Boston, the mood was better. They were told to pack up for a week because after waiting for a win in Boston, they would immediately face the Denver Nuggets to start the Finals.
Game 1: Heat on the Nuggets, 8:30 p.m
Game 2: Heat on the Nuggets, 8 p.m
Wednesday, June 7th
Game 3: Nuggets in the Heat, 8:30 p.m
Friday, June 9th
Game 4: Nuggets in Heat, 8:30 p.m
*All Eastern time
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When they did their next film session at the team’s hotel, they saw that they had done a lot of positive things at the end of Game 6 which gave them a chance to win. And on Monday morning, when it was time for the Game 7 shootout, the Heat loosened up and focused, with Game 6 not even a glint in their eye.
“We’re positive. I think that’s a good sign, at least for me personally, just looking at the mood and headroom of the players after that game,” said Caleb Martin, the Heat’s unexpected series hero that capped the game. his first career Game 7 with 26 points and 10 rebounds.
“I really think that we believed that we would come here and get the win.”
The Heat were knocked out of Game 5 in Boston last week starting in the first quarter. The Celtics also used a big starting wave to easily beat the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 7 of the conference semifinals. There is no time to hold back emotions.
Miami started Monday’s game strong, building a seven-point lead late in the first quarter and never letting it go. The zone defense they used to smother the Celtics late in Game 6 was tight and sharp. The Celtics couldn’t score on it.
Indeed, Jayson Tatum twisted his ankle in the game’s opening moments. And Boston missed some open views. But the strategy forced the Celtics to miss their first 12 3-point attempts. Back then, the Heat ran away from them and into history, as the No. 2 seed. 8 that reached the Finals.
“I wouldn’t say losing three in a row is part of the Heat culture that we like to talk about, because we don’t play to lose and we don’t want to lose,” said Jimmy Butler, who scored 28 points. points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists. “But we have some hoopers. We have some real-deal basketball players who can score goals, can defend and can pass and can win games for us.”
They also have the 52 year old coach, who is now in his sixth Finals, one day in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
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Butler collects the Larry Bird Trophy for series MVP. Udonis Haslem, finishing the season 20th, brought the Bob Cousy Trophy to win the conference title into the locker room. Standing on the fringe, team Heat president Pat Riley couldn’t help but smile as he took it all in.
Riley liked few things more than beating the Celtics, dating back to his days as a player and coach for the Los Angeles Lakers. The Celtics and Heat have battled numerous times since he arrived in Miami nearly 30 years ago, including last year when the Celtics captured two trophies named after the Celtics great from Miami after a Game 7 win in the conference finals.
“Pat had a certain feeling about Boston, so I made sure everyone felt a certain way about it,” said Spoelstra. “That’s part of my job as a guard.”
He is little more than a guard. And pulling this six-week effort from his team using an incredible mix of grit, strategy, discipline and timing is as much a reflection on Spoelstra as it is on series stars Butler and Martin.
They survived elimination in the play-in. They defeated the No. 1 seed. 1 Milwaukee Bucks despite Tyler Herro being injured. They stopped the New York Knicks streak despite Butler’s injury. Then they broke the No. 1 seed. 2 Celtics despite negative momentum – and embarrassing history – pressing them down.
As their team 757 aircraft took off and turned toward the Rockies after 1:00 a.m. Tuesday, Spoelstra began working on another plot for another distraction. And the Heat had the same mindset they brought on that plane to Boston after calculating it so easily.
“Everyone’s confidence is so high,” Butler said. “We have the belief that we can do something really special. So we’re going to be working hard when we get to Denver. And I love our chances.”