1 playoff seed at the Eastern Conference in the final week of the season, there was an unease within the Miami Heat.
It is difficult to play the role of a Dalit from the top of a mountain.
And then doubts set in.
Trai Young tormented him in the first round as he pushed the Atlanta Hawks through play-in games.
Joel Embiid and James Harden would eventually get the Philadelphia 76ers ahead of the conference semifinal against the Heat.
And the general consensus was almost unanimous that there would be no heat to avoid the defensively dogged Boston Celtics in these Eastern Conference Finals.
Underdog mode activated again.
And, so, the Eastern Conference’s winner-take-all Game 7 finals on Sunday at 8:30 p.m. at the FTX Arena.
“All of you guys, everyone chose him, even though we are No. 1,” power forward PJ Tucker said in his media session ahead of Sunday’s performance. “We have nothing to lose.”
And there it is, the essence of Erik Spoelstra’s team, a team that pushed past COVID absences (remember the Kyle Guy era?), questions from an aging roster (Tucker is 37, Kyle Lowry is 36), injuries that have have also been affected. Series (Lori, Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro).
And, now, even after Friday night’s pushback in a 111-103 win at TD Garden that kept the Celtics from winning … again the underdog, the road favorite in Game 7 with Boston.
So, basically, Heat is back on its sweet spot.
“Actually, we’re grateful,” Spoelstra said of his team. “We’re really grateful to be in such a challenging series against an opponent we respect. Then we get to experience Game 7 together.
“You have to go through tough things in the playoffs when you’re trying to achieve something special.”
Tough things like the hamstrings that sidelined Lowry for eight of 10 games before the veteran point guard returned to play in the last four.
Tough things like a knee problem, which sidelined Butler for the second half of Game 3, crashed out of defeat in Games 4 and 5, but then pained the lead for Friday’s 47 points.
Tough things like it’s still not known if Hero can make it back from the groin strain that has earned him the 2022 NBA Sixth Man of the Year title in the last three games.
“We’ve had crazy situations all year long,” Tucker said, “Kyle being out, one of us got hurt. It does not make a difference that.
“We’ve stepped up all year long. That’s all we trust in each other all year long. So in a situation like this, it’s easy to fall back and play.”
Because all that matters now is Sunday, a win from the franchise’s seventh trip to the NBA Finals in its 34 years, the second in three seasons.
“You’ve got to this level, looking at 27 teams,” Spoelstra said, with the winner of the series facing the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, which opens Thursday. “You get to this elite level, you have to be able to manage everything because you can’t control everything. You’re facing great competition, and you’re going to lose some battles. Then from losing you Will have to try to win more battles.”
The injury report doesn’t matter.
“You can’t get back these days,” Tucker said of his knee pain, just as many others on the roster are ignoring injury reports. “It’s living in the moment, just trying to do what you can.”
A game for tickets to San Francisco.
A game for the Heat to either win or stay home.
“I think we’re made for this,” Tucker said. “I think our people are made for closure, get it done.”
earned with respect.
“That team over there is hungry,” said Celtics guard Jaylen Brown. “They are experienced.
“We understand the gravity of the game that is on the line.”
So do Dalits.
“Everyone counted us,” Kendra Bam Adebayo said. “Everyone thought the series was already over. I mean, that’s the inspiration we needed. ,