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MIAMI HEAT, THE EIGHTH-SEED, A WIN AWAY FR0M THE NBA FINAL

By Arnie Leshin 
The Miami Heat has been there before, has already hoisted three National Basketball Association championship trophies, but never, ever as an eighth seed.
 
But, of all the 3-0 series leads in NBA history, this one might be the one most unexpected — the well-coached one of Erik Spoelstra, now in his 17th season, and who usually has breakfast with former head coach Pat Riley, now the franchise president.
 
With two road victories up in Boston to his credit,  Spoelstra expected that Game 3 in the Eastern Conference finals would be extremely difficult, that his successful team was going to have to take the best shot that a desperate bunch of Celtics could muster.
 
Sorry to disappoint you coach, but it turned into a romp on your home court, 128-102, for your team that had to pull off a frantic rally just to make the playoffs. 
 
Yup, just like the two up in Bean Town, this contained standout Jimmy Butler and a cast that made for a balanced attack that the Celts had no answer for. 
 
Gabe Vincent scored a career-high 29 points, Duncan Robinson came off the bench to add 22, Caleb Martin tallied 18, Bam Adebayo, and Max Strus contributed 10. 
 
As for Butler, he again provided the leadership and turned in 16 points to go with 14 rebounds, 12 assists, and five blocks. 
 
All of this is what Spoelstra should have expected, and when it ended, he got right to the point. 
 
“This was a solid, mature, professional approach,” the head coach said as he is now on the brink in his role of a sixth trip to the NBA finals. “There’s a lot of pent-up stuff here, and we’re getting closer, but we still have to finish it off.” 
 
Sounds just right, for every team in NBA history that has won the first three games of a best-of-seven has ultimately prevailed, and the Heat is 8-0 in that situation. 
 
Miami has won it all three times, two under Riley and one under Spoelstra. 
 
These was conference finals that envisioned Boston meeting up with the 7th-seeded Los Angeles Lakers, for both share the record 11 NBA titles.
 
But that’s surely not likely with the green and white one loss from elimination, and LA the same versus the Western Conference’s top-seeded Denver Nuggets, which has never won an NBA championship. 
 
Of course that would again find Miami without  home court advantage, but it no doubt means little to it. Check it out with Boston and its stunned die-hard fans as they learned. 
 
So unless the Celts can find a way to halt the Heat’s surge, it will be Miami at Denver in games one and two, and surely, the Nuggets will not take Spoelstra’s squad lightly, especially since Denver lacks the playoff experience his team has. 
 
Said Adebayo, who hung out in the post and scrubbed the boards for 14 rebounds to go with four blocks: “The rim was as big as the ocean for everybody,” as he referred to Miami’s shooting 57 percent from the field.
 
Boston’s Jayson Tatum, who entered this round on a red-hot streak, scored 14 and one-two punch teammate Jayden Brown tallied a dozen. But they were so out of it, by the fourth quarter first-year head coach Mazzulla emptied his bench.
 
“I just didn’t have them ready to play,” he said. He has also been the subject of tons of criticism in this series, and will surely face more heading into Tuesday’s Game 4 down in Miami where a sell-out is expected. 
“To their credit,” said Tatum, “they’re playing well above their means. They are ballin right now and I’ve got to give them credit. They’ve got guys that we should be able to keep under control and who are playing their butts off.”
The NBA finals start June 1, and the way things are going, that would mean the league is about to go a few days without games. The Western Conference finals could end Monday in Los Angeles, although the Lakers have been tougher
in their series than the Celtics.
Said Vincent: “It’s the first to four games, we’re not satisfied with three.” 
 
For your information, there’s never been a season where both conference finals ended in sweeps. It did occur in the division finals in 1957. 
 
As for Miami, it made its way to this level by ousting Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seeded Milwaukee Bucks in five games, and then the No. 5 New York Knicks in six. 
No. 2 seed Boston was down 3-2 in games to the No. 3 seeded Philadelphia 76ers before back-to-back wins got it to the finals. It in fact dominated Philly at home in Game 7. 
 
And the Heat let Boston know how much they were enjoying this one.
 
Mindful that Celtics center Al Horford directed a timeout signal toward the Miami bench during Game 1 when his team was making a second quarter run, Butler did the same to Horford as the Heat was running away in the third quarter of Game 3.
 
Besides, Miami rallied to win Game 1 anyway. In Game 3, it didn’t need a rally, and there was barely one attempted by the Celtics for that matter.
 
“I don’t even know where to start,” Brown said.
It’s an obvious letdown. I feel like we let our fan base, organization down. We let ourselves down, and it was collective. We can point fingers, but in reality, it was just embarrassing.” 
 
It was just the Miami Heat showing what an eighth-seed can do. 

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