In February, the Miami Heat acquired Andre Iguodala from the Memphis Grizzlies in a three-team trade, adding a veteran presence to a team that featured numerous young players. Iguodala, who turned 36 the previous month, was among the oldest players in the NBA and in the midst of his 16th professional season. Still, even though he was healthy, he had not played for the Grizzlies since they acquired him over the summer from the Golden State Warriors. The Grizzlies and Iguodala had agreed that he would sit out until they could find a better spot for him.
The Heat, it turns out, were a nice fit for Iguodala. And on Wednesday night, he will be playing in his sixth consecutive NBA Finals when the Heat face the Los Angeles Lakers in the first game of their series. Unlike the previous five seasons, when Iguodala played for the prohibitive favorites in the Warriors, he is now on a squad that few expected to advance this far.
Iguodala helped the No. 5 seed Heat clinch their Finals appearance on Sunday night when he scored a season-high 15 points off the bench in Miami’s 125-113 victory over the Boston Celtics in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Iguodala made all five of his field goals, including four 3-pointers. He played 28 minutes, including the final 10 minutes of the fourth quarter when the Heat overcame a 96-90 deficit and outscored the Celtics 35-17 the rest of the way to win the series and clinch their first NBA Finals appearance since 2014.
Back then, the Heat were the sport’s marquee franchise and led by LeBron James, who now plays for the Lakers, who will be heavy favorites to knock off the Heat. Miami’s underdog status is nothing new this season.
Still, although the Heat don’t have all-time greats like James and Lakers teammate Anthony Davis, they do have a nice combination of veterans in Iguodala, Jimmy Butler (22 points and 8 assists on Sunday), Goran Dragic (13 points and 7 assists) and Jae Crowder (9 points and 6 rebounds) and talented young players in Bam Adebayo (32 points, 14 rebounds, 5 assists), Tyler Herro (19 points and 7 assists) and Duncan Robinson (15 points and 6 rebounds).
“We’ve been underdogs our whole life,” Adebayo told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols in a postgame interview. “Everybody up here’s got a chip on their shoulder from something. It’s a toss-up when you get to the Finals. We’re not backing down from anybody. That’s what I like about this team.”
The Heat are just the third team seeded fifth or lower to make the NBA Finals since the league began seeding squads in 1984. The other two teams were the 1995 Houston Rockets, which won the title over the Orlando Magic as the No. 6 seed, and the 1999 New York Knicks, which lost to the San Antonio Spurs as the No. 8 seed.
The Heat also entered the season with 75-1 odds of winning the NBA championship, according to Caesars Sportsbook. That makes them the team with the longest preseason title odds to make the NBA finals during the past 35 seasons, according to ESPN research, surpassing the 2002 New Jersey Nets, which had 60-1 odds heading into that season.
Despite being the fifth seed, the Heat’s path to the NBA Finals has not been a fluke. In fact, they have dominated their opponents, sweeping the No. 4 seed Indiana Pacers in four games in the first round, upsetting the No. 1 seed Milwaukee Bucks in five games in the conference semifinals and then defeating the No. 3 Celtics in six games.
Miami also has a veteran coach in Erik Spoelstra, who is in his 12th season. He helped lead the Heat to four consecutive NBA Finals appearances from 2011 to 2014 when James played for the franchise. Now, the Heat are back in the Finals with only one player (little-used forward Udonis Haslem) from those teams. And so, it’s only natural that the Heat-James conversation will be omnipresent over the next few days.
“That’s a great story line, right?,” Spoelstra told Nichols. “Can you let us enjoy this for a little bit right now? This is hard to do. It’s hard to get to this point. And I want our guys to recognize that, acknowledge it, enjoy it for at least a night and then we’ll get on to that tomorrow.”
Source: Forbes – Business