The NBA Finals are here.
And while LeBron James and the Lakers were favored by many to come out of the West, hardly anyone had Jimmy Butler and Heat emerging from an Eastern Conference that also featured the Bucks, Raptors, Celtics and Sixers.
The Heat are only the third team in the last 36 years seeded 5th or lower to make the Finals after the 1995 Rockets and 1999 Knicks.
“This group more than anything, they just love to compete,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said on ESPN. “We’re so grateful for this opportunity in this bubble.”
Here are five intriguing story lines heading into Game 1 of the Finals on Wednesday night.
1) LeBron vs. the Heat
LeBron, of course, made “The Decision” in 2010 to join his buddies Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, promising multiple NBA titles. The Heat went to four NBA Finals in four years, winning two titles during that span.
Now James will be seeking to win his fourth NBA championship with his third different franchise — against one of the two franchises that he has already led to a title. All told, James is 3-6 as he enters his 10th NBA Finals.
“That’s a great story line,” Spoelstra said on ESPN after the Heat beat the Celtics in Game 6. “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.”
Said James after the Lakers beat the Nuggets:
“The job is not done. But it’s great to appreciate the moments throughout the course of a journey.
“I am extremely proud to be a part of this franchise getting back to where it belongs, playing and competing for championships. This is what I came here for.”
2) Jimmy Butler seeking his 1st ring
The much-maligned Butler is into his first NBA Finals are failing to lead his previous clubs — Chicago, Minnesota or Philadelphia — this far. At 31, he’s the leader of a young and talented group of players that includes Tyler Herro, Bam Adebayo, Jae Crowder, Duncan Robinson and Goran Dragic.
“I think coach Pat [Riley] and everybody else in this organization did a great job of putting this group together,” Butler said on ESPN after going for 22 points, 8 assists and 2 rebounds in Game 6. “We’ve been together, we’ve been in each others’ corners all year long and it doesn’t stop here. We’ve got four more to go.”
He added: “Four more to go, but if a group can do it, we can do it.”
3) Kentucky in the house
As I wrote in another column in this space, former Kentucky players have made one historic play after another in these NBA playoffs, from Anthony Davis’ game-winning 3-pointer, to Adebayo’s block of Jayson Tatum at the rim to Jamal Murray’s MJ-like switching of the hands near the basket.
Now this Finals will feature four former Kentucky guys in Davis and Rajon Rondo of the Lakers and Adebayo and Herro of the Heat. Lakers coach Frank Vogel also attended Kentucky, while Riley starred there in the 1960s before becoming the No. 7 pick in 1967.
Two games after Herro went off for 37 points in Game 4, Adebayo went off for a career-high 32 points, 14 rebounds and 5 assists in Game 6.
“I just had to get locked in,” he said on ESPN. “I couldn’t let my teammates down like I did the game before so I just went out there and tried to execute and make plays and I did that tonight.”
Looking ahead to the Finals, he said: “It’s a toss-up when you get to the Finals. We’re not backing down from anybody and that’s what I like about this team.”
4) Iguodala seeking Ring No. 4
The 36-year-old Iguodala, who scored 15 points in Game 6, is headed to his sixth straight NBA Finals and can win a fourth title after winning three with Golden State (2015, ‘17, ‘18).
Back in February, when he was dealt in a three-team trade to Miami, Iguodala told The Undefeated he was looking forward to playing with Butler and Adebayo, in particular.
“Jimmy Butler … he’s looked at as different but (is) very well-respected in terms of the passion and the hard work that he brings to the game,” Iguodala said. “I feel like his temperament and values that he has really resonates with the Miami Heat. They’re very well aligned. I think he’s brought out the best in those young guys.”
Of Adebayo, he said: “Bam, I’m really looking forward to playing with him.”
5) Pat Riley vs. the Lakers
After playing for the Lakers from 1970-75, Riley went on to coach the “Showtime Lakers” featuring Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and James Worthy in the ‘80s. He won four NBA titles as coach of that group and then a fifth with the Heat in 2006 when they featured Shaquille O’Neal and Dwyane Wade. He was the architect of the Heat group that won two more NBA titles in 2012 and ‘13 with James as the centerpiece.
Now he had add yet another NBA ring to his collection against LeBron and the Purple and Gold.
Source: Forbes – Business