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How the Miami Heat went from ‘dark horses’ to the NBA Finals
SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Mackenzie Salmon looks at how Miami returned to relevancy and constructed the most dangerous team in the bubble.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Bam Adebayo blamed himself for Miami’s Game 5 loss to Boston.
He can’t do that after Game 6.
The Miami center turned in a near-perfect game: 11-for-15 from the field, 10-for-11 from the foul line for a playoff career-high 32 points plus 14 rebounds as the Heat topped the Celtics 125-113 on Sunday, winning the Eastern Conference finals in a close series.
“Bam is one of the great competitors already in this association,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He’s going to become one of the great winners in the history just because he’s so competitive. He moves the needle in every single day. You can’t put an analytic to his game and that’s probably why he was overlooked in college.
“He competes every single possession. He’s really going into a leadership role. Way beyond his years. His offensive game is just growing daily. And he wants the responsibility, and he wants the accountability, and he isn’t afraid of putting that responsibility on his shoulders, and that’s what he did the other night.”
The Heat are back in the NBA Finals for the first time since 2014 and will play the Los Angeles Lakers for the title. Game 1 is Wednesday (9 p.m. ET, ABC).
The Finals overflows with intriguing storylines and the glamour of two desirable coastal destinations – Miami and Los Angeles. Lakers star LeBron James will play his former team, who he helped to two championships in 2012 and 2013, and Heat president Pat Riley will go against the team he coached to four championships in the 1980s.
“We know who we are facing,” Spoelstra said.
Miami becomes the first No. 5 seed to reach the NBA Finals. Had this been a normal playoffs, the Heat would’ve been the road team against Indiana, Milwaukee and Boston. But on a neutral site, the Heat were able to beat the higher seed in three consecutive series.
It was a tight series. In six games, the Celtics outscored the Heat 675-674.
“Miami deserves a lot of credit,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “They’re super physical, super tough, very, very savvy. I think they’re the best team in the East and deserve to be representing the East in the way that they have played. … I think that they just deserve a lot of credit because super team, super coach. They’re really good. They’re going to be a handful.”
It looked like Boston might force a Game 7.
The Celtics owned a 96-90 lead with 9:04 left in the fourth quarter. But the scoring of Tyler Herro and Adebayo and the playmaking of Jimmy Butler helped Miami take a 109-102 lead with 4:31 left in the fourth quarter. The Heat pulled away in the final minutes.
Adebayo had 10 points, seven rebounds and four assists in the fourth quarter, and the Heat outscored the Celtics 37-27 in the final 12 minutes.
“After we had the lead, Adebayo, and credit all of them, but Adebayo deciding he’s just going to drive the ball put us in a real bind with the shooters around him,” Stevens said. “And their physicality is something that I’m not sure that we probably talked about it enough. They’re strong, they’re physical, they’re tough and, him in particular, dominated that fourth quarter. Even the plays where he didn’t score, his presence was so impactful and it put us in a real bind with the ability to guard him.”
Herro, the rookie, had another strong game off the bench with 19 points, seven assists and five rebounds. Andre Iguodala had 15 points off the bench, and Butler had 22 points and eight assists.
Boston forward Jayson Tatum scored 24 points, delivered 11 assists and collected seven rebounds. Forward Jaylen Brown scored 26 points, and guards Marcus Smart and Kemba Walker each scored 20 points. Those four combined for 90 of Boston’s points, but it wasn’t enough against the Heat, who had six players in double figures.