Motivation from within pushes Heat from precipice to mile-high reality of NBA Finals

Tribune Content Agency

DENVER – To appreciate the totality of the Miami Heat’s accomplishment in advancing to the NBA Finals as a No. 8 seed is to appreciate the simplicity.

Nothing manufactured, just the drive to turn an uneven season into this circuitous path to Thursday’s Game 1 of NBA Finals against the Denver Nuggets at Ball Arena.

For the Boston Celtics, the Eastern Conference finals stood as a study in motivational tactics without an ultimate payoff, from rookie coach Joe Mazzulla’s infatuation with the Boston-based Ben Affleck film “The Town,” to a team Topgolf outing in Miami after falling behind the Heat 3-0 in the best-of-seven series, to this week’s viewing of “Four Days in October,” the documentary detailing the Boston Red Sox comeback from a 3-0 deficit to win the American League championship series in 2004 over the New York Yankees.

Great theater. No payoff.

Instead, it was a 103-84 Heat victory Monday night in Game 7 at TD Garden.

A victory that came after the Heat’s devastating 104-103 loss Saturday at Kaseya Center, when Celtics guard Derrick White scored the winning basket with one-tenth of a second remaining.

In a previous Heat era, such a loss might have had then-Heat coach and current Heat President Pat Riley dunking his head in a tub of water to exemplify every last breath. It might have had Heat coach Erik Spoelstra citing “Band of Brothers” or distributing pertinent literature, as he often does.

This time, it simply was the trust that a team that had come so far from an uneven 44-38 regular season had the fortitude, comportment, resilience to see the process through to the league’s ultimate stage.

“I think,” Spoelstra said ahead of turning his attention to the Nuggets, “when you have such an intimate relationship with a locker room and they have it with each other, the staff has it with them, they have it with the staff, sometimes it’s just whatever’s raw, whatever’s real at that time.”

So no fiery speech after Saturday’s heartbreak.

Instead, Spoelstra counted on fire within.

“We have a bunch of guys that just love competition,” he said. “Just drop us off anywhere and compete for it — put ourselves out there, open to all the criticism and everything. But hey, it’s got to happen between these four lines. We don’t care what the rest of the world is saying. We don’t care who is criticizing who. You’ve got to line up between these four lines and let’s figure this out.

“I think that’s the nature of this team that I think a lot of people respect, because we’ve had our fair share of setbacks and disappointments, frustration, but we just keep on picking ourselves up and getting on to the next fight.”

Just raw and real.

“I know the work that we all put into it, so I know what we’re capable of,” said forward Jimmy Butler, awarded the Larry Bird Trophy as MVP of the East finals. “Nobody is satisfied. We haven’t done anything. We don’t play just to win the Eastern Conference; we play to win the whole thing.”

Where fear could have factored, with none of the previous 150 teams going up 3-0 in a best-of-seven NBA series losing, center Bam Adebayo said the Heat instead saw destiny.

“Going into the series, we thought we were going to Game 7, anyway,” he said, the Heat realistic from the outset of the postseason of who they were and what would be needed. “But you know, things work out different. Stuff happens and we end up in a Game 7, like everybody thought it was going to happen.

“Biggest thing for us, I feel like we never quit, because that’s just who we are. Everybody has a story, a background of going through certain situations, certain ups and downs in their lives and still pushing through and getting an opportunity. You look at our roster, and there’s a lot of guys on our roster that have pushed through to make themselves have a great opportunity.”

So no movies, no documentaries, no going into the golf bag.

Just a sense of self.

And, now, of deliverance.

“I think it just sheds a lot of light on how resilient our group is,” forward Caleb Martin said, “how mentally engaged that we are and how positive we are mentally, no matter how the season has been going.

“We have been talking about how the regular season has been preparing us for these moments, and I just think it comes full circle.”