Throughout the years, the NBA Playoffs have always been about consistency. The league has not strayed from the typical format consisting of 8 Eastern and Western Conference teams battling amongst themselves through 4 “Best-of-7 games” rounds to see who reigns supreme. However, the year 2020 brought with it many challenges to which the league had to adapt.
With this year’s playoffs just a few weeks away, it’s worth studying what happened last year, when the Heat reached the NBA Finals before losing to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Due to a high-risk of contact tracing between the large number of NBA players, the league decided to host the 2019–2020 NBA Playoffs in Orlando, Florida, which would ultimately become known as the “NBA Bubble.” Throughout the Playoffs, teams are designated their respective hotels within the Walt Disney World Resort. In addition, during this time, the players are to remain in the “Bubble” at all times and must get daily COVID tests.
These drastic changes made a massive impact on highly regarded teams such as the Philadelphia 76ers and the Utah Jazz (who would both make a first Round exit). However, one team would stand tall through these trying times due to their experience, consistency and unparalleled underdog mentality: The Miami Heat.
Although the Heat has its fair share of young talent and consequent speed and ability, they mostly strive on wisdom and experience. This was both applicable to the normal regular-season games that the Miami Heat play and to the unusual situation of playing within a “bubble.” These more experienced players have played on different teams (especially Jimmy Butler who competed for three teams prior to joining the Heat) and, due to this, have been in the midst of several game-changing moments and know how to react to any challenge the opposing defenders may give them.
Older players such as Butler (31 years old, first year with the Heat) and Goran Dragic (34 years old, seventh year with the Heat) both had more experience to offer and, in turn, averaged the most points in the team throughout the playoffs.
The Miami Heat’s success is mainly due to one key component: regularity. Head coach Erik Spoelstra stated that “everyone overestimates what you can do in a day and underestimates what you can do over the course of months or a year.”
It is this long-term perspective that helped guide the Miami Heat through the playoffs against the Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics, and ultimately propel them to the 2019–2020 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, where they would go on to lose to the Lakers (2–4 out of a 7-game series).
In this case, the Miami Heat were able to maintain a similar performance throughout all 3 major shooting categories (field goals, free throws and 3-pointers) during the first 3 series of the playoffs. Field goals, being any made basket during regular play, were considerably higher compared to the amount of 3-pointers made as they are riskier to attempt, and, as a result, more difficult to come by.
For many teams, the idea of playing in a “neutral arena” with no fans proved to be difficult enough to end their season early. Granted, teams were gifted with video game audio of crowd chants and effects with the “home” team’s effects being more eccentric than the visiting team’s. Yet, this pales in comparison to the typical support offered by a real fanbase.
However, this did not seem to be a deterrent for the Miami Heat as they would go on to win more “Away” games than “Home” games throughout the Playoffs. This can be seen as the accumulation of scored points from the 3rd and 4th quarters of each “away” game was higher than that of the “home” games. This also shows the mental strength of the Miami Heat as these last 2 quarters require heightened focus in order to win the game.
A trip to the NBA Finals is not easy to come by and is certainly not a byproduct of luck. Through experience, consistency and focus, the Miami Heat was able to rise above set expectations and make their mark as a team to beware of for years to come.
All data comes from Miami Heat official statistics, 2020 NBA Playoffs statistics, and Miami Heat team statistics.