I predicted a gentleman’s sweep for the Miami Heat, albeit in its first round series against the hobbled Indiana Pacers. Jimmy Buckets and company did better than my prognosticating pie hole by eliminating the Hoosiers in four games.
It was in their second round series against the top seeded Milwaukee Bucks that the Heaters completed the gentleman’s sweep. Given that presumptive two-time MVP and 2020 Defensive Player of the Year Giannis Antetokounmpo didn’t see a second of court time in Game 5, a win is still a win for Miami and it advanced to the Eastern Conference finals against the winner of the Boston Celtics-Toronto Raptors matchup.
The Greek Freak being sidelined in the final 1 1/2 games notwithstanding (some may argue the Bucks played better minus Antetokounmpo in winning Game 4 that prevented a sweep), coach Erik Spoelstra’s team making cannon fodder of the league No. 1 offensive and No. 1 defensive team was still a complete stunner.
Milwaukee never really looked the same in the bubble which might as well have been quicksand for coach Mike Budenholzer’s team. Everybody, however, thought that Giannis and company were just playing coy in the seeding games where they had an abysmal 3-5 record. And that’s from a team that looked so formidable before the NBA was locked out by the COVID-19 pandemic that everyone and his cousin believed the Bucks were on the way to a 70-win season.
But Miami was just a different beast in the postseason this year. The Heat did play coy in the restart games before the playoffs, finishing fifth in the Eastern Conference regular season standings. It did so by design though, as coach Spoe wanted the route of least resistance as they wanted to play the Bucks in the second round, which they did when Milwaukee completed its own gentleman’s sweep against the Orlando Magic.
While he resembled more of Justise Winslow to start Game 5, Jimmy Buckets did pull through in the endgame by going perfect from the free throw line. Bam Adebayo also seemed intimidated by newly minted NBA All-Defensive Second Team member Brook Lopez down low, but more than made up with it by making key baskets using his improving jumper. Goran Dragic was also too fast for his own good in the first quarter, but was a calming influence in the homestretch and hit arguably the game’s biggest shot when he served as a release valve to a Butler drive with a minute and change left on the clock.
But the biggest hero—or I might say Herro—in the game was Baby Goat Tyler Herro. The rookie out of Kentucky dazzled all game long with his slick passing (did you see his no-look pass to a wide-open Andre Iguodala?) and clutch shooting (What wet-behind-the-ears rookie pulls up from 3 with the game on the line). He also had a key block on George Hill in the 5-minute mark of the game that was initially called a foul, but was reversed after coach Spoe made successful a coach’s challenge. I don’t care what the pundits say, I won’t trade Herro even for Bradley Beal.
I also understand Milwaukee top brass opting to put Giannis in bubble wrap rather than risk further injury to easily one of the NBA’s Top 3 players. We all know what happened to Grant Hill. The former Duke star was on his way to becoming the next Michael Jordan when he injured his ankle late in the 2000 regular season playing for Detroit. The Pistons were fighting for playoff position and Hill, who was a free agent-in waiting, didn’t want criticism that he was going soft coming into his big payday the next season. The 6’8” do-it-all forward played through pain in the first-round playoff series against, coincidentally, the Miami Heat. He probably made the injury worse by playing in the postseason that year and after signing with the Orlando Magic the following season, Hill would be a shell of himself and denied the NBA what could’ve been one of the most transcendent players of his generation.
So, the Heat now await the beaten carcass of whoever emerges in the other Eastern Conference semifinal between the Boston Celtics and the Toronto Raptors. The defending champions showed a lot of heart yesterday when they overcame an anemic last 4 minutes of regulation to force overtime and then matched Boston shot per shot in the two extensions. I was beside myself when reserve Norman Powell took the last shot in the first OT for Toronto, but The General redeemed himself in the second overtime by hitting a big 3 and committing grand larceny on a steal against Jayson Tatum and an and-1 over Marcus Smart the other way that all but sealed it for the Raps.
My wish is that the Celts and Raps play through 20 overtimes in the deciding Game 7 so they’ll be all tuckered out and drained when they do face the Miami Stun Machine in the Eastern Conference finals. In the immortal words of Gloria Estefan “…let your body (or in this case the Raptors or Celtics) feel the Heat…”