A different kind of history was made in Game 7 of the 2023 Eastern Conference Finals.
The Miami Heat have become the second eighth seed in league history to have reached the NBA Finals. The first to do it were the New York Knicks back in 1999. The Erik Spoelstra-mentored squad, however, is the first play-in team ever to have made it to the last dance. The boys from South Beach went through the crucibles of playoff basketball just to get it done.
Their toughest test yet was to beat the Boston Celtics on the road in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. They had to do it after letting the Cs get back into the thick of things despite jumping to a 3-0 series lead. Add to that, the Heat were coming from a deflating Game 6 loss, courtesy of Derrick White’s last-gasp putback.
That’s why it’s all the more impressive that Miami was able to muster enough energy and come up with a conclusive 103-84 victory on Tuesday at the TD Garden in Massachusetts. Jimmy “Freaking” Butler, who was named ECF MVP, was undeniably the focal point of the Heat’s success. But it’s also undeniable how the role players, namely Gabe Vincent, Caleb Martin, Duncan Robinson, and Max Strus, gave Miami a much-needed boost this postseason.
In the decider, it was Martin’s time to shine. He posted 26 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, and a steal to propel the Heat franchise to its sixth finals appearance. During the third quarter, when the game’s most tense moments took place, it was the 27-year-old forward who came up big for the visiting team.
His magnificent performance drew several reactions from his peers including PJ Washington of the Charlotte Hornets, who plays with Caleb’s twin brother Cody.
Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young also gave Caleb his flowers on Twitter.
In the postgame presser, Butler talked about his unheralded teammates. He made it clear that he doesn't view them as mere role players.
“Nobody ever complains. They always do exactly what you ask of them to do, which is why you want to play with guys like that, which is why they’re the reason we win so many games,” the Heat main man said.
“I don’t call them role players. I call them teammates because your role can change any given day. We got some hoopers. We got some real deal basketball players.”
On Friday in Mile High City, Jimmy Buckets and the rest of his teammates must come together once again as they take on the mighty Denver Nuggets in Game 1 of the 2023 NBA Finals.