Ten memorable Miami Heat moments
Counting down the events that stood out during Miami's run to the championship
MIAMI -- The confetti has fallen. The champagne bottles have been emptied. The parades and parties have ended.
And soon, the rings will be designed.
The Heat's championship run has crossed the finish line. And now, the offseason victory lap for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will extend for another few weeks -- if not months -- as they make the rounds, detailing their exploits on talk shows and promotional appearances.
But before moving forward, let's look back on my 10 most memorable moments from the Heat's breakthrough season.
No. 10: Faith placed in Spoelstra
The deal actually came a week before the Heat's Christmas Day opener in Dallas. Extending coach Erik Spoelstra's contract for two years allowed team president Pat Riley and owner Micky Arison to remove a major distraction from the team entering what proved to be a pivotal season. The move gave Spoelstra the added confidence and security he needed after last season's shaky display in the Finals loss to Dallas. Better yet, it sent a clear message to James and Wade that the front office felt that the right man for the job was already in place.
No. 9: Heat squash Lin-sanity
No team in the league knows more about hype, hoopla and fan hysteria than the self-proclaimed Heatles. The Heat thought they had the market cornered in that department. So it came as no surprise when several team members quietly scoffed at the notion that Jeremy Lin and the Knicks were taking the league by storm in February. But that essentially ended Feb. 23 in Miami, when the Heat frustrated Lin into his worst outing of the season and spanked the Knicks entering the All-Star break. The Heat would again vanquish the Knicks in the first round of the playoffs, a series that took a bloody turn when Amare Stoudemire struck a fire extinguisher in frustration amid the Knicks' struggles against Miami.
No. 8: LeBron's most passive moment
He still defends it to this day by insisting he made the "right basketball play." And technically, he's right. But when LeBron decided to pass to Udonis Haslem for the potential game-winning shot in a 99-98 loss at Utah on March 2, it intensified the national narrative about the greatest player in the game coming up small in the biggest moments. LeBron scored 17 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter and made far tougher shots than the one he could have taken to win the game. Lost in the debate was how poorly Wade played down the stretch that night. LeBron never openly regretted his decision to pass. But there weren't many nights like that the rest of the way.
No. 7: Flirting with Cleveland return
Last season, it seemed LeBron set off a national firestorm every week with something he said, tweeted or did. This season, he kept most of those awkward moments to a minimum. Perhaps the only misstep he's ever taken with Miami fans since he arrived came during his Feb. 16 return to Cleveland, when he suggested there could be a future with his former team. Admitting he made mistakes with the way he handled his televised "Decision" to leave in 2010 free agency, the Ohio native told reporters before a Heat-Cavaliers game "it would be great" if he one day returned to the franchise that drafted him first overall in 2003. After the game, James clarified his remarks and pledged devotion to Miami, where he's under contract for at least two more seasons.
No. 6: Wade's "title or bust" decree
Still burning from the way his team squandered that 2-1 series lead in the Finals to Dallas six months earlier, Wade wasted no time raising the stakes for the Heat at the start of this season. "If we don't win a championship, yes, it's a bust year," he declared on Miami's Dec. 12 media day to open training camp. His teammates never backed away from that statement. "We're looking to win it all," Bosh said that same day. "There's nothing left." LeBron also underscored the agenda. "We didn't come together to make the playoffs ... or to win a playoff series," James said. "We came together to win the NBA Finals." No other team in the league had to perform under such a make-or-break mandate, self-imposed or otherwise. The Heat insisted from day one there was no greater pressure on them than what they put on themselves.
No. 5: Bosh returns just in time
After going down with a strained abdominal muscle during Game 1 of the conference semifinals, Bosh had one request for his teammates. "Keep playing, extend the season a few more weeks, and I'll be back," Bosh said after he sustained the injury on May 13. By the time the Heat got their big man back three weeks later, they had already overcome a 2-1 series deficit against the Pacers and were on the verge of battling back from the brink of elimination against Boston in the conference finals. In retrospect, there should be no debate on this: Miami wouldn't have won a title this season if Bosh didn't make it back from his injury in Game 5. Not only did Bosh's return rejuvenate the Heat's hopes, it also fostered an altered style that shifted him to center full-time and allowed Spoelstra to maintain a bold move by keeping Shane Battier at power forward for mismatches that proved vital against Oklahoma City.
No. 4: Riley's anxiety complex
On a day when the rest of the franchise was basking in the shine of LeBron's MVP acceptance speech, Riley was tucked away in a corner just off the makeshift stage in the midst of a rare and revealing interview session with a handful of the Heat's beat writers. The Heat were on the verge of starting their second-round series against Indiana, and Riley could sense there would be challenges ahead that would seriously threaten their march to a title. Riley has always preached that the Heat had enough to win it all. But he also allowed a bit of uncertainty to creep into his thoughts. "I'm from the old school, so I'm scared to death, you know, of everything," Riley said May 12. "Trap doors. Land mines." A day later, the Heat would lose Bosh to injury for three weeks right in the middle of the playoffs. Riley's bunch proved resilient.
No. 3: Spoelstra/Wade spat in Indy
Aside from injuries, if there was a rock bottom for the Heat during their title chase, they hit it on May 17 in Game 3 against the Pacers in Indiana. In the middle of a 19-point loss, Wade lumbered off the court during an intense timeout and exchanged heated words with Spoelstra. At the time, Wade's troublesome knee was in pain and his game wasn't cooperating, either. Spoelstra held his star players accountable. Wade exploded. Publicly, both men dismissed the run-in as them displaying their competitive fire in the heat of the moment. But neither man would back down from his stance. It was the spark that altered the outcome of an extremely difficult series. You could question Spoelstra's rotation and adjustments, but never his spunk and willingness to get into the fight. And you could question Wade's health, but never his hunger. That timeout blowup didn't break either man. In fact, it might have bonded them even more as the playoffs continued.
No. 2: LeBron ... Game 6
Michael Jordan had his legendary Game 6 moment against the Utah Jazz that is firmly established in postseason lore. Now, LeBron has his. No, the Heat didn't win a title that June 7 night at TD Garden in Boston. But for all intents and purposes, consider it the evening when LeBron & Co. made their championship reservations. With his team down 3-2 and facing elimination, LeBron led the Heat into an arena where they had lost 15 of their previous 16 games and responded with one of the most determined efforts in playoff history. James played 45 consecutive minutes to start the game, refusing to come out for rest, and poured in 45 points, 15 rebounds and 5 assists. He made 19 of 26 shots with a glare on his face that hardly changed the entire game. Heat teammates simply called it, "The Look." All that was missing was Paul Pierce pulling a Larry Bird and suggesting it was God on the court disguised as LeBron James.
No. 1: Big 3 popping bottles
Think back to the night you hung out with your buddies after the prom. Or, maybe the graduation party. If not then, then how about that bachelor party in Vegas? The youthful exuberance. The joy. The energy. The excitement. The unparalleled sense of accomplishment. All of those examples embody the emotion on display in the Heat's locker room after they finished off Oklahoma City in Game 5 to win the title last Thursday. No scene was more memorable than the one when LeBron clutched the Larry O'Brien and Bill Russell trophies in front of his locker as Wade ran over, jumped onto a seat and wrapped his arm around his teammate's shoulder as the champagne was slung around the room. Then, all of a sudden, Bosh crashed the scene and doused champagne all over his face while standing in a statuesque pose in front of James and Wade. It can only be described as the biggest moment of the Big 3 era for the Heat. Well, so far.
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