The Miami Heat are psychopaths. Medically diagnosed as such? No.
But in a basketball sense, they fit the profile. Here’s the clinical evidence, first, they were content with not having a home-court advantage in any series during the playoffs. Then this team was excited to play the Milwaukee Bucks in the First Round. Lastly, they were even a little too happy that things got harder when Tyler Herro went down with a hand injury.
After all, it’s in the Heat’s nature not to make excuses and to embrace the obstacles along the way, so much so that this rag-tag group of undrafted free agents and 20-plus-year NBA veterans is now tied heading back home to Miami for Game 3 of the NBA Finals.
As fun as it would be to marvel at Jimmy Butler‘s heroics and Miami’s Cinderella run, that would be leaving out that they are in the middle of one of the most remarkable offensive turnarounds from the regular season to the postseason in NBA History.
Miami Heat Culture
The Heat are known for cultivating an organizational culture beyond how players carry themselves. While no one knows what #HeatCulture is, you know it when you see it, and it’s not voluntary. One of the central tenets of #HeatCulture has to be confidence. The Heat believe they can win any game regardless of the circumstances. From the top down, that drips into the players. It fosters an environment where no one second guesses a shot or pass if it is the right one.
The Heat organization has prioritized the mental game. Along the way, the actual X’s and O’s of formulating the game plan have been executed masterfully. With those two arms working in tandem, the result is what fans see right now: crazy levels of shooting, defense, and connectivity. However, that wasn’t always the case. Two months earlier, the Heat were trying their hardest to leapfrog the Brooklyn Nets for the sixth seed. Back then, their shots, especially threes, were not going in. So what has changed?
Trusting Each Other
The most straightforward answer to what has changed is trust. Sure, the Heat have always trusted each other. It is one of the main reasons they can practice what they preach when it comes to the “next man up” mentality. Every team has injuries come playoff time, and the Heat have been no different. In the opening series, they lost two key rotational players, Herro and Victor Oladipo. In addition, Butler rolled his ankle in Game 1 of their series against the New York Knicks.
Trust kicked in again just last series when after going up 3-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Boston Celtics stormed back and stole Game 6 in Miami on a putback buzzer-beater. “(tapping fingers) We wish we could tip this thing off right now. Right now, we want to tip this thing off!” Coach Erik Spoelstra said.
"We just have to do it the hard way."
Heat head coach, Erik Spoelstra talks about the end of Game 6. pic.twitter.com/WkzYSJMnd2
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) May 29, 2023
You don’t say something like that unless you understand the belief level of the team you coach.
So how exactly did the trust change? Well, the absences empowered each player on the team to realize it could be them whose number was called upon. Players like Duncan Robinson and Kyle Lowry, who had been benched or seen their minutes depleted due to nagging injuries, have delivered over and over again this postseason because teammates and coaches are letting them know they deserve to be out there.
Overall and individually, the Heat’s numbers slumped this season compared to last. In the 2021-2022 season, the Heat ranked first in three-point percentage and 14th in attempts. This season, the Heat dropped to 27th in percentage and 10th in attempts, according to data on BasketballReference. More so, the Heat had no players who played in over ten games shoot 40% from three during the regular season. No one expected the Miami Heat to transform into an elite-level shooting team once the playoffs started. But that’s precisely what happened.
In the playoffs, the Miami Heat rank first in three-point shooting percentage. With Monday night’s win over the Denver Nuggets in Game 2, the Heat also tied an NBA record for the most games in a single postseason where a team has made over 13 threes, with 15, according to data via StatHead. Additionally, the Heat have shot over 48% from three in the playoffs six times; they did that five times during the regular season.
2022-23 Heat games shooting 48%+ from three:
Regular Season — 5
Playoffs — 6
— Basketball Reference (@bball_ref) June 5, 2023
Fooling The Opponent
There are way more bonkers stats to continue with, but the gist is that the Heat have tapped into the DNA of last regular season, which had avoided them for close to a year. It is less of a fluke and more so an example of not beating yourself. The Heat don’t have the greatest playmakers outside of Butler and Bam Adebayo, so they have worked around that by loading the floor with shooters like Gabe Vincent and Caleb Martin.
They put their opponents in situations where they have to think fast. Here, for example, was a key play in Game 2. This action, where Robinson receives a screen in the corner and curls, is a staple in the NBA. Teams face this every night, multiple times a game. But the Nuggets messed up their coverages on Sunday.
The play works for a couple of reasons: the Heat players run the play with intensity, and the personnel on the floor makes two Nuggets defenders overreact. Sure, Robinson had a down-year shooting, but his presence and reputation as a shooter brings with it extra attention, and you can see Christian Braun go through that thought process in reel time.
They run the same set the next time down the floor, but the Nuggets botch the coverage again. This is why the Heat’s hot shooting is not some fluke. The Heat are knocking down open looks because they force the opposing defenses to make mistakes. Four months ago, a play like that might not have worked. Or it might have been blown up because the timing was thrown off. Now after three straight rounds of being the underdog, the confidence level of each Heat player has risen, and plays like that are working.
Headed to South Beach
The Miami Heat are comfortable playing with urgency. Watch the Heat’s sideline on a given game, and you will see coaches feverishly whirling their hands in wheel motions for players to get up the floor. Playing at that pace with that type of aggression requires each player to be confident in their role.
The Heat’s last three opponents all believed their shooting would cool off. Each of them was hoping a regression to the mean would doom the Heat’s chances, but that hasn’t been the case. The adjustments have to be pointed and tactical, not wishful.
A word of advice for the Nuggets: that same thinking style will doom you too.
Matt Strout is a contributor to Back Sports Page. Matt studied Journalism and Sociology at Temple University for four years and graduated in May of 2022. While there, Matt wrote for multiple student and professional publications covering sports and the City of Philadelphia. Matt is originally from Maine and now resides in California. He has written content primarily for the NBA and PGA Tour. You can catch Matt frequently as a guest on the “Cut The Nets” podcast featured on the Back Sports Page network. When Matt is not writing, he enjoys cooking and playing golf. Follow Matt’s social media on Twitter @TheRealStrout or Instagram @matt_strout96