The Miami Heat nearly collapsed and made the wrong kind of history. Instead, they beat the Boston Celtics in Game 7 to complete one of the most improbable runs to the Finals in NBA history. Here’s what players and coaches had to say after an emotional night.
On the difficulties of the run, especially after losing at this point last year and after dropping Game 6 in heartbreaking fashion:
Erik Spoelstra: “What happened last year obviously was on our mind and it drove us this year. That’s what you always hope for with competition, that it can drive you to a higher level. I think that’s what you saw in this series, this year, to be able to have to overcome a lot of stuff.
“I definitely noticed it after the Atlanta game the next day in the film session how badly this team wanted to keep the season going, and I felt the exact same way yesterday when we met after our flight. Everybody got to get everything out of their system from the night before, and we just focused on rallying around each other and focusing on the next task.
“We have some incredible competitors in that locker room. They love the challenge. They love putting themselves out there in front of everybody. Open to criticism. Open to everything. But to compete for it, and that’s a beautiful thing.
“We know we have more work to do. But damn, is this hard.”
Jimmy Butler: “I’m not going to say losing three in a row is part of the Heat culture we like to talk about, because we don’t play to lose and we don’t want to lose. They are an incredible team over there and they will be for a while. I just think the guys that Coach Spo and Coach Pat put together, when a guy goes down, the next guy could fill in that gap and do exactly what that guy that went down did, and do it at a high level.
“We have some hoopers. We have some real-deal basketball players that can score, can defend and can pass and can win games for us.”
Bam Adebayo: “We never thought it would be easy. Going through these playoffs, going through this season, up and down, good, bad, through the adversity, still nobody let go of the rope.”
Caleb Martin: “I think it just sheds a lot of light on how resilient our group is, how mentally engaged that we are and how positive we are mentally, no matter how the season has been going. Like I said, we have been talking about how the regular season has been preparing us for these moments, and I just think it comes full circle.”
On Caleb Martin’s remarkable game and series (19 points per game on 60% shooting):
Martin: “A ton of credit to the organization and getting me ready for these moments. I do a lot of prep with my coaches and my trainer to get me ready for these moments. It’s super-high-level competition. You can’t hide it. You figure out if you’re built for these type of environments or not whenever you get into them. I just I feel like I’ve just been continuously prepping and getting ready for these moments, and when these moments come, I feel like I’m ready for them.
“I feel like I’m built for these type of moments. I’m just going to continue to try to get better and feed off guys like Jimmy and Bam. They lead the way, and we are just trying to follow.”
Spoelstra: “Every bit the competitor that you talk about with Jimmy or Bam or whatever — Caleb is a competitor. You get to the higher stakes, the further you get along, the more competitors are going to reveal themselves. Game 7s, or get to the conference finals, it’s not for everybody in this association. Otherwise more players, more teams would do it. You have to be wired a little bit differently, and Caleb is. He’s pure. He competes on both ends. Lays it all out there for everybody to see. He’s accepted different roles.
“He has so much respect in that locker room just because of how hard he competes. It’s like his last breath on every single possession, and I love the guy for that.”
Butler: “I think that everybody sees what he’s doing in the games, but the real work is done when he’s in the gym by himself with his trainer, all the countless amounts of reps to prepare him for this moment. He doesn’t shy away from it. So many guys on our roster, they never shy away from the big moment. We love them for that and want them to continue to be that. He’s been huge for us. He really has been. He’s kept us in the game and won us some games on both sides of the floor. If he ain’t showed y’all now, he’s going to be in this league for a long time.”
The Celtics perspective on a disappointing Game 7 effort after winning three straight to stave off elimination:
Jayson Tatum: “We fought like hell to give ourselves a chance today. Just not the outcome that we anticipated.”
Jaylen Brown: “We failed. I failed. We let the whole city down.”
On the challenge of facing the Denver Nuggets in the NBA Finals:
Butler: “We have two days to figure that out before Game 1. So we will lock in on them. But I think we get to enjoy this until midnight, which is right around the corner, and then it’s time to lock in on the Nuggets.”
Adebayo: “Making (Nikola Jokic) take tough shots. The biggest thing for us is try to limit his assists. It sounds easier said than done. But biggest thing for us is watching film and figuring that out.”
Spoelstra: “We’ll celebrate a little bit tonight on that plane to Denver, and then we’ll get on to that next challenge.”