Miami, FL: It was supposed to be a magical run for the Rangers and Knicks, just like 1994. Instead, it’s been a magical run for the teams of South Florida, the Panthers and the Heat. Oh chickens! And to finish, a few cautionary tales about letting sleeping bears lie.
Oh yeah, now I remember. That’s what a basketball team is supposed to look like. I dislike the Miami Heat but it’s becoming hard to root against them. They made the play-in thing and then lost to the lowly Hawks, only to sneak it with a victory over the Bulls. A game in which they trailed going into the fourth, then Max Strus got hot. Quick exit for them in the real playoffs, right?
No so fast. The Strus explosion in the second play-in game became the norm with these guys. Whenever they get down and need a spark, someone gets hot. Often it’s the great Jimmy Butler, or his alter ego “Playoff Jimmy.” Like when he led stunning fourth quarter comebacks in Games 4 and 5 to eliminate the top seeded Bucks. But the next few fiddles in the orchestra are an unpredictable medley of guys like Duncan Robinson, who had been out of the rotation, Gabe Vincent, Kyle Lowry, and Caleb Martin. A different star ascends in every game.
But it’s all facilitated by Butler, a guy who seems to know exactly when it’s time for him to assert himself offensively and when it’s time to find the open shooter. The Knicks routinely tried to take the ball out of his hands and the result was almost always an open three pointer. Butler, a truly unselfish superstar, makes it work.
Eric Spoestra deserves a ton of credit. He always seems to find the right combo or the right guy to get hot, while things are starting to get away from them. He has total buy in from the team. The front office deserves a ton of credit as well. By now you’ve heard the Heat have seven undrafted free agents on the roster, including key guys Strus, Martin, Robinson, and Vincent. Note to NBA front offices: quit whining about lottery balls and go find guys that can play. The fact that so many are undrafted is probably part of the reason why it works. These guys were not expected to be here playing big minutes, so team basketball is an easier sell.
When you compare that to a team like the Suns taking turns between Booker and Durant shots, it’s been fun to watch. And I’m a Knicks’ fan…
The Florida Panthers have got a similar story going on in the Sunshine State. After squeaking in to the playoffs on the last day of the season, the upset the best regular season team of all time in the Bruins, after being down three games to one. They were a shot away from elimination, less than a minute away from elimination in Game 7, but they just cannot be killed. Then they knocked off the Maple Leafs with relative ease and are working on tossing aside the Hurricanes, with back to back OT wins on Matthew Tkachuk goals, and a 1-0 win in Game 3.
Embattled goalkeeper Sergei Bobrovsky didn’t even start the playoffs and was probably on the verge of a buyout, if the Panthers didn’t last in the playoffs. But he regained his net and has been stellar in goal.
Last year the Panthers won the President’s Trophy and got swept in the first round. This year they barely made the playoffs and look poised to go to the Finals. As we are reminded annually, the NHL regular season doesn’t tell you much about how the playoffs will go.
Hey, Is That a Sleeping Bear? Hand Me That Stick.
There is something uniquely gratifying about a role player taking on a superstar and getting immediately smacked back into his place. Dillon Brooks called LeBron “old”. He was looking a bit old at the time, but the Lakers won 3 of the next four and eliminate dthe Grizz. Memphis has said they will not re-sign Brooks “under any circumstances.” Ouch. This outcome and chain of events was set in motion the second the word “old” came out of his mouth. Don’t you know how this story ends, man?
Grant Williams decided to get in Jimmy Butler’s face in Game 2 when the Celtics were winning. Reggie Miller defended Williams, because he was the only Boston player showing any fight. Well, that may be true, but Butler scored at will down the stretch and the Celtics went from winning to losing. Then got absolutely crushed in Game 3. Maybe Grant should’ve picked someone else, eh Reg?
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