THE HEAT IS ON

The Miami Heat outlasted the Boston Celtics 125 -113 to win the NBA Eastern Conference this season and move on to the Finals. The game was close until 3 minutes into the final quarter when the Heat had an amazing run, turning a 90-96 deficit to a 114-102 lead. Not surprisingly, this was achieved with a mix of grizzled veterans – Jimmy Butler and Iggy Igoudala – plus 3 fearless youngsters, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson.

The Heat displayed balanced scoring that had the Celtics guessing whom to guard. The Heat has developed a multi-dimensional offense that could pour in the points from outside and in, combining a balance of finesse and force. Most significantly, they have acquired a tough-as-nails defense that mirrors the persona of their top dog, Jimmy Butler. They’ve got ‘No Fear’ written all over their faces, and this should bode well for them in the upcoming Finals.

Jimmy Butler, that badass journeyman who previously had been through painful seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Philadelphia 76ers, is showing his true value. He led by example, hustling and defending and doing the dirty job. His work ethic, and his mentorship and clear confidence on the young players in the roster, have worked wonders for the team. His outstanding performance in these playoffs will make the Wolves and Sixers fans realize what they all failed to see when they let him slip away. His third-wheel treatment to the Wolves’ Towns-Wiggins and the Sixers’ Embiid- Simmons duos will haunt them for years to come.

The Heat will win or lose depending on the performance of their top dog. Butler has become the heart of this team. Aside from the numbers he brings in regularly in the court, his off-court presence has been exemplary. Indeed, Butler has found a home with the Heat.

Equally outstanding are the great effort from the likes of Bam Adebayo, Goran Dragic, that wonderkid Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, Jae Crawder, Andre Igoudala and Kelly Olynyk. Bam has been the fulcrum for the team’s bread-and-butter pick-and-roll, freeing up such shooters like Duncan, Tyler and Goran, while he’s slipping in for the alley-oop pass or a possible rebound. Goran has been the wily court general, making sure the ball is distributed equitably, keeping the Celtics guessing. Jae, Iggy and Kelly were the big bods that helped contain eventual MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, in their upset win against the Milwaukee Bucks. They too busied themselves providing more muscle on the defense, while spicing up the offense. They will be expected to be fielded once again in the Finals to keep the likes of Lebron and AD at bay. Iggy has the championship experience that he can impart on the newbies, having been Finals MVP with Golden State in the first of 3 crowns of that proud Warrior era.

Iggy, in particular, has 3 championship rings to match Lebron’s. He has an ax to grind as well, having been posterized by Lebron in what many consider as the greatest playoff block ever in the league’s history.

And then there’s Tyler, the hero. Tyler epitomizes the future of Miami basketball. He is young, talented, and unfazed by all the klieglights. Plus he has a boyish charisma that disarms almost everybody. Tyler owned Game 4, where he knocked out the Celtics with 37 scattered points that kept the Celtics at bay when the Heat’s big guns went cold. Tyler once again showed up big-time on the final quarter of Game 6, wiping out the Celtics biggest lead at 6 with 2 consecutive detonated bombs.

Finally, there’s coach Eric Spoelstra. Coach Eric is a top-notch coach who is not afraid to innovate. He devised a successful ‘Giannis-stopper’ defense that will now become a blueprint for the future. He has also been learning and using excerpts from the notes of Coaches Brad Stevens and Nick Nurse and the rest. His periodic use of different variations of the zone defense kept the Celtics offense baffled. If Jimmy is the heart of the team, Coach Eric is the head, with Goran as his on-court deputy. It will be interesting to watch him pit his 3 rings against another former Miami standout, Lebron James, who also has 3 championship rings. Lebron, of course, is the big favorite to get his 4th ring here. But Coach Eric and his wards are all unfazed.

The Heat are a balanced team of veterans and rookies with plenty of upside. With Iggy (36 years old), Goran (34), Jimmy (31) and outgoing Udonis Haslem (40) providing the wisdom, the maturation phase for the likes of Bam Adebayo (23), Tyler Herro (20), Kendrick Nunn (25) and Duncan Robinson (26) look assured. Despite the lack of a top-level superstar now, the team has enough solid players and a strong winning culture that is anchored on aggressiveness and blue-collar determination. And with enough cap space ready to acquire an established star, expect this team to be very competitive, not just in this year’s Finals, but for the years ahead.