The Heat didn’t look at all like vast underdogs when they met members of the media following Game One of the National Basketball Association Finals. It didn’t matter that they headed into the set-to with long odds, and that they then lost it after having trailed for all but its first three minutes. In so doing, they shone the spotlight on the gravity of the challenge before them given their overmatched roster. Moreover, they were handicapped by conditions on the road; they not only had to deal with the raucous crowd of 19,528, but likewise needed to cope with the higher altitude in Ball Arena.
Yet, for all the hurdles, the Heat remain confident in their capacity to emerge from their series against the Nuggets with the title. And for quite a few quarters, their steadfast belief in themselves may be a reflection of irrational behavior. Not to them, though; regardless of how it is viewed, the unshakable self-assurance has precisely been their fuel throughout the 2023 Playoffs. They had to go through two play-in contests just to get the eighth seed, and then made short work of the vaunted Bucks before outlasting the Knicks and Celtics en route to the Finals — all contrary to prognoses.
Indeed, it’s fair to contend that the Heat are far removed from their regular season versions. If nothing else, they’ve proven that they deserve to vie for the hardware just as much as the Nuggets do. Which is why they cannot be disabused of the notion that they have what it takes to win four of the next six games in order to be crowned champions. That said, they still need to turn their thoughts to action, and for them to have a chance today, they will have to perform much, much better than they did in the Finals opener.
Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra isn’t stupid; he knows the enormity of the task at hand. At the same time, he isn’t backing down from the test because he has seen his charges succeed in the face of adversity. Forget that their march to history will require them to not merely hold fort at the Kaseya Center, where they’ve lost their last two outings. They are likewise compelled to prevail in hostile territory at least once, and they won’t be anywhere close to meeting their objective today if they don’t improve from their Game One showing.
Bottom line, the Heat know who and what they’re up against in the Finals, and while they don’t have a say in the former, they can certainly address the latter. How they do from here on is up to them.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and human resources management, corporate communications, and business development.