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Why The Miami Heat's 27-Game Winning Streak Lasted So Long

Andrew Seah |
March 28, 2013 | 12:19 a.m. PDT

Staff Writer

The streak has finally ended. The Miami Heat lost to the Chicago Bulls in a testy, foul-laden affair at the United Airlines Arena that was as emotionally-charged as it was riveting. On this night, LeBron James and gang finally came up short. Ray Allen missed a crucial three that would have given them a fighting chance, and Dwayne Wade all but disappeared in the waning moments of the battle. The two-time MVP himself, the unstoppable force who we have seen spearhead the unlikeliest of comebacks and sink daggers in the clutch, was as guilty (albeit unfortunate) as his teammates.

With the Heat surging to make it a one-possession game, back-to-back calls that favored the Bulls swung the momentum of the game. It was by no means a turning point, as the Bulls had narrowly outplayed the visitors up till then, but it definitely stifled Miami's impetus. Taj Gibson's foul on LeBron's drive was first called a flagrant foul and, upon review, reduced to a personal foul.

On the very next possession, LeBron was called for a flagrant foul on a pick-and-roll between Kirk Hinrich and Carlos Boozer. Replays showed that he marginally extended his elbow into Boozer's chest while fighting over a screen; it was not a clear-cut decision. The nature of both incidents were contentious at best, and on a routine night with less history at stake, might have been regarded as non-issues. At that point, the odds were stacked against Miami, and this time there were neither rabbits nor hats in sight.

The mirage was finally shattered, and the men in black, defeated but not dispirited, headed back into the locker room. Like any other day, post-game interviews and press conferences awaited them. Except that this wasn't like any other day, not for these Miami Heat players, and not for this collective team, which from the top down, has become so deeply entrenched in the spoils of success that they should be understandably forgiven by the media for forgetting how to navigate the fine balance between present disappointment and prospective optimism. 

But that alone cannot detail the "season within a season" that best describes this (seemingly) never-ending stretch of victories. It felt like forever and applying simple math validates the sentiment: Miami was undefeated for more than a third of the 82-game regular season that spans almost six months. They weren't just chasing history; they were chasing the ghosts of the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers. It took four decades for any team to even be mentioned in the same breath as those incredible Lakers, let alone contemplate the actual possibility of breaking their historical 33-game winning streak. 

Despite falling short, Miami flirted with greatness, and has deservedly earned its place in NBA history. Proclamations of greatness, justified or otherwise, are sometimes thrown out with such regularity that glaringly incredible feats of sporting achievement can be overlooked. This Heat squad, and all they have accomplished over this period, has not gone unnoticed. (How could it? This is the team that, when their star trio first got together in 2010, received more attention than Kanye West demands of anyone. ESPN even dedicated an entire Heat-centric blog, titled Heat Index, to them.)

Nevertheless, their protracted success can be pigeonholed by the media and fans alike into straightforward, one-dimensional reasons - most of which revolving around their superstar-laden roster. It is admittedly easy to disregard the Heat's perceptible accomplishments by pointing to how "stacked" their team is and how this streak was inevitable rather than incredible. That, however, misses the point. Miami is a juggernaut and it kept on winning simply because it does so many small things right. 

Head coach Erik Spoelstra's aggressive brand of swarming defense provides the base for their success. The mantra of "helping the helper" is religiously abided by, and each body on the court moves in unison, or as Spoelstra himself likes to call it: "on-a-string." And after realizing LeBron's game-changing potential as a small-ball "4" in last season's championship-winning playoff run, Miami has wholly transformed their offense that was once considered stale and unimaginative two years ago. Now they are patient, unselfish and very deadly.

In a recent interview with Grantland's Zach Lowe, Atlanta Hawks head coach Larry Drew aptly described the Heat's offense as follows:

"They really, and I underline really, move the ball. It just whips around the perimeter. You may be able to defend the initial thrust of the play, but then the ball will touch two or three other hands before they take a shot. You can see they are totally in tune with one another. They play so unselfishly."

They swing the ball with verve and purpose, pinging the rock all over the court until an opportunity surfaces. They consistently give up good looks for great looks, and have all but eschewed the inefficient mid-range game that dominated their offense in the past. Nothing exemplifies this system better than the regular sight of their slashers knifing into the lane and kicking it out to one of their shooters for yet another corner three-point attempt. It matters not who takes the shot - Shane Battier and Ray Allen being the most consistent recipients - but what matters is their persistence in creating such wide-open, high-percentage looks for their teammates.

They always play hard on both ends of the court, and overwhelm opponents with a potent mix of smarts and athleticism. Their superstar framework presents them with more leeway than other teams, but their coaching staff, front office, and bevy of hard-working role players plug in the gaps that separate them from lesser teams. 

Writing about Miami Heat's 27-game winning streak posthumously may seem a trite formality. It is easy to fall prey to the path oft-trudged: reflecting upon marquee victories, close calls, and those late season "grind-it-out" victories that journalists love to wax lyrical about. And yet, painting the seemingly insignificant moments that accompany such a remarkable tear, whether legitimate or hyperbolic in nature, is necessary and often revealing. In this case, Shane Battier's impromptu speech about "touch" will forever be immortalized in Heat folklore. The content of the speech will be shrouded in mystery (as it should), but the inspiration of the action itself is the main takeaway here. Amidst all the hype and amongst the brightest of stars, it's fitting that Battier's little moment in the sun was the one that shone true and clear.

Reach Staff Writer Andrew Seah here



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