Monday was sensational, but there’s an even crazier upset in Heat franchise history

Monday’s 105-102 upset of the Golden State Warriors was one of the most shocking victories in Miami Heat history and it provides the blueprint for Erik Spoelstra for defeating the league’s best as the season continues.

First, forget about getting Tyler Johnson, Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson back in the lineup. Obviously, the Heat don’t need them.

Dion Waiters of the Miami Heat poses for photo media during Heat Media Day at American Airlines Arena, September 26, 2016. Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post
Dion Waiters of the Miami Heat poses during Heat Media Day at American Airlines Arena, September 26, 2016. Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post

Second, get a subpar performance from Hassan Whiteside. His meager 10 points in 35-plus minutes on Monday were well below average but clearly vital in distracting the Warriors from their pregame keys.

Third, tell Goran Dragic to dial it down a bit, too. He made just 5-of-14 Monday from the field and was pretty lousy from the foul line, too, missing 5-of-13. Again, brilliant subterfuge.

Fourth, take a kid who has barely played in the NBA and give him significant minutes. Okaro White, who prior to Monday was 0-for-3 in a grand total of two career games, contributed five very necessary points to the win over the Warriors.

Fifth, get Dion Waiters and Luke Babbitt to combine for 9-for-12 from three-point range. Now there’s a game plan that should be easily repeatable, right?

All kidding aside, there’s only been one Heat game more ridiculous than this one was in terms of overperforming. That was Miami’s easy 113-104 win over Michael Jordan’s invincible Chicago Bulls on Feb. 23, 1996.

Chicago was on its way to a 72-10 regular season, a record that stood until Golden State went 73-9 last year. We’re talking about MJ, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and the boys, plus Steve Kerr, the current Warriors coach, off the bench.

Defeating them that night was a Miami team coached by Pat Riley but stuck in a disastrous roster limbo. The 24-29 Heat had just made a trade for Tim Hardaway, Chris Gatlin and two other players but those fresh troops had not yet arrived. Consequently, there were only eight Miami players dressed and ready to play against the Bulls but it hardly mattered.

Rex Chapman, who averaged 14 points per game that year, went off for a season-high 39 against the Bulls, hitting 9-of-10 from three-point range in the process.

“He reminded me of Jerry West,” Riley said of Chapman.

Don’t know about that, but Rex did outscored Jordan that night by eight points.

Here’s an excerpt from the Palm Beach Post’s deadline story on the upset, written by Tom D’Angelo. Of course, Tom was there. He’s everywhere.

“Some nights are hard to explain. Friday was one of them.

Playing with eight players and against the team some are touting as the best of all time, the Miami Heat submitted their most impressive performance of the season.

The Heat – relying heavily on three-point shooting – shocked the Chicago Bulls 113-104 at Miami Arena. Miami showed emotion (and outside shooting) rarely seen this season less than 24 hours after the team was gutted by three trades involving 10 players.

“You see it all the time in sports,” said Heat guard Rex Chapman, who equaled his career high with 39 points. “A team that’s undermanned on paper, and has no chance at all…Nobody is more surprised than we are, I’ll admit that. But if we had come out and laid down, we could have been beaten by 100.”

That’s just a flavor from D’Angelo’s complete story, and here are a few last notes I’ll throw in, too.

In the two games prior to that monumental upset, Miami scored 70 points in a loss to Cleveland and 66 in a win over Philadelphia.

What’s more, they didn’t get a monster game from Alonzo Mourning in beating the Bulls. Zo turned in his usual strongman numbers of 19 points and 12 rebounds but made just 8-of-22 shots.

The funniest part to me, looking back, is how angry Zo was after the game. He couldn’t believe how many in the sellout crowd were cheering loudly for the visiting superstars from Chicago and actually looked forward to going on a road trip in a couple of days.

“I’m kind of happy we’re getting out of this city and away from these fans,” Zo said. “The fans here are so hypocritical, it’s ridiculous. It makes me sick.”

[Gators are a touchdown shy of college football’s per-game scoring average]

[Wondering if Dolphins’ No. 22 draft position is haunted]

[Steve Shepherd and ‘Dangerous Dave’ Lewter join Florida Boxing Hall of Fame]

For the record, the Bulls got their revenge, dismissing Miami 3-0 in the opening playoff round that year and going on to start a new string of three consecutive NBA championships.

Better remember these amazing nights when they come along, however. It’s why any game ticket could wind up being the one you keep forever.

 

If Warriors climbed out of 3-1 in last round, why can’t Cavs do it now?

 

Man, it still looks bad for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. When’s the last time a team came all the way back from a 3-1 hole in the playoffs?

Oh, yeah. It happened a couple of weeks ago when Golden State did it to Oklahoma City in the Western Conference finals.

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James smiles at a news conference after Game 5 of basketball's NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cavaliers in Oakland, Calif., Monday, June 13, 2016. The Cavaliers won 112-97. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
OAKLAND, Calif. – Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James smiles at a news conference after Game 5 of basketball’s NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cavaliers in Oakland, Calif., Monday, June 13, 2016. The Cavaliers won 112-97. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

What it really comes down to now is did you ever really think the Cavs had a chance to beat the Warriors. Did LeBron James and company have enough to overcome a historic 73-9 team led by two-time league MVP Steph Curry? Was it even worth discussing?

I believed it was and said so, writing in a pre-series blog that Cleveland would win the championship in six games. That looked pretty moronic a couple of games into this thing and it still falls well short of reality now with the Cavs trailing 3-2.

Look at where the Warriors just were, however, in the previous round.

It was much worse than just being down 3-1 to the Thunder. Golden State had just lost consecutive games for the first time all season and was stunned by the sensation. What’s more, OKC was looking more like the defending league champion than the Warriors did. The Thunder scored 72 first-half points on consecutive nights, for crying out loud, something that hadn’t been done in the playoffs since Magic and Kareem’s 1987 NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers.

“The idea now is to go home and get one win,” coach Steve Kerr said after the Warriors were crushed by 28 points in Game 3 and 24 points in Game 4. “Do that, and we put some pressure on them and we’ll see what happens.”

[My very strange day with Hector “Macho” Camacho]

[Rating the Adam Gase offseason buzz compared to other Dolphin debuts]

[All right, let’s get this NBA Finals prediction on the record]

Kerr also took questions that night on whether Curry was playing injured. Kerr said no, that all players have bad nights, but Curry was coming off a 6-of-20 shooting performance that included six turnovers. No, it didn’t look good for the Warriors at all, especially with the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook dominating Game 4 with his first triple-double of the postseason.

Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight site crunched whatever numbers they crunch over there and determined that Oklahoma City had a 56 percent chance of winning the NBA title at that point. Cleveland was at 25 percent and the Warriors at 12 percent.

Looking at that same site today, the Cavs are given a 20 percent chance of coming all the way back to win the NBA Finals. That’s the new math, anyway, and it will keep changing until somebody gets their hands on the trophy.

The Warriors understand what the Cavs can still do because they have done it themselves. Monday’s Game 5 road win for Cleveland, with LeBron and Kyrie Irving scoring 41 points each, was made easier by Draymond Green’s suspension, but that doesn’t mean it was easy. The Cavs pushed through their first elimination scare and now they’re going home for Game 6.

I’m thinking there will be a Game 7, too. Probably the Warriors win, but not certainly.

Both teams have looked pretty lousy at times in this series. There can be no certainty when that’s the case. There can only be surprise, game after goofy game.

 

 

Here’s a less obvious advantage Steve Kerr had over David Blatt in the NBA Finals

 

It wasn’t pleasant watching David Blatt get overpowered by the ego and authority of LeBron James in the NBA playoffs. As Blatt repeatedly reminded the media, he wasn’t a rookie coach, not after years spent running successful pro teams in Israel and Russia, but LeBron never minded overruling the guy on the sidelines or simply ignoring him altogether.

I’m betting we’d find a lot more of this around the NBA if anybody cared to follow other teams the way the media does the Cleveland Cavaliers. Most players bend to strong authority figures on the sidelines for as little time as possible, and that includes the marginal experience of dropping by college on the way to the pros.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MAY 08:  Head coach of Maccabi Tel Aviv David Blatt during the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four final match between Panathinaikos and Maccabi Tel Aviv at the Palau Sant Jordi on May 8, 2011 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN – David Blatt coaches Maccabi Tel Aviv against Panathinaikos in the EuroLeague championship game on May 8, 2011. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

 

I skimmed through the Cavs’ roster to note the pre-NBA backgrounds of key players from the NBA Finals loss to Golden State. There are exceptions, like Matthew Dellavedova, who played four seasons at St. Mary’s College, and Iman Shumpert, who played three at Georgia Tech, but here is the rule.

 

Player                                          Pre-NBA background

LeBron James                         Drafted out of high school

J.R. Smith                                 Drafted out of high school

Kyrie Irving                              One-and-done at Duke

Kevin Love                               One-and-done at UCLA

Tristan Thompson                   One-and-done at Texas.

 

Now that’s not saying all of these guys have attitude problems or won’t allow themselves to be pushed by a demanding coach. That’s not true at all. Around the league, however, it’s the players who make the money and the coaches who come and go. Now mix that general dynamic into the environment at Cleveland, which centered around LeBron’s view that he always has been his own best teacher in developing the skills that make him the NBA’s best player.

Clearly, Blatt was in trouble from the beginning.

The Miami Heat have a solid core of hard-working players but even there coach Erik Spoelstra is fortunate to have a power broker like Pat Riley minding the shop. Riley is the foundation for the notion that sacrificing money and minutes for the good of the team is the secret to championship contention. If anyone else were saying it, and if Riley didn’t already have a long history of proving it, there aren’t many players who would want to hear that.

Look at these key Heat players and their backgrounds. We’re leaving out Udonis Haslem (four years at Florida) and Mario Chalmers (three years at Kansas) because they don’t fit the mold.

 

Player                                             Pre-NBA background

Dwyane Wade                             2 competitive seasons at Marquette, sat out freshman year

Josh McRoberts                           2 years at Duke

Chris Bosh                                     One-and-done at Georgia Tech

Luol Deng                                      One-and-done at Duke

Hassan Whiteside                       One-and-done at Marshall

Justise Winslow                           One-and-done at Duke

Amar’e Stoudemire                     Drafted right out of high school

 

One team presents itself as a significant outlier in this discussion, and it might help explain why Steve Kerr did so well in building a cohesive championship team in his rookie season as an NBA head coach.

His Warriors feature a majority of players who put in their time in college, running wind sprints, pushing to make grades, trying to win the trust of often-grumpy coaches who were institutions on their own campuses and didn’t much care if all their players didn’t like them.

Check this Golden State roster.

 

Player                                    Pre-NBA background

Draymond Green                   4 years at Michigan State

Andre Iguodala                       4 years at Vanderbilt

Festus Ezili                               4 years at Vanderbilt

David Lee                                  4 years at Florida

Steph Curry                               3 years at Davidson

Klay Thompson                        3 years at Washington State

Shaun Livingston                     Drafted right out of high school

 

Hey, it doesn’t explain everything when separating the top teams from everyone else, but Kerr, who had a long career as an NBA player, understands how difficult it is for coaches to maintain the focus and respect of millionaire players over the course of a long season. Could be he considered the information in the list above before deciding to leave the broadcasting game and give it a try.

Now we’ll wait and see on Billy Donovan and Fred Hoiberg, two college coaches getting their first taste of the NBA life this season.