Dave Hyde: Long odds? Heat face the longest of all against Celtics

MIAMI — The Miami Heat have created some epic playoff upsets in recent years to define their organization and make an Urban Dictionary entry of, “Heat Culture.”

This next chance would dwarf them all.

The Heat were a fifth seed that beat the fourth (Indiana), first (Milwaukee) and third (Boston) seeds en route to the Bubble NBA Finals in 2020 during the pandemic.

None of those upsets compare to the dizzying odds starting Sunday against Boston.

They were the lowly play-in team last year that beat top seed Milwaukee in five games. Then came the Game 7 stunner in Boston on the heels of Derrick White’s game-winning tip in Game 6 that threatened to bring the Celtics back from a 3-0 series deficit and steal the Heat’s soul.

Remember? The Heat rallied so furiously right from the start of Game 7 that Boston fans began booing and TNT’s Charles Barkley said at halftime, “Watching these dumbass Celtics play is making my head hurt.”

Yes, the Heat have had some epic upsets.

You can combine them all, throw in David’s slingshot, Buster Douglas’ right hook on Mike Tyson and Al Michaels shouting, “Do you believe in miracles?” — and only then are you nearing the neighborhood of long odds starting with Game 1 Sunday in Boston.

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They don’t even have to win the series without star Jimmy Butler to enter upset status.

They just have to somehow make it a series.

Win a game. Threaten to take two. Can you hope for any more? And isn’t it unfortunate to have to frame it like this? Wouldn’t it be fun to see Butler making the Celtics possibly choke away another year?

“We want Boston!” the Heat fans chanted in a cute and celebratory way while drubbing Chicago 112-91 in what showed some organizational bona fides.

They got Boston.

“It’s going to be a dogfight,” Bam Adebayo said.

Bless him.

“It’s going to be fun,” Jaime Jaquez Jr. said.

He’s a rookie.

The Heat have no chance in a best-of-seven series without Butler (and probably injured guard Terry Rozier). None. Stating such ill-fated realism would mean banishment from the Heat, considering that’s exactly what Adebayo told any player who didn’t think they could beat Chicago on Friday for the final -play-in spot.

“It only infects those who think we can win,” Adebayo said after the Heat’s win.

He sees this series as an opportunity, just as he should. But Boston isn’t Chicago. It’s not even Boston of last year. Boston was a dominant 64-18 this regular season and has all players healthy and rested. The Heat were the last-play-in team in the East to the playoffs are down not just Butler but Rozier.

Boston isn’t going to be taking the Heat lightly, either, after stewing since last spring over their loss to the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. ESPN computers gave the Celtics a 97 percent to win that series before the opening game. It was sports beauty to watch play out, wasn’t it?

Chicago Bulls at Miami Heat | PHOTOS

“We failed,” Boston’s Jaylen Brown after that Game 7. “I failed. We let the whole city down.”

The Heat created such pain the Celtics re-did their blueprint. They traded veteran leader Marcus Smart for Kristaps Porzingis. They brought in tough guard Jrue Holiday. Their two All-Star wings in Jayson Tatum and Brown now have the supporting cast to win a title. Or so it seems.

Can the Heat dent them over a series? Sure. Coach Erik Spoelstra, as always, will come up with some strategic wrinkle. He threw a shifting zone at Philadelphia that stumped them for a quarter in the first play-in game. That would’ve carried the night if Butler didn’t go down. (Even then, the awful second-guess is whether an immobile Butler should have been taken out of the game to help the Heat.)

On Friday, Spoelstra had Adebayo defend Chicago star DeMar DeRozan. Butler would have guarded DeRozan. Big-man Adebayo on him showed Spoelstra’s creativity and Adebayo’s versatility. It also meant 205-pound Nikola Jovic, a kid at 20, was matched against 260-pound veteran Nikola Vucevic. It all worked, too. Chicago was lost in the opening quarter in a way that carried the night.

Spoelstra also prepped his team for Friday’s game in the way a good coach does.

“What we talked about (Friday morning) was to forget how we got here,” he said. “We could be frustrated. We could say it sucks. OK, when you pass all that, you say we have a game of this competition and these consequences. We have a bunch of Type-A competitors. I wanted them to embrace it, to feel it and enjoy it.”

Didn’t he create a good, new narrative for that game?

“I have an appreciation for the things you can’t buy, the things that you have to earn,” Spoelstra said. “We had to earn this. You can’t influence it. You can’t pay money for it. You actually have to collectively come together to earn it — and we had to do it the hard way, just to get this first ticket punched for the invitation to this dance.”

Their ticket is punched. Boston awaits. Vegas favors the Celtics by a lofty 14.5 points in Game 1. That sounds low, too. Maybe Spoelstra can borrow his mentor’s line from another upset. Pat Riley’s first-year Heat team in 1996 had only eight players after a big trade before playing Michael Jordan’s champion Chicago Bulls.

“Why are we even here?” Riley asked those players before the game. “No one gives us a chance.”

Rex Chapman scored 39 points and the Heat had a win for the ages. It helped that Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman allegedly hit South Beach the night before. And that it was one game. And the regular season. But there’s a thought to carry into this undermanned Heat team’s Sunday in Boston.

Why are they even there?