It’s very easy and completely appropriate to simply look to LeBron and say this is great for him, he deserves it, I’m happy for him.
But few think of the similar situation Eric Spoelstra has been in over the past 23 months.
When this team assembled itself, it was believed that Spoelstra was to be at the helm of a dynasty. As Dan LeBatard put it, he was to be Phil Impino Jackson. With those assumptions comes tremendous expectations, and whilst he didn’t receive the complete 10 on the richter scale that LeBron experienced, his was at least a solid 7.
Because there are so many NBA games in a regular and post season, it increases the likelihood of knee jerking. Russell Westbrook can shoot 5/19 one game and be called terrible one game, but the very next game shoot 20/26 and become some kind of demi god. The flip flopping that succumbs from the short turnaround between game to game is both a curse and a blessing.
In the case of Eric Spoelstra, he experienced as a spread as anyone over the past 2 years.
Upon starting 8-9 at the beginning of this Big 3 era, everyone was calling for his head. The presence of Pat Riley in the adjacent office didn’t help. The Heat then went on a tear, winning something like 25 of their proceeding 26 games. He was then projected to exceed his mentor. The Heat then lost five straight games and the head calling re-emerged. This continued throughout the season.
The yo-yoing was a theme of this season again as any loss to a major rival was deemed as Spoelstra’s ineptitude as a coach. It reached it’s highest point following Miami’s Game 2 home loss to Indiana, and incomparably, the Heat’s home loss in Game 5 to Boston.
Everyone in South Florida had their guillotines out and were sharpening the blades. The test watermelons had been decapitated and they were ushering Spo into position. It was as close to unanimous as it gets.
LeBron James then comes out and produces the single greatest performance of his career in the Boston Garden and the noise stops. Their Game 7 win was supposed to be the end of it. It wasn’t.
Miami blew a 17 point lead in the first half as the Thunder rallied and took a 1-0 series lead in the NBA Finals, and the loss was on Spoelstra. The Heat had coasted and played about as poorly as they can in the second half, and of course this is attributed to the little respected Spoelstra.
Since then the Heat have outplayed the Thunder in nearly every facet of the game. Statistically you will not see that, but if you know Spoelstra, he is much more concerned with what his eyes tell him as opposed to what the numbers tell him.
The man of 1000 cliches is the perfect leader of this team. They don’t need a players coach who will be their best friend and tell them they’re the best. They don’t need a complete hard arse to scream at them every time they miss a shot. They need someone to keep it calm, to steer the ship, to allow his superstars to play their game whilst still ensuring it is a team effort.
Steve Kerr, a member of that 72 win Bulls team, says this Heat defense is the best he’s ever seen. Many concur. Sure you can attribute that to the brilliant individual defenders that are LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, but a lot of that credit has to go to Spoelstra. James Harden has looked like James Singleton 3 of the 4 games thus far. That is all Spoelstra.
With a year’s experience he significantly improved their offense. He unharnessed the team and told them to get out and run whenever they could. He didn’t try to turn them into something they’re not, he tried to improve what they already were.
He now sits 1 win away from his first NBA Championship as a Head Coach. Whilst the credit, and deservedly so, will likely go to LeBron James for getting them over the line, getting into the position has been a near 2 year mission that was spearheaded by Eric Spoelstra.
Few respect who he is and refuse to recognise what he has done. But for this Miami Heat team, there’s no one I’d rather have.