Coach Erik Spoelstra has made one winning decision after another in the NBA bubble.
Thursday night's call? A pep talk to All-Star big man Bam Adebayo.
After Adebayo struggled to find a rhythm and scored just four points in the first half, Spoelstra wanted him to be more aggressive down the stretch -- and he let him know as much.
"Coach came up to me in the third [quarter] and was like, 'I need All-Defensive Team Bam,'" Adebayo said. "And from there, I had to start it on defense, and then my offense started flowing with it. So I give all credit to Spo."
After a memorable Game 1 performance capped by an incredible, game-saving, last-second, overtime block on Celtics guard Jayson Tatum, Adebayo rattled off 15 of his 21 points in the third quarter Thursday, sparking a game-changing 37-17 outburst that helped the Heat to a 2-0 series lead.
It marked the latest comeback for a Heat team that never seems to panic. And for Adebayo, it was another reminder to the basketball world just how dominant he can be when he focuses on taking over the game on both ends. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Adebayo was 6-for-6 on cuts to the basket in the third quarter. Each shots was assisted, and four were uncontested.
"Man, we got grit," Adebayo, 23, said. "That's about all I can tell you. We got grit, man. I'm happy to be on this team with these guys because everybody in here has a different story. We all come from nothing, and that's what's beautiful about this team, man. You put guys that come from nothing together, and they have a vision, and we're just trying to foresee that vision."
It's a vision Spoelstra has believed in all along.
He often has spoken about how deeply he believes in the organization's culture. He trusts the players to embrace the mental toughness that it takes to win in this kind of environment and has repeatedly praised them for making winning plays that might not appear in a box score.
"Our guys have shared values about competition," Spoelstra said. "There's a respectful, competitive humility about how tough it is in this league, and how much toughness you need to bring on each and every good night."
The mental edge is why the Heat's confidence is at a season high with Game 3 looming Saturday. They believe they'll always find a way to win no matter the situation.
"It's high," All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler said of Miami's confidence level. "We believe in one another. We know what we're capable of. And I think that's the part that's so fun, when we're out there hooping. Yeah, we get down at times -- but we never hang our heads -- because we know if we play the right way, we give ourselves a chance to win. So with this group of guys, man, it's always smiles out there on the court."
Butler acknowledged what many pundits believed prior to the series -- that the Celtics are the more talented team on paper -- but said he always believes the Heat enter every game with an edge in intangibles given their character and the work they put in beforehand.
Butler scored only 14 points in Game 2, but he made several key defensive plays down the stretch.
"We're not gonna sit up here and try to educate everybody on what winning basketball is," Spoelstra said. "That was winning basketball from Jimmy Butler. It's not about that final line. The same thing with Bam tonight; I don't even know what Bam ended up with from a scoring standpoint in Game 1, and I don't know what he ended up with tonight. Those guys impact winning, and Jimmy did so many things in that second half and impacted on both ends of the court. Either the average fan sees it or they don't, but we don't care."
That's exactly the kind of mentality Spoelstra and Heat president Pat Riley try to instill in their players every season, but this particular group has brought a new level of pride to the organization. The Heat play hard, they play tough and they don't roll over when things go badly -- just look how they responded when the Celtics went up by 17 points Thursday.
"I think Coach Pat, he and Spo do a good job of picking those guys, so they already got it," Butler said of the group's mentality. "Somehow, some way, they already know the guys that are going to fit in here. And to tell you the truth, to fit in here, you just got to care about winning. That's the No. 1 thing. Try to win that championship, and we got a group of guys that want that night in and night out, every single day. There's only one goal on our mind, and that's to win it."