MILWAUKEE – The last time the Miami Heat were in Toronto, it was Super Bowl Sunday. After a little effort, the organization found a way for the team to watch the game together.
Little did the Heat know their win earlier that day was the start of something special, and they didn’t have the slightest clue that a simple gathering – something millions of people did on that very day – would become a turning point in a title defense.
A 107-94 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday was Miami’s 21st in a row, good for third-best streak in NBA history.
It was Feb. 3 in Toronto when all this started. After the Super Bowl was over, veteran forward Shane Battier apparently gave one heck of a speech. It still resonates in the locker room, but nobody will tell what was said.
“We have a saying around where I’m from called ‘touching the people’,” Battier said. “I was touching the people. Giving the people a social touch. It’s metaphorical, and we don’t have time to get into it. It was very Zen-like.
“I don’t think my teammates get me, but I think they appreciated the effort. I was filled with the spirit of the Super Bowl.”
Whatever was said, it’s a moment Miami can look back at fondly because it hasn’t lost since.
Miami was 29-14 when the streak started, with talk of a championship hangover swirling around it. The Heat were just 4-11 on the road before beating the Raptors on Super Bowl Sunday, and they now take tremendous pride in nine of the 21 wins on the streak coming on the road.
“That’s the biggest thing,” shooting guard Dwyane Wade said. “We pride ourselves in being able to go into other buildings, and we weren’t doing that early in the year. We know we are a good home team — we always have been. But to go on the road and win nine straight and in many different ways is a testament to this team’s toughness.”
Friday’s game was circled on the calendar for Miami. It might never be admitted, but the Heat were out for revenge after the Bucks embarrassed them by 19 points in Milwaukee on Dec. 29. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra forced his players to watch film of that game Friday, beating it into them how Milwaukee took it to them the last time both met on the BMO Harris Bradley Center floor.
This time around, it was different. In a methodical way, Miami took it to the Bucks. The result was never in doubt, though Milwaukee made it a six-point game in the fourth quarter. The Heat responded with a 10-2 run, and the game was all but over.
“That was a good, tough win,” Spoelstra said. “Our guys had to compete. They had a great deal of toughness to play against a team that plays at a high motor. I was encouraged with the ways the guys responded in terms of what we brought to the game. Like I said, it was a tough, tough win.”
In what otherwise would be a boring conclusion to the season – Miami leads the Eastern Conference by 10.5 games – the streak has given a team with every right to cruise to the playoffs a reason to get motivated each and every night.
When the final horn sounded Friday, Wade and LeBron James spent a good deal of time on the court celebrating another victory on what Wade called “the revenge tour.”
“We like to have games where they beat us and we get a get-back,” James said. “We like the revenge. The way we came out tonight and the way we played for 48 minutes is how we’ve tried to play throughout this streak and throughout this season.”
James said he first became aware of the NBA’s record for the longest winning streak when he was in third or fourth grade by reading basketball history books. Though the Heat have eyes on a bigger prize, Miami is all-in on gunning for the record. The Heat already have the longest winning streak for a defending champion, but the push for 33 continues Sunday in Toronto.
“We are just trying to make our mark on NBA history, in any way we can,” James said. “We want to leave a mark so that when we are all done we can look back and say, ‘We were special.’ We still have work to do.
“It’s been impressive. It’s very impressive what we are doing right now. We want to continue with the process and continue to work.”