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Heat coach Erik Spoelstra pushes all the right buttons

MIAMI FL - JUNE 03:  Head coach Erik SpoelstrMiami Hereacts as he coaches against IndianPacers during Game Seven Eastern

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 03: Head coach Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat reacts as he coaches against the Indiana Pacers during Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at AmericanAirlines Arena on June 3, 2013 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

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NBA FINALS

HEAT vs. SPURS

Series tied 2-2
All games on Ch. 7/1000-AM

G1: Spurs 92, at Heat 88

G2: at Heat 103, Spurs 84

G3: at Spurs 113, Heat 77

G4: Heat 109, at Spurs 93

G5: Sunday at Spurs, 7 p.m.

G6: Tuesday at Heat, 8 p.m.

*G7: Thursday at Heat, 8 p.m.

*if necessary

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Updated: July 16, 2013 6:30AM



SAN ANTONIO — There seems to be very little wrong with Erik Spoelstra’s life these days.

The Miami Heat coach has a steady paycheck, reportedly dates former Heat dancer Nikki Sapp, and has guided the team to its third consecutive NBA Finals appearance.

What often gets lost when discussing Spoelstra is that he has quietly turned into one of the best coaches in the Association.

If there was a Mount Rushmore for active coaches, it would start with the San Antonio Spurs’ Gregg Popovich, with the Boston Celtics’ Doc Rivers, the Bulls’ Tom Thibodeau and then Spoelstra all nestled next to each other in carved stone.

“Erik is still in the phase where he gets more blame for their losses than credit for their wins, but he’s going to the Hall of Fame,” current ESPN commentator and former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy said in a teleconference at the start of the Finals. “He’s that good.

“His even‑keel demeanor, his humility, it helps him really get the most out of his best players and you know, it’s fun to watch his teams.’’

The obvious knock that outsiders cast on Spoelstra is the “Look at the talent he has’’ syndrome. Well, former Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson made a stellar Hall of Fame career piggy-backing off of great talent. Jackson never took a rebuilding job, instead specializing in dealing with the egos of superstars and focusing them on one common goal.

That might be a more daunting coaching task then having lesser talent that drinks the X’s and O’s Kool-Aid that is being served.

Further evidence of how far Spoelstra has come with his team the last few seasons was on display in Game 4 Thursday, when he put Popovich into check by starting Mike Miller rather than Udonis Haslem.

Not only did it force Popovich’s hand to go small, but in doing so it allowed the Heat to erase the rebounding edge the Spurs used to destroy the team in the Game 3 loss. The Heat was outrebounded in that game 52-36 — and that included an embarrassing 19 offensive rebounds allowed.

Game 4? The Heat won the rebound battle 41-36, holding the Spurs to five offensive rebounds.

In going small, Spoelstra also forced Chris Bosh into thinking big. That’s a practice he had been ducking away from throughout the first three games.

“When we play with those lineups, he’s the last man there,’’ Spoelstra said of putting that pressure on Bosh.

“We need Chris to be big and to do so many different things.’’

Bosh responded with by far his best game in weeks, scoring 20 points, grabbing 13 rebounds and even blocking two shots.

Spoelstra wouldn’t say on Friday if he would go with that same lineup in Game 5, but if it isn’t broke …

Bigger picture? If the Heat can beat the Spurs, Spoelstra would become one of 13 coaches with multiple NBA rings.

That’s pretty good.

Dating a former Heat dancer isn’t bad, either.



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