It wasn’t so much a look of accomplishment, for much work remains to be done in this NBA Finals matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Rather, it was a visage of relief that Spoelstra wore as AmericanAirlines Arena went into full party mode and the ever-dangerous Boston Celtics were finally put out to pasture in seven stomach-churning games.
“They’re really talented, obviously, but Erik does a terrific job,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “I wish he got more credit for what he does with that group. I would guess this wouldn’t be the easiest for him.”
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All sorts of crazy rumors were floating around the building by the time tipoff for Game 7 rolled around.
One of them had ESPN preparing to report LeBron James would request a coaching change if the Heat failed to win the conference championship.
That report was never aired, but it still seemed plausible when stacked against the championship quest LeBron has yet to fulfill and the intense criticism Spoelstra’s decisions have received of late.
Dwyane Wade shouted at him on the sideline during Game 3 against the Pacers.
Last week, as the Heat let Game 5 slip away at home against the Celtics, co-captain Udonis Haslem could be seen unloading on Spoelstra.
It all piled up so high for Spoelstra that before Saturday’s game he was asked about Manny Pacquiao pushing back the start of his fight against Timothy Bradley so he could root on his beloved Celtics.
This, mind you, is the same Pac-Man who shares Spoelstra’s Filipino roots and befriended the Heat coach during his goodwill trip to the Philippines last summer.
“You’re making it very tough on me,” Spoelstra said wearily. “I might have to root for Bradley.”
A few hours later, Spoelstra had pulled off a double dose of vindication.
Not only had the Heat pulled away from Pacquiao’s Celtics down the stretch, but Bradley won a controversial split-decision.
Take that, doubters.
It’s easy to diminish Spoelstra’s role, this being a players’ league and this team being blessed with three incredibly talented individuals.
However, as Rivers and other coaching peers have noted, it can’t be easy to guide a group that is supposed to win every night.
When the Heat do win, it’s, “Well, anybody could roll out the balls and make that happen.”