If anyone can relate to the Miami Heat’s run as a No. 8 seed to the NBA Finals, it’s Jeff Van Gundy
In 1999, Van Gundy coached the Knicks who were the first No. 8 seed in league history to reach the Finals. Ahead of Game 1 on Thursday, Van Gundy, who is calling his 17th NBA Finals as an analyst for ABC/ESPN, sees similarities with his team 24 years ago.
“The level of player you have to be to help your team advance, you have to be highly, highly skilled,” Van Gundy said on a Zoom call with reporters Tuesday. “You have to have a toughness, you have to have an intelligence and I think both of our teams, our team in ’99 and Miami’s team this year, share that as well.”
Van Gundy also noted both teams had injuries that hurt them in the regular season. Yet in the playoffs, both teams got healthier and played to their full potential.
The Knicks defeated the No. 1-seeded Heat in a best-of-five series before defeating the Hawks and Pacers. The Heat, who had third-leading scorer Tyler Herro for just one game this postseason, defeated the Bucks, Knicks and Celtics.
“I think Miami having to beat the two teams with the best record in the NBA is an incredible accomplishment,” Van Gundy said. “We beat two great teams in Miami and Indiana and we beat Atlanta, who was a bit wounded when we played them.”
With the Heat as betting underdogs to the Denver Nuggets, both Van Gundy and fellow analyst Mark Jackson praised what the Heat have done so far as well as the job coach Erik Spoelstra has done.
While it reminds Van Gundy of what he did 24 years ago, Jackson noted that Spoelstra deserves credit for reaching his sixth NBA Finals and continuing the success he had last decade when he won two championships.
“Being consistent as a leader, worker and motivator has been inspiring for anybody across sports, not just basketball,” Jackson said of Spoelstra. “He is absolutely — it’s a crime to say it — underrated and it’s great to see him getting back to the Finals.