BOSTON — Erik Spoelstra addressed the media late Tuesday night at the TD Garden on a night when his team had been thoroughly outworked, outclassed and outplayed, embarrassed by a Celtics team that hadn't skipped a beat without Kevin Garnett.
They were playing from behind from the second quarter on — from down 10, down 20, at one point down 33. It never really looked like they had a chance.
Spoelstra was being asked why he bothered to leave his guys out there. Why Dwyane Wade got 37 minutes, Quentin Richardson 32, Udonis Haslem 30. Why he didn't just face the music and enter "garbage time" mode.
"I wasn't going to throw in the towel," the Miami coach insisted. "I understand what the score was. But is that what everyone wants in this league? When is the appropriate time to throw in the towel?"
There was a long pause in the room, a period of dead silence as Spoelstra let that sink in.
It was more than a sound bite. It was a mission statement.
Spoelstra was letting everyone know that he wasn't letting his team die quietly.
"I'm sure that's the issue now," he went on. "In the NBA, that's what it comes down to when there's blowouts. It's all about who's on the court, who's going to get hurt, who's going to throw in the towel. That's not even a habit I want in our minds right now. So yeah, if we're down 25, what's the point of resting if there is still a chance? That's the way we have to look at it and continue to build these habits."
Spoelstra is only 39. He's the youngest head coach in the NBA, in only his second season manning the sidelines for Miami. His predecessor, of course, was the inimitable Pat Riley.
And yet Spoelstra has the maturity, the wisdom and the poise to keep this Miami team afloat through tough times.
He knows how to motivate these guys. He knows how to prepare them, how to get them focused, how to lead them. He knows this team.
While this is only his second season calling the shots, Spoelstra has been a part of the Heat organization for a decade and a half. He signed on as the team's video coordinator in 1995; he's since climbed through the ranks as an assistant coach, an advance scout and eventually the team's director of scouting. Then when Riley stepped down in 2008 after a dismal losing season, Spoelstra reached the top of the totem pole.
He's still got a little video coordinator in him. He's had everyone on his team watching film this week in preparation for the Celtics — watching it ad nauseam, he says.
He's still got a little assistant coach in him, too. He knows when to step aside and let the egos of his team's leaders, particularly Wade, take over.
He's still got a little scout in him. He's learned these Celtics inside and out, watching everyone closely from the stars to the benchwarmers.
Spoelstra's got the whole package. And he may not be the oldest or the most accomplished, but he's the best coach for the job in Miami right now.
The Heat need a guy going forward who won't give up, who won't back down. A guy who will stare down an 0-2 series deficit and keep his cool.
Erik Spoelstra is that guy. And while he might not be able to bring the Heat all the way back to win this series, he's going to give it his best shot.
Come Friday night, the Celtics will be up 2-0 and looking to hammer another nail into Miami's coffin.
They'll have a good chance at doing just that, but Spoelstra's at least going to make them work for it. He's not about to throw in that towel.
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