The Heat are back in the ECF. It wasn’t the Bubble.

Throughout the last two seasons, some have maligned the Miami Heat’s 2020 run to the NBA Finals as a product of the “Bubble” environment. Colin Cowherd said it, saying that was why Pat Riley tried to trade for James Harden. (After the Heat feels Harden home last night, it’s funny to look back at those conversations from last year.)

It wasn’t just talking heads spouting, though. Giannis Antetokounmpo said in an interview with The Athletic, “I felt like Miami was built to be an NBA bubble team, you know?” Tyler Herro even leaned into the criticism when he wore a shirt showing him blowing bubbles when accepting the Sixth Man of the Year award.

And yes, the Bucks’ 4-0 sweep of the Heat a year ago was embarrassing. Jimmy Butler had his worst playoff performance ever. But Miami (along with the Los Angeles Lakers) had the shortest off-season in NBA history. The Heat’s off-season acquisitions—Avery Bradley and Moe Harkless—didn’t pan out. Victor Oladipo, who came in a deal at the trade deadline, suffered a season-ending injury after four games. Trevor Ariza was an upgrade at power forward, but he hasn’t been nearly as good as PJ Tucker has been.

Butler had a great season to lift the Heat out of the play-in tournament a year ago, but ran out of gas in the playoffs. Now, Miami’s franchise cornerstone is playing at a superb level in the playoffs, even knocking down 36 percent of his 3-pointers. If the Heat and Bucks meet for the third straight postseason, it’s hard to envision Butler struggling as much as he did.

Today, the Heat are back in the conference finals for the eighth time in the last 17 years. The Heat eliminated the Philadelphia 76ers on the road and even had Sixers fans heading for the exits early in the fourth quarter last night. So much for the claim that the Heat couldn’t win a big playoff game in a contentious environment.

Oladipo is now healthy and has given the Heat quality production as Kyle Lowry nurses a hamstring injury. PJ Tucker has served as the do-everything power forward the Heat lacked all last year. Gabe Vincent and Max Strus have gone from uneven two-way players to playoff starters in one year.

The “bubble fraud” narrative is dead.

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