Erik Spoelstra is the best head coach in Miami Heat history, at least according to ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy.
Van Gundy also said if Miami can beat the Denver Nuggets in the upcoming NBA Finals, it will be the “most unlikely” champion he can remember.
The series was in danger of historically slipping away from the Heat, but Spoelstra was able to rally his troops for a 103-84 victory at Boston that allowed Miami to avoid becoming the first NBA team to lose a best-of-seven series after winning the first three games.
The Heat have used a balanced scoring attack behind star Jimmy Butler to advance through the playoffs, which was especially important after Miami lost Tyler Herro to a hand injury in Game 1 of the first round. Herro now might be able to return with the Heat having reached the Finals.
The Nuggets are the next challenge, led by the dynamic tandem of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. Game 1 is Thursday at Denver.
Spoelstra was named Heat head coach in April 2008 and is taking a team to the Finals for the sixth time. Miami won championships in 2012 and 2013 and was defeated in 2011, 2014 and 2020.
Van Gundy and fellow analyst Mark Jackson were speaking on a conference call in advance of ABC’s coverage of the Finals.
The 61-year-old credited the continuity in the Heat organization for allowing Spoelstra to succeed at the level he has.
“He’s in an unbelievable situation that very few are able to do anymore,” Van Gundy said. “He’s the best coach in Miami Heat history, obviously. I marvel at what he’s been able to accomplish.”
Jackson praised Pat Riley for the foresight to hire Spoelstra as his replacement.
“What Erik Spoelstra has done through the peaks and valleys…being consistent as a leader, as a worker, as a motivator, has been inspiring for anyone across sports, not just basketball,” Jackson said. “It’s a crime to say, he’s underrated. It’s great to see him back in the Finals and being recognized as the best in the business.”
Van Gundy would know of what he speaks. The Heat were the No. 8 seed in the playoffs and now join the 1999 New York Knicks, who were coached by Van Gundy, as the only eighth seeds to reach the NBA Finals.
His older brother Stan was coach of the Heat for a little more than two seasons, replacing and then being replaced by Riley, who was head coach of the Knicks when Jeff Van Gundy was an assistant there.
Another NBA championship would certainly add to Spoelstra’s impressive list of accomplishments.