It seems I was a little short-sighted in my decision to nap through the first three rounds of the NBA playoffs. I figured I could focus my attention on other things until mid-June, like seeing The Avengers, the Facebook IPO and watching The Bachelorette. Why waste my time suffering through the painfully long NBA playoffs when a Miami-Oklahoma City Championship was so inevitable. But as Chris Berman says ad nauseum every Sunday in the fall, “That’s why they play the game.”
Three games into the Indiana-Miami series, I am now wide awake; although, it seems the Heat have yet to join me in a conscious state of mind. They trail the Indiana Pacers 2-1 in their best-of-seven series with Game 4 to be played Sunday in Indianapolis.
This game, of course, sets up as a must-win for the Heat, as going down 3-1 in a series is typically a kiss of death for the trailing team. Only seven teams in NBA history have come back from such a deficit. As we saw in the first round, both Denver and Memphis came up just short in their respective game sevens after facing 3-1 holes.
The Heat can certainly turn things around, as they well know after watching the Dallas Mavericks trail in the NBA Finals last year 2-1 before taking three straight and the title from Miami.
But this is not how it was supposed to go for the “Dream Team” or the “Three Amigos” or the “Heatles” or whatever they call themselves. Once Derrick Rose went down, the Heat were supposed to blow through the East, possibly facing a slight challenge from an ancient Boston Celtics team in the conference finals. But that was it.
Yet here we are, in the early stages of Round 2, and the Heat are only two games away from booking tee-times. How they got here is easy to answer: Chris Bosh got hurt, Dwyane Wade has been ineffective, Roy Hibbert owns the paint, the Pacers are out-muscling the Heat and Mario Chalmers led Miami in scoring in Game 3.
So the bigger question is: Whose fault is it? Why does a Miami Heat team, which realistically has a chance of getting blown up by Pat Riley if they don’t win the championship, look to be on the brink of an exit in the Eastern Semifinals? Let’s nominate a few candidates before picking a winner.
Dwyane Wade: It is quite clear the longest tenured member of the Heat is in some serious pain. He missed eight of Miami’s final 15 regular season games with leg injuries. He looked slow, even lackadaisical in Game 3 and he bricked almost every shot he put up, going 2-for-13 from the field.
You can’t blame a guy for putting himself on the floor even when facing such struggles due to injury. But after his first two or three shots, a guy generally knows if he’s “got it” that night or not.
It was very apparent from the beginning of the game that Wade didn’t have it. So why force up 13 shots? Why not make the intangible plays, the hustle plays? Focus on your defense, especially your rotations and help-defense down low on the suddenly Olajuwon-esque Hibbert. Go after every rebound and help facilitate as a passer.
Instead, it seemed like Wade has been determined to overcome his injury by forcing his game, and it led to a blowout in Game 3.
Chris Bosh: Yeah, yeah, Bosh is hurt. But it’s the playoffs. Your team is in a 2-1 hole and it’s obvious your inside-outside game is being sorely missed by your team.
Bosh’s reputation as one of the softest players in the league (remember last year when Kevin Durant even took shots at Bosh?) isn’t getting any better, as the big man watches this series from the sidelines while nursing his stubbed toe.
Oh, it’s an abdominal strain? Whatever, he’s still soft.
Erik Spoelstra: Generally, I don’t think coaching in the NBA makes a huge difference unless it is coming from the top-tiered guys (Gregg Popovich, Phil Jackson, Pat Riley). Otherwise, the players are too self-serving to really listen to a head coach. Nobody is benching a superstar in the NBA, so the incentive to truly listen just is not there.
So, do I think Spoelstra is a bad coach? No. I think he is an adequate coach. Unfortunately, a team of this caliber cannot allow itself to be mediocre in any area, especially in a position of leadership.
I’ve never liked to use the phrase “a coach has lost the locker room.” But the way Wade was barking at “Coach Spo” during a timeout of Game 3 certainly didn’t make it seem like their relationship was all butterflies and rainbows.
While that is just general frustration on both sides, the fact remains the same. Coach Spoelstra has not made the necessary adjustments yet to slow down the Pacers. He isn’t doubling on Hibbert enough. He isn’t getting his team to attack the glass (Miami has been out-rebounded 102-76 over the last two games). He isn’t finding ways to get his best two players to be successful.
At some point, the responsibility has to fall on the coach. He is the guy in charge. If not, why not just make LeBron like Bill Russell and name him Player-Coach? Which reminds me:
LeBron James: By LeBron’s standards, he is having a run-of-the-mill series. Through three games, LeBron is averaging 27.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists on 46 percent shooting. He even put up a 32-15-5 performance in the Heat’s Game 1 victory.
But unfortunately, it’s not enough. Last year, LeBron was the butt of every joke. From “The Decision” to the Welcome Party to the choke job in the Finals, it was a nightmare year for LeBron.
With respect to Durant, James is the best player on the planet, and his motivation to win now should be at an astronomical level. With Bosh out and Wade rendered ineffective, James should be putting up outrageous, even historical numbers.
We saw Paul Pierce single-handedly beat Atlanta in Game 2 of the first round when Rajon Rondo was suspended. Rondo himself is stock-piling triple-doubles. Carmelo Anthony had a 40-point game against the Heat in the first round.
LeBron is better than all of those guys. He is capable of 40-15-8 games the rest of the way in this series. And frankly, it may be Miami’s only chance to win, because with every game and with every injury, the 2012 Miami Heat are looking more like the 2006 to 2010 Cleveland Cavaliers.
And the winner is…the Indiana Pacers
Here is a novel idea: A team with a talented backcourt (George Hill, Darren Collison), explosive wing players (Paul George, Danny Granger), a ferocious frontcourt (David West and Roy Hibbert) and an up-and-coming head coach (Frank Vogel) is winning this series. The Pacers are beating the Heat in almost every category through the first three games.
The Pacers are out-shooting the Heat from the field, from three and from the free-throw line. They are out-rebounding Miami and they have more blocked shots. They are playing like a true team and taking care of the ball.
While we have seen that the NBA is truly a superstar-driven league, it is not impossible for those organizations with a “team” identity to sneak into and even win the NBA Finals. Just look at the Detroit Pistons in the last decade.
The Indiana Pacers, led by a group of players no one considers superstars and a coach no one has ever heard of, are two games away from shocking the world; and they are the single biggest reason the heat in Miami may be at an all-time high (well, a two-year all-time high).