It was only a game against the Phoenix Suns in the middle of November, but the Miami Heat taking down Phoenix 97-88 in their Saturday night matchup was more symbolically important than it was important in the standings.
Dwyane Wade was out of the game, and LeBron James was feeling under the weather with flu-like symptoms, but the Heat were able to grab control of the game shortly after halftime and wrestle it into submission.
It wasn't one of their prettiest wins of the year, nor was it their largest, but it finished off their road trip in winning fashion. Now, instead of leaving for Miami with a modest 3-3 record on the road over the course of their six-game trip, they're able to return with their head held high after a 4-2 stint.
LeBron was good enough in this game to be effective, but he wasn't the reason they won the game.
Instead, Miami got solid contributions from Mike Miller, Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers, an effective collective bench effort, and above all else, a great game from Chris Bosh.
To get all of the dull stuff out of the way, Bosh led the way with 24 points on 9-of-11 shooting, Battier added 12, Chalmers had 11, Miller put up nine, Ray Allen led the bench with nine points and LeBron threw on 21 of his own in a bit of a shaky shooting night.
There were still old problems that keep coming around. Udonis Haslem has yet to give us a reason that he's ever going to have a productive offensive game again, Norris Cole was incredibly inefficient, Bosh was heavy-handed at times and Chalmers has yet to show us much consistency, but it has to be nice for Miami fans to know that it can win when its big three look more like a big one-and-a-half.
Miami was outrebounded, gave up more second-chance points and lost the battle in the paint and on points off turnovers, but it was able to play very good defense and keep Phoenix from getting too many shots to fall.
It's three-point defense has finally started to click a bit now that it has held three of its past four opponents under 40 percent from the three-point line, but the most important thing we learned tonight won't exactly transfer nicely over to the box score.
Miami proved tonight that it has a bench that can win games, not just a bench that can contribute to overall team victories.
The majority of the praise is going to go on Bosh for stepping up in this one and James for playing sick when nobody would have faulted him for taking the night off alongside Wade, but it seems necessary to recognize the good game the rest of the guys had.
A good bench is one that doesn't squander a lead or can even extend it; a great bench is one that can take hold of a game and break opponents' hopes of ever coming back. Basically, it's what Miami's was able to do tonight.
Technically, Mike Miller was a part of the starting lineup, but including him with the bench, it was able to combine for 29 points, 17 rebounds, 10 assists and four steals. Plus, it was able to keep the defensive intensity up enough to hold the Suns under 90 points in the game.
With this win, it showed that it's capable of scoring efficiently on an extremely consistent basis and can play defense when the situation really calls for it.
Instead of having one guy who can step up and hit seven threes in the last game of the NBA Finals out of nowhere, Miami has a bench that can legitimately be relied upon for stretches at a time.
That's good news for it but frightening for the rest of the NBA.
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