Despite the "injuries" that sidelined LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers, the Miami Heat got a game-winning three from Chris Bosh with under two seconds left that helped complete a stunning 88-86 victory over the host San Antonio Spurs.
The win helped the Heat take firm control of the race for home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, as Miami now holds a full three-game advantage (plus the tie-breaker) over the West-leading Spurs.
With so much at stake, it seemed risky for coach Erik Spoelstra to rest three of his starters with dubious injuries.
But there might be something to be said for not tipping one's hand too early. By benching James, Wade and Chalmers, Spoelstra made sure the Spurs would have to wait until a potential NBA Finals matchup before seeing Miami at full strength.
Plus, the decision gave Gregg Popovich a taste of his own medicine—the Spurs infamously rested some of their big guns when these two teams last met on Nov. 29.
San Antonio paid for its decision to rest Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green in that game, largely because those players didn't even travel with the team and the club failed to provide a satisfactory explanation for their absences.
Ultimately, Spoelstra and the Heat got absolutely everything they wanted from their ugly win over the Spurs: They all but secured home-court advantage, avoided fines from the league office and didn't give the Spurs a look at their regular lineup.
That's a win-win-win situation.
Norris Cole: C-
There's a remarkably strong statistical argument that Norris Cole is the worst player in the entire NBA; no one who has logged as many minutes as Cole has a lower PER than his 7.49 this season (ESPN.com, subscription required).
To be fair, Miami's young point guard has been playing more efficiently of late. His 52 percent shooting over the 10 games leading up to the Heat's tilt with the Spurs marks a distinct improvement over his full-season accuracy rate.
Against the Spurs, Cole wasn't quite as epically bad as his overall season numbers suggest. But he didn't exactly play well enough to give the entirely mediocre Mario Chalmers any reason to worry about his job security.
Cole had a couple of solid drives into the lane, but his limitations as a shooter—he hits 42 percent from the field and 33 percent from long range—assured his field-goal percentage remained typically inefficient.
Finishing with 13 points and four assists on 4-of-12 shooting, Cole didn't hurt Miami's effort. As sad as it sounds, that's actually a positive step for the second-year guard.
Mike Miller: B+
Mike Miller is looking a little different lately:
Mike Miller told me before the game that he's growing his hair back out because he feels as good physically as he did back in the ol' days.— Joseph Goodman (@JoeGoodmanJr) March 31, 2013
Miller may be starting to look more like his old self, but he certainly doesn't move around the court like the dynamic wing shooter that he once was.
Still, his basketball brains and outside stroke remain intact. The team leader with five assists and four made three-point shots, Miller provided a pretty nice fill-in for the sidelined Wade.
On the night, Miller complemented his passing game with three rebounds and 12 points. But it was telling that despite his insertion into the starting lineup, the worn-out Miller wasn't on the floor down the stretch.
He can say he feels good all he wants, but it's pretty clear that his broken-down body doesn't allow him to log anything approaching heavy minutes.
Overall, Miller turned in a solid 24 minutes.
Rashard Lewis: F
Let's see, Rashard Lewis played 30 minutes, shot just 3-of-11 from the field, missed five out of his six three-point attempts and couldn't stay within sniffing distance of Kawhi Leonard or Stephen Jackson on defense.
Spurs have been awful fortunate Rashard Lewis actually retired in three years ago.— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) April 1, 2013
In short, it wasn't a great night for Lewis.
But hey, he somehow managed to block four shots. So there's that.
Lewis is strictly a limited role player at this stage of his career, and the emphasis is on limited.
Udonis Haslem: B-
Udonis Haslem hasn't done much from a statistical standpoint this season. His 3.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game are both career lows by a healthy margin.
But Miami's veteran big man brings a a gritty toughness that the Heat sometimes need when facing adversity. With a roster hobbled by the absences of three starters, it was safe to say the Heat were up against a difficult situation.
Which is why it shouldn't be surprising that Haslem turned in one of his best performances of the past few weeks.
On the night, the Heat power forward finished with eight points and seven rebounds in 21 minutes.
Sure, Duncan got just about anything he wanted in the paint. And yes, Kawhi Leonard crammed in a highlight dunk right on top of Haslem's head. But thanks to some excellent hustle in the lane and good work on the glass, the Heat got what they needed from their aging forward.
Everybody's energy is up. Cole. Haslem. Miller.— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) March 31, 2013
Don't be mistaken, Haslem's somewhat intangible contributions are nowhere near as valuable as the more statistically measurable ones his big-name teammates provide when they're in the lineup.
But effort and attitude have to count for something.
Chris Bosh: A+
Bosh started the game by scoring 10 of the Heat's first 12 points, knocking down a pair of threes and looking exceptionally comfortable as a perimeter shooter. And things ended even better than they started for Bosh.
The hot shooting shouldn't be a surprise, as Bosh has turned himself into one of the NBA's very best mid-range snipers. Among players logging at least 25 minutes per game this season, nobody has a higher field-goal percentage from 16 to 23 feet than Bosh, who knocks down 52 percent of his looks from that range.
What was most impressive about his work against the Spurs, though, was Bosh's unusual energy level.
Man is Chris Bosh active. Good for him. And more please.— Ira Winderman (@IraHeatBeat) April 1, 2013
With the team's top guns holstered, Bosh's aggression and leadership were critical to Miami's surprising triumph.
And in a much more literal sense, his game-winning three was pretty important, too.
Bosh's night was phenomenal, as he finished with 23 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two blocks on a highly efficient 9-of-15 effort from the floor.
Sometimes, it's easy to forget that he's taking a backseat to a pair of the NBA's elite stars. But when Bosh balls like he did against the Spurs, everyone gets a reminder that he's still capable of being a No. 1 option.
Ray Allen: B-
With few offensive options in the rotation, Ray Allen had to be excited about the number of looks he knew he'd be getting against the Spurs.
Sure enough, the aging shooting guard came in off the bench and hoisted up more shots than he has in well over a month. Hell, he even got to the rack:
Ray Allen with the strong move. Ray Allen?— Ira Winderman (@IraHeatBeat) April 1, 2013
Defense is still a massive issue for Allen, and the savvy Spurs went at him whenever he touched the floor. As a result of his inability to slow down San Antonio's athletic wing duo of Leonard and Green, no one on the Heat had a lower plus-minus figure than Allen's minus-18.
Scoring was a big area of need for the shorthanded Heat, so Allen's 14 points off the bench were valuable. But he gave back far too much on defense to earn anything more than a slightly above-average mark.
Oh, and he gets a tiny uptick in his final grade because of the pass that led to Bosh's game-winning shot. We give credit when it's due around here.
Bench Grade: B+
Because three starters were missing from the starting lineup, everyone on Miami's bench saw their roles change a bit against San Antonio.
And I mean everyone:
James Jones -- yes, for real -- is at the scorer's table.
— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) April 1, 2013
Jones went scoreless in just five minutes, but it's still somewhat remarkable that he saw some playing time. After all, he hadn't logged that much time on the court since he played seven minutes against the L.A. Clippers on Feb. 8.
Among the more meaningful contributors, Shane Battier provided his typical smarts and outside shooting. The small forward put up six points, collected three steals and made a key defensive play when he chased down a streaking Green with under three minutes left in the game. His strip prevented a layup, keeping the Heat in the game down the stretch.
In addition, Chris Andersen threw his body around like he usually does, collecting four points, five rebounds and a block in 18 minutes.
The overall numbers of the bench players (excluding Allen) don't look like much. But Battier and Andersen provided great hustle and a few big individual plays.