The Eastern Conference Finals are over, and they certainly didn't fail to disappoint. For Indiana Pacers fans, the ECF showed just how much potential exists in a young, talented and physical team. For Miami Heat fans, the ECF reminded them how valuable LeBron James truly is, and just how difficult it is to even get close to establishing a dynasty in the NBA these days.
With that being said, the 2013 ECF was one of the most exciting conference finals in recent memory. It also taught us a lot about the Heat.
The first thing it taught us was just how valuable LeBron is to the Heat.
LeBron's True Value to the Heat
With the Heat's season and his own legacy on the line, LeBron James faced the biggest challenge of his 10-year career.
Not only did he need to prove once again that not being clutch isn't something he's worried about, he also needed to help revitalize the spirit that his teammates—Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh—had lost in Game 6.
For a number of superstars in the league, helping teammates find their confidence and swagger would be the last thing on their agenda, but not for LeBron.
On the first two possessions for the Heat, LeBron facilitated the offense to Wade and Bosh to restore their own confidence, along with showing he still trusted them.
That's the sign of a true team player, a leader and a legendary talent who understands the importance of building chemistry rather than personal domination on the stat sheet.
While LeBron helped Wade and Bosh get involved early in the offense—with 29 combined shots from the two stars—he also dominated the game with a team-high 32 points, eight rebounds, four assists and two steals.
Leading a team to a Game 7 win with 30-plus points and keeping teammates involved isn't something many players can do. And that's why it reminded us just how valuable of a player LeBron is—no matter who he's playing with.
The Heat's Biggest Weakness is Reliance on the Big Three
The second lesson learned in the ECF was just how much the Heat rely on the Big Three, and that includes their head coach Erik Spoelstra.
For the entire series, fans, analysts and NBA experts alike were pleading with the Heat to double-team Roy Hibbert every time the ball was in the air and headed his direction.
Spoelstra and company didn't think that was a wise idea until Game 7. And the result?
A 23-point victory that reminded us all just how great of a team the Heat are when they ensure their talents are matched up appropriately with their opponents.
The fact that it took Spoelstra six games to make that adjustment doesn't mean he's a bad coach. Instead it means that he, like the rest of the Heat, rely on LeBron, Wade and Bosh just a bit too much.
When things go wrong for Miami the first thought is, "What aren't the Big Three doing that they need to be doing?" That isn't a bad question to be asking, but it's not what Spoelstra needs to be thinking, even with the talent he has on his roster.
Coaching adjustments and roster rotations—like benching Shane Battier for Mike Miller—are what Spoelstra needs to focus on. If he puts his players in a strategically solid position to win, their talent will take them the rest of the way.
We saw the importance of doing that in Game 7, but it was evident in the losses during the ECF as well.
Miami Has an On/Off Switch
A lot of analysts talk about players having an on/off switch that allows that player to be awful one night and awe-inspiring the next.
That's certainly true on an individual level, but it's rarely seen with an entire team. Well, the ECF absolutely showed us that the Heat have that on/off switch, and when they flip it "on," they are an absolute force to be reckoned with.
It's not because the Heat have so much talent across the board that they are able to turn it off and on. It's because they rely so heavily on chemistry among everyone on their depth chart.
The Heat are at their best when they are playing like a team, getting balanced production from starters and bench players alike. Can they beat you if LeBron goes off for 40 points? Absolutely. But they aren't at their best until their star players lead with balanced production on both sides of the ball.
That's the difference between the one-pont OT win in Game 1 and the 23-point win in Game 7.
The final lesson we learned about the Heat is that they are at their best when people start to doubt them.
The Heat are On a Different Level When They Are Doubted
I'm sure LeBron and Wade don't scour the internet after tough losses to see what the internet world thinks of their performances or their chances moving forward.
But I'm sure that they get a clear sense of the public's view of their play by teammates, friends, family or that beast known as social media.
While the Heat certainly don't need any "bulletin board material" to motivate them, they play with more intensity and urgency when everyone starts to doubt them and their ability to accomplish what they've set out to achieve.
That's the difference between great teams and legendary teams—the ability to take criticism and doubt and turn it into motivation to reach their full potential.
The Heat haven't always been like that, though. During the 2011 NBA Finals, doubt overwhelmed them. They let doubt become their reality.
But that's changed throughout the past two seasons. Now, doubt serves as springboard to success and a stage for displaying just how dominant they truly are.
The 2013 ECF taught us valuable lessons about the Heat. Hopefully the San Antonio Spurs were taking notes, because now it's their turn to try and get in the way of a Heat dynasty.
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