Are Miami Heat Poised for a Repeat of 2012 NBA Finals, Ready to Steamroll Spurs?
Come playoff time, there's always an early slip-up, always a hole out of which to climb, and always an insufferable string of the same tired questions from the Ned Ryersons who cover the action.
Such was the case after Game 1 of the 2013 NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs. LeBron too often failed to find easy shots inside against Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs' collapsing defense, and instead settled for mid-range jumpers and bail-out passes as a result.
Wade and Bosh produced a relatively potent 30 points, but shot just 13-of-31 to do so in the series opener. Wade, in particular, was prone to lapses on the defensive end, while the Heat as a whole struggled to contain Tony Parker, most notably on the defining possession of the game.
Hence, the slip-up, the hole, and the questions. Oh, the questions.
Luckily for the Heat, being trapped in such a cycle has its perks...like recovering from the slip-up, climbing out of the whole, putting those annoying questions to bed, and taking the series anyway.
Miami did plenty to put itself back on that familiar track with a 103-84 win in Game 2. They spat hot fire from beyond the arc (10-of-19 from three), pestered Tony Parker (5-of-14 from the field, five turnovers) and Tim Duncan (a Finals-career-worst 3-of-13 from the floor), scored 19 points off 17 San Antonio turnovers, and added 13 on the fast break.
In other words, it was quintessential Miami Heat basketball—even more so during a game-clinching 33-5 stretch between the end of the third quarter and the first few minutes of the fourth. LeBron hit 5-of-5 from the floor after starting just 2-of-12, doled out dimes to Miami's fleet of three-point shooters, and came up with massive plays on the defensive end, including a defining play of his own: a demonstrative block of Tiago Splitter.
All told, it took less than nine minutes for Miami to regain some semblance of control in this series and persist along a familiar path. The Heat still haven't lost consecutive games since January and are 5-0 after losses in these playoffs, winning those games by an average of 21 points.
Of greater importance, this victory sets up the Heat to keep alive another, more impressive streak. Four times since the start of the Big Three Era has Miami gone down 0-1 in a postseason series. In each of the previous three instances, the Heat went on to win four straight to close out the proceedings.
That includes the 2012 NBA Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Miami dropped Game 1 in OKC, 104-95, before rattling off four in a row and, along the way, became just the third team in league history to sweep the middle three games of a 2-3-2 series.
Granted, replicating that accomplishment will be far more treacherous now than before. Last year, the Heat were able to secure a road split before returning home to handle the young Thunder. This time around, Miami will have to take its act on the road to San Antonio against a savvy, experienced squad whose core has won championships before.
Also, no team has ever swept through three road games in the Finals since the switch to the 2-3-2 format in the mid-'80s...so there's that.
Perhaps that'll be a good thing, though. These Heat seem to feed off intense pressure, even (especially?) when it's largely self-inflicted. They appeared to do so Sunday night against the Spurs and will still be faced with the need to win at least once in the Alamo City to sustain their shot at a title defense.
If the second half of Game 2 is any indication, Miami might already be on a better pace to do so. Games 2 through 4 of the 2012 Finals were decided by a total of 16 points—three fewer than the margin of victory for Miami in its last outing against San Antonio.
To be sure, the Heat can't expect to slap the Spurs silly back in Texas. San Antonio has lost just once on its home court in these playoffs and strung together a record of 35-6 at the AT&T Center during the regular season.
But not once during all those games did the Spurs take on a team as talented, as tenacious and as title-focused as these Heat. Miami accounted for one of San Antonio's home losses during the regular season—an 88-86 affair that LeBron, Wade, and Mario Chalmers watched from the sideline on March 31.
Barring some unforeseen and wholly unfortunate turn of events, that won't be the case in the days to come. The Heat will have all their players in tow, ready to fire on all cylinders once again.
How will this series finish up?
If there's anything we've learned about the Heat since 2010—and, more specifically, since last year's playoffs—it's that they're akin to a high-end sports car in nearly every way, both good and bad. As a whole, they're flashy, marked by big names and an exciting style of play. They play with a frenetic energy and prefer to ramp up the pace whenever possible.
However, like any piece of exotic machinery, Miami is delicate in its design, with flaws that, at times, are all too exposed to inconsiderate forces. The Heat are great at forcing turnovers by trapping on the ball, particularly on pick-and-rolls, though that strategy leaves them vulnerable to 4-on-3 situations in the half court if the opposition makes the right pass.
Their small-ball schematics are great for spreading the floor on offense, but render them more susceptible on the interior. When Miami's sharpshooters aren't hitting from the outside, the other team's defense is free to shrink into the middle and discourage LeBron and Wade from driving the lane.
For everything to work, the Heat, like their vehicular counterparts, have to be finely and carefully tuned and unleashed under the right circumstances. You wouldn't want to rev up a Ferrari on a bumpy road, lest you rip up the underside of the car, or through a bustling metropolis, lest you incur the wrath of local law enforcement.
Likewise, the Heat can't simply hit top speed whenever they please. They need time to warm up, to get the engine going. They need to force turnovers, knock down shots and execute on both ends of the floor as a means of stoking those powerful flames.
And when that burst of energy comes, when that engine is humming at peak efficiency, there's not much anyone can do other than dive out of the way to avoid getting clipped.
That's just who these Heat are. They're boom-or-bust, from the microwave construction of their championship roster all the way down to the X's and O's on Erik Spoelstra's dry erase board. They're drama personified...and then some.
That's been the case for nearly three years now. So far, it's worked out quite well for the Heat. Three trips to the NBA Finals, with one title down and three more wins until another, ain't a bad haul, to say the least.
At this point, there's no point in expecting or even hoping for the Heat to change. There's no use fighting an often frustrating trend that throws onlookers into a frenzy without fail. This is who the Heat are: a great team that, like coal morphing into diamonds, requires time and pressure to shine.
The only way to escape the deja vu is to do what Phil Connors did in Groundhog Day (EARLY 1990's SPOILER ALERT!)—to embrace the repetition, to use that familiarity to their advantage, to understand their strengths and weaknesses, and to organize their efforts accordingly to fashion the best possible outcome.
And, with three more wins, to bring another banner back to South Beach.
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