“Small ball” hadn’t really been seen as a formidable style of play as far as winning titles goes, until Erik Spoelstra constructed his own version of “positionless basketball” around the Heat’s LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
In the Big 3’s first year together, the organization attempted to go the traditional route and win with a big man. However, with a limited budget due to James, Wade and Bosh’s contracts, Erick Dampier and Zydrunas Ilgauskas were the best options the Heat were left with.
You know the rest of the story, as the Heat would go onto lose the NBA Finals to the Dallas Mavericks in six games.
Spoelstra will tell you first that the rocky and stressful disappointment of the season was what led to the organization’s decision to go small. Not only does it aid the chemistry of the Big 3, but it also appears to fit James’ game perfectly with his move to the post.
But just a year removed from winning the title, the concreteness of Miami’s small ball solution continues to weaken.
The Chicago Bulls, though going down relatively easily in five games, bullied Miami with their bigs and undeniably made the Heat uncomfortable. Then there’s Roy Hibbert and the Indiana Pacers, who managed to push Miami to the brink before the Heat pulled it out in Game 7.
And now, the San Antonio Spurs are beating the Heat at their own game. As the series has gone on, Tony Parker and San Antonio have had more success in the paint than defensive-minded Miami would like.
It’s fair to place some of the blame on Spoelstra, as he insisted on leaving Chris Andersen, who once appeared to be the catalyst to this juggernaut, on the bench for all of the past 96 minutes of the series.
Parker thrived in the open paint in Game 5, scoring a personal series-high of 26 points.
Now, with the Heat again on the brink of elimination, we’re left wondering if small ball is really the answer for this team’s continued success.
The Spurs may lose one or two members of their Big 3 to retirement, but the Bulls and Pacers aren’t going anywhere. Both clubs will almost assuredly get better in the offseason.
Derrick Rose will be back in Chicago’s lineup next year and the Bulls can be expected to be active this summer.
Paul George and Roy Hibbert emerged as stars for Indiana, a young team with a considerable amount of experience and pain to fuel their fire down the road.
Eventually, living in the lower echelon when it comes to rebounding will catch up to any team, regardless of the talent they have on the floor. And if young centers like Hibbert continue to develop, teams like the Pacers just might be able to do more than scare the Heat in the near future.
In other words, the road back to the Finals isn't getting any easier (or smaller) for Miami.
Spoelstra may be small ball's biggest advocate, but remember who sits above Spoelstra as the Heat's general manager. Pat Riley has always been a big believer in having quality big men on his roster, and if the Heat manage to let this championship pass them by, it wouldn't come as a shock to anyone to see Riley shake up Miami's formula for success.
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