MIAMI — Swarm.
That's what Rashard Lewis saw, heard, felt.
"Damn near the whole defense just collapsed down on me, like three people, so I just dribbled through," the Heat forward said, after Tuesday's 88-87 loss to Brooklyn. "I don't know, I looked back, I just saw a crack of a piece of a white jersey. I didn't know who it was. Just tried to get the ball back to whoever it was."
Mason Plumlee knew all too well who it was.
"LeBron, he was just coming at me," the Nets rookie said.
LeBron James was coming for much more than that. He was coming for control of the Eastern Conference's top spot. He was coming to avoid the embarrassment of a four-game season sweep to Brooklyn. He was coming, with a one-point deficit and the buzzer bearing down, for a game-winning slam that would salvage another of the Heat's uneven evenings.
He was coming fast, with all his fury and force. Catching cleanly on the edge of the paint. Hopping forward, then landing on, and launching again off, both feet. Breezing past Marcus Thornton, brushing off the hand of Joe Johnson, sizing up his poor Plumlee prey.
"The best player in the world going against a rookie," Nets coach Jason Kidd said.
And the rookie had a reasonable idea.
"Really my initial thought was just foul him and make him earn it at the free-throw line," Plumlee said.
James rose with two hands, Plumlee with one, as the clock ticked down to three.
What happened next is subject to interpretation, depending somewhat on the angle and speed of the video and, more so, on your affiliation. At Plumlee's highest point, his right hand spread for the rejection. Two of his fingers, his ring and pinky, appear to touch a piece of the ball, with the other three touching James' right hand. James' left hand gripped the rim as the ball caromed toward the baseline, his right hand then interlocking with Plumlee's right as if consummating an agreement or deciding to dance.
James came down, screaming for a whistle as Thornton grabbed the rebound. The rest of the Nets swarmed Plumlee, all with better intentions than those who had swarmed Lewis. James and Erik Spoelstra lingered in the tunnel for several more seconds to watch the replay, a replay that only increased the anger of the stunned crowd. After all, while this wasn't the sort of call that is always made at the end of a contest, it is the sort of call that a star of James' stature typically gets.
Should it have been called here?
There'd be a better chance of getting partisan politicians to reach consensus about the Affordable Care Act. The exact same picture can inspire entirely opposite, but equally adamant, reactions.
"It was a foul from my vantage point," Spoelstra said.
"No, I didn't foul him," Plumlee said.
"It was a foul," James said. "I thought I should have been going to the line for two."
"It looked like a clean block to me," Nets guard Deron Williams said.
And on, and on, and on, and on.
But now, here's what no longer goes on: the season series between these two squads. Not after the Nets' fourth win in four tries against Miami, three by one point apiece and one in double overtime, and each with a different group of players absent for both sides.
And here's what shouldn't be swept under the rug, even if the Heat felt the officials did them dirty, not just on that last Plumlee block, but on an earlier one of Chris Bosh that could have been called a goaltend:
The Nets are a problem. But are they the biggest threat to the Heat in the East?
James scoffed at that suggestion by TNT's Craig Sager.
"Get out of here, Craig," James said. "Next question."
The next statistic, however, is rather startling.
Three of those Net wins have come against the Heat. That doesn't necessarily signal doom for Miami. Remember, the Celtics and Bulls went 6-1 against Miami during the 2010-11 regular season before losing eight of 10 to the Heat in the playoffs.
But the Nets' game plan—no fear, no fun—does appear to be mystifying Miami.
The Nets clearly are not afraid of the Heat, not with former All-Stars Paul Pierce, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson in the lineup, even when Kevin Garnett's not. And they clearly have a formula for stifling Miami's free-flowing style.
"They just match up well against us," Chris Bosh said. "The margin of error's gonna be very small, because they slow it down, and you're going to have to play their game. We like to get out and run, fast-break game. They get it, they slow it down, very, very slow. We just have to beat them at that game."
Miami was missing Dwyane Wade for a seventh straight game, 26th in all, and a second time in the four meetings with Brooklyn. So that didn't help. But, even with Wade, Miami hasn't been able to muster much in transition against the Nets, and it had only nine fast-break points Tuesday.
"If a team wants to play that way, they're gonna play that way," Bosh said.
What can the Heat do?
"Get stops," Bosh said. "Get stops. That's the most important thing. And our backside defense wasn't very good tonight. They had us lifted, every time I showed. Especially the last one, when Plumlee got a bucket at the end. I mean, we played good defense. He was just going through our low guy, like he wasn't even there. We just have to have more resistance."
That Plumlee play came with 41.1 seconds left, to put the Nets ahead, 88-85, before Bosh's dunk on a pass from James, Johnson's missed three, Ray Allen's rebound and Plumlee's block.
Depending on your perspective.
"He grabbed my right hand," James said. "I mean, he didn't do it on purpose, but he got my right hand. And, you know, the ball went off the rim and went back. You get all ball, the ball's gonna go straight down. You know, so, but I mean, what are you gonna do about it?"
Nothing until May, at the earliest.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!