Perhaps the biggest misnomer about the Miami Heat lies in what's implied by their Big Three moniker: the notion that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh levy the whole of their team’s duties and glories.
As Miami’s back-to-back titles have proved, however, nothing could be further from the truth. Save, of course, for nights like Saturday, when James and Wade were seemingly alone in fending off the foes.
The result: a 104-90 Game 3 loss to the Brooklyn Nets that halved Miami's series lead to 2-1 ahead of Monday night's Game 4 showdown.
Indeed, on this night it was the home-court victors who turned fringe contributions—the supposed scraps on a $200 million ledger—into a potential momentum-shifting template.
When all was said and done, six Brooklyn players had scored in double figures, with none tallying more than Joe Johnson’s team-high 19.
There was Andray Blatche—he of four combined points in the Nets' two previous losses—making mincemeat of Miami’s interior to the tune of 15 points and 10 rebounds, four of them on the offensive glass.
Fresh off a 20-point output in Game 2, Mirza Teletovic canned four of his seven attempts from distance en route to a 12-point, six rebound performance.
Even late-blooming Alan Anderson got into the mix, scoring eight points on 2-of-4 from deep, while finding time down the stretch to engage in a bit of acid-tongued diplomatics with Ray Allen.
That’s been the key for us all year, our depth. That helped us through the injuries throughout the year. Just the fact that when guys got healthy to be out there and play. You talk about having a guy like AK47 [Andrei Kirilenko] come off the bench, Marcus Thornton, you’re talking about guys who have been starters in this league and they’re coming off the bench playing key roles for you. Andray Blatche has been a starter in this league. We’re probably the only team that plays 10, 11 guys in the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the spell of mediocrity that has lately befallen Brooklyn’s more celebrated soldiers continued mostly apace, lowlighted by another forgettable outing from point guard Deron Williams (nine points on just 3-of-11 shooting, although he did cash 11 dimes, nine of which led to three-pointers).
And while Johnson (19 points and six assists), Pierce (14 points on 5-of-10 shooting) and Kevin Garnett (10 points and seven boards) each stepped up to varyingly acceptable degrees, none dished the kind of heroics capable of making Miami nervous.
If anything, it seems nervousness has become more the domain of Jason Kidd, whose curious Game 1 decision to pull his starters with a full quarter left and the Nets only down 13 didn't exactly go over well.
If The Brooklyn Game’s curated tweets are any indication, Nets fans by and large saw in Kidd’s “no mas” move less a steadfast confidence in Brooklyn’s bench than the panic pangs of a playoff-coaching newbie.
The Nets might well be able to ride their bench to a series-extending win or two. But without more consistent contributions from their starters—Williams, Garnett and Pierce in particular—their only solace will soon lie in having made Miami burn a few more pre-conference finals calories.
While the pressure being put upon Pierce and Garnett might seem to outstrip a pair of players with 74 years of life between them, neither did Brooklyn mortgage its future for forgettable stat lines and second-round exits.
As Bleacher Report’s Josh Martin astutely notes, the Nets brought Pierce and Garnett aboard for precisely this scenario: an inevitable meeting with the hated Heat.
Garnett and Pierce were both pivotal to Brooklyn's success against Miami in 2013-14. Garnett turned in a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds) to go along with three assists and a block in nudging the Nets to a double-overtime win in January. Pierce torched the Heat for 21.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists while shooting 55.3 percent from the field and 45 percent from three.
Following a disastrous 10-21 start to the season, the Nets were able to regroup thanks to a combination of improved chemistry and coaching flexibility—the latter’s principal exemplar, of course, being Brooklyn’s move to more small-ball-oriented lineups following the season-ending injury to All-Star center Brook Lopez.
In the end, it was versatility, not veteran clout, which proved the biggest boon to Brooklyn’s journey from potential payroll disaster to genuine playoff contender.
Down 2-1 and with neither team having broken series serve, the Nets are far from cooked, of course. Win one more on their home floor, the Nets would put themselves in precisely the position they want: even with the champs, a pivotal Game 5, a Hall of Fame display's worth of names in their corner.
Should Game 4 find Brooklyn banking once again on its bench, however, it seems starry-eyed to assume Miami won't find a way—as champions always do, it seems—to seize on the weakness.
Together, the voices brought to bear by Brooklyn’s starting five make for a symphony of seasoned smarts and savvy. But so long as their opus remains that of simple steady beats, the soaring solos of Miami’s maestros will eventually ring supreme.