Dear LeBron James,
Thank you oh so very much.
Every single one of your Miami Heat teammates.
If James' teammates have their wits about them, that's a real letter their postseason savior will find in his locker soon.
While the Heat are up 3-1 on the Brooklyn Nets, this series could be knotted up at two games apiece heading back to Miami—maybe even worse than that if it wasn't for James.
Time after time, like clockwork, James has been making the Heat look better than they actually are. He's averaging 30.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.9 steals on a mind-boggling 57.7 percent shooting through his first eight playoff games. Only one other player in NBA history has sustained benchmarks of 30/6/4/1.5/55 through at least eight playoff contests. His name is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
The Heat are still favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference. Successfully defending their last two championships remains a distinct possibility.
Make no mistake, though, they're not perfect. James' dominance merely helps mask flaws that, for any other team, could spell playoff doom.
The Heat's offense hasn't been bad against the Nets.
It's been weird.
Not weird in a good way, or even a catastrophically bad way. Weird in a totally unsettling, this-won't-work-long-term way.
Only one other Heat player aside from James has eclipsed the 20-point plateau in this series. Somewhat predictably, Wade is the other player. He tallied 20 points in Game 3. That's it. And the Heat lost.
More puzzling still, the Big Three haven't all eclipsed 15 points on the same night. True story. Weird story.
Is this an indictment on Wade and Bosh?
Both Wade and Bosh have had their moments. But they've been terribly inconsistent as well.
In Game 4, Wade was a unique blend of good, mystifying and atrocious. He notched 15 points and three assists on 53.8 percent shooting, but he had more turnovers (two) than points (one) during the fourth quarter. His decision-making down the stretch was, shall we say, odd.
On the rare occasions Wade did attack, he didn't know what he was doing or where he was going. He held the ball for too long before either 1) making errant passes or 2) relying on one of his teammates to bail him out.
Bosh has been unequivocally baffling—that's a thing, right?—during this series. He hasn't been horrible. He's been horribly passive. And yet, clutch.
The Boshtritch has yet to attempt more than 13 shots in a single playoff game this year. In three of the four contests against Brooklyn, he's hoisted up fewer than 12.
Game 4 was the quintessential 2014 Bosh playoff game. He attempted just nine shots, and hit five. Four of those attempts came during the fourth quarter, all from three. He made two of them, one of which was an uber-clutch dagger that had the world singing the praises of Big Shot Bosh.
Yet taking nine shots in a tightly-contested matchup shouldn't be an option for Bosh. Throwing up just five through the first three quarters is inexcusable. He needs to be more involved, more aggressive.
The Heat haven't been relying on open shots to generate their offense either. According to NBA player tracking data from this series, they've attempted 146 contested shots through four games compared to 133 open ones. They're hitting a higher percentage of their contested looks too. They've connected on 51.4 percent (75-of-146) of those compared to 45.9 percent of their open shots (61-of-133).
One has to wonder how long they can keep knocking those down. The Nets defense hasn't been spectacular, but it's been good enough most of the time. Continuing to hit over 50 percent of shots that are being hounded is a tall order, one the Heat won't necessarily be able to fill forever.
A large portion of those contested shots are being drained by James, by the way. He's 26-of-38 (68.4 percent) with a hand in his face this series. This just in: The King is astonishingly talented. Asking him to convert nearly 70 percent of his shots while being hassled, though, is unfair times infinity.
Also unfair: Forcing James to do almost everything on his own.
Fourteen of James' 43 made shots in the second round have come off assists, per NBA.com (subscription required). Two-thirds of the time, he's creating his own offense, which is fine when he's totaling 49 points like he did in Game 4. As evidenced in Game 3, when James was held to just 15 shots, however, it can also be a problem.
Point being, James needs more help. And in an ideal, completely fair world, that help would come from his two superstar sidekicks.
What's in a Rebound?
We know the Heat aren't a good rebounding team. No news here.
Since the Big Three joined forces, they've been winning despite a lack of size and presence on the glass. Chris Andersen still offers some rebounding flair, but after him, the Heat depend on Bosh and James—and to a lesser extent, Wade—to patrol the boards.
Udonis Haslem doesn't play anymore. Greg Oden is either just out of the rotation or unable to play. Or both. Birdman isn't going to play more than 15-17 minutes a night.
The Nets have won the rebounding battle as a result. Game 1 was the only time Miami grabbed more rebounds than Brooklyn.
In this series alone, the Heat have been out-rebounded 158-134. Things have been even worse on the offensive glass. Brooklyn has a 42-22 edge there.
That the Heat won Game 4 after relinquishing 14 offensive boards and 23 second-chance points speaks to James' heroics. If they have to live with James, Bosh, Wade and—in Game 4—Allen emerging as their most prominent rebounders, fine. Whatever.
But for the love of boxing out on the defensive end, keep Kevin Garnett and Andray Blatche off the offensive glass.
Reggie Evans isn't walking through that door—any door—so the relatively diminutive Heat shouldn't be this bad going up against a faction of unathletic grandpas, plus Blatche and Mirza Teletovic.
Game 4 only slightly withstanding, the Heat have not closed out on Brooklyn's shooters.
Even after the Nets connected on only five of their 22 attempts from beyond the arc Monday night, they're still shooting 40 percent from deep for the series. As Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick pointed out after Game 3, this has been a recurring problem for Miami:
Many will narrow the Heat's Saturday struggle down to the three-point defense, allowing the Nets to shoot 15-of-25 from beyond the arc. And yes, that has been a weakness at times, with Miami finishing 18th in the NBA in percentage allowed during the regular season and, on the worst nights, players sounded as they did Saturday, pointing to the team's trademark ultra-aggressive approach.
"Some of it came off our defensive schemes," James said. "Shrink the floor on their perimeter guys and close out on their shooters. A lot of the threes they made were contested, so you clap your hands and pat them on the back for the ones they made, because that's just our scheme."
If James was holding a crystal ball and peering into the future, then, yes, the Heat did a good job getting hands in faces during Game 4. But he was talking about Game 3, when they didn't do enough to hinder Brooklyn's shot attempts
Although the Nets did shoot 17-of-36 on contested shots in Game 3, they also received 36 unimpeded attempts, of which they hit 21, per NBA.com. It was the same story in Game 2. The Nets were 17-of-34 in those situations.
"Some of it was not getting out to shooters," Wade said after Game 3, via Skolnick.
Miami did a better job closing out Brooklyn's shooters in Game 4. Only 21 of the Nets' shots were uncontested. They shot 45.6 percent (26-of-57) with a hand in their face, but that's something you can live with.
The message following Game 4 was clear: Make the Nets hit those shots. Pursue shooters. Move on defense.
Don't make it any easier on Brooklyn's offense than it should be.
Prepare to shift focus.
The Heat are quite obviously flawed, but they're still the Heat, because James is still James. With the way he's playing, there's no harping on glaring faults. There's no writing them off.
There's no end to their postseason push in sight.
"This is the Miami Heat," Wade told reporters after Game 4, per The Miami Herald's Joseph Goodman. "We respond and we own up to not playing as well as we can, and I thought we did that tonight."
This is the Miami Heat, y'all. They own up to their mistakes, they flip switches for big games, for big moments and—more than anything—they win by riding James for as long and hard as they can.