The Miami Heat stunned the Brooklyn Nets with a 96-94 comeback victory in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals Wednesday night to capture a 4-1 series victory.
After trailing by nine points entering the fourth quarter, the Heat pieced together a 30-point frame that saw them outscore the Nets by 11. Miami capped things off with a 13-3 run over the game's final 4:30, when they finally locked in from beyond the arc.
A three-pointer from Ray Allen with a shade over 30 seconds remaining gave the Heat a two-point lead, and active hands from Allen and LeBron James helped disrupt Joe Johnson's dribble on the game's final possession, which prevented him from getting a shot off as time expired.
After a dreadful first half, the Heat responded with a barrage of threes down the stretch on an evening when Erik Spoelstra's troops shot 43.3 percent from the field and 31 percent (9-of-29) from three.
"We said the No. 1 key in this series would be great mental stability," Spoelstra said after the win, according to Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick.
James led the Heat with 29 points despite shooting 6-of-14 from the field thanks to 15-of-17 shooting from the free-throw line. As a team, the Heat shot 29-of-31 from the charity stripe, more than doubling the Nets' free-throw attempts.
Johnson led all scorers with 34 points on 15-of-23 shooting while pulling down seven rebounds, but Brooklyn's offense stalled during the game's most crucial stages. The fourth quarter was the only period during which the Nets scored fewer than 20 points.
Brooklyn shot 47.4 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from three in the loss.
Players are graded on a conventional A to F scale, with each contributor starting at a C and moving up or down based on the quality of his performance.
However, it's important to note role players and reserves are graded on a curve due to their smaller allotment of minutes.
Key Players: Miami Heat
LeBron James, Small Forward
Following his 49-point explosion, all eyes were squarely on James with the Heat in a closeout situation.
And with so much at stake, James made it clear that his team couldn't afford to slack off like the Indiana Pacers did with a chance to eliminate the Washington Wizards.
“We have to come out & play the game at a high level," James said, according to the Heat's official Twitter account. "We have to fly around & play with a lot of energy offensively & defensively.”
The key, though, figured to be LeBron's aggression on offense:
And while he wasn't scoring at his insane Game 4 clip, LeBron was active from the opening tip, scoring all seven of his first-quarter points in the paint or from the free-throw line.
Points became harder to come by as the Nets doubled, tripled and even quadrupled down on LeBron in the paint, but he still managed to remain statistically significant by scoring a team-high 29 points (6-of-14 shooting, 15-of-17 from the free-throw line) while pulling down nine rebounds, dishing out five assists and committing a team-high five turnovers.
Dwyane Wade, Shooting Guard
After James carried the load in Game 4, the Heat needed Dwyane Wade to step up and deliver an efficient offensive showing.
Specifically, Wade needed to get more aggressive after tallying zero drives when defended by Shaun Livingston on Monday, according to NBA.com.
Early on, Wade looked fresh and ready to attack, scoring the team's first six points, four of which came at the free-throw line.
The first player into double figures with 12 points in seven minutes, Wade went on to finish the first quarter with 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting.
Up to 20 points by midway through the second quarter, Wade made one thing clear: He wanted to leave his mark on this series.
Wade was unable to sustain that gaudy pace throughout the second half, and he didn't do much other than score, but a personal series-best 28 points on 10-of-18 shooting deserves praise.
Chris Bosh, Center
Shooting 50.6 percent from the field on just 10.9 field-goal attempts per game this postseason entering Game 5, Chris Bosh needed to be a more integral component of Miami's attack.
But Bosh's first-quarter minutes were anything but encouraging. As Miami's offense ran primarily through Wade and James, Bosh departed for the bench without a point or rebound in his first nine minutes.
It would have been refreshing to see Miami operate through Bosh more in the high post and in the pick-and-roll, but with Wade functioning as options one, two and three, there weren't many opportunities for the versatile big to get going in the first half.
Fortunately for Bosh, the Heat looked to set him up for clean looks coming out of halftime, which resulted in several easy buckets.
His production picked up as he obtained a license to fire away from deep, but the Heat still need to find ways to get Bosh involved early. Eleven field-goal attempts simply aren't enough.
Bosh finished with 16 points (6-of-11 shooting, 4-of-6 from three), two rebounds and a block.
Mario Chalmers, Point Guard
Considering Mario Chalmers entered Game 5 having recorded single-digit point totals in back-to-back games, it wasn't all that surprising to see him finish with two points on 0-of-5 shooting from three.
And while his determination to crash the boards (seven rebounds) and team-high seven assists salvaged his evening, Chalmers needs to find his stroke from beyond the arc by the time the Eastern Conference Finals open.
All that said, Chalmers' extra pass to Allen helped propel Miami in front of Brooklyn, which boosted his grade to the above-average realm.
Shane Battier, Power Forward
Shane Battier entered Wednesday night having scored in single digits in each of the series' first four games, so expectations were admittedly tempered.
In 14 rotational minutes, Battier failed to score and pulled down two rebounds.
It's hard to knock Battier for not producing, as he's seldom asked to fire away, but Miami could have used some of his three-point punch from the corners, especially after opening 0-of-11 from beyond the arc.
Ray Allen, Sixth Man
Let's just say Allen picked a nice time to drill his first three-pointer.
After missing his first six attempts from deep, the future Hall of Famer drilled a trey to give the Heat a two-point lead with 32 seconds remaining, which conjured up memories of another famous conversion at American Airlines Arena:
Shooting inefficiencies aside (13 points on 4-of-10 shooting, 1-of-7 from three), Allen came up with the game's decisive bucket, nailed clutch free-throws and provided timely defense to help the Heat advance.
The good news: Spoelstra went back to James Jones instead of Rashard Lewis as his first wing off the bench.
The bad news: Jones didn't have much to offer from the perimeter, scoring three points in 16 minutes.
And while Chris Andersen was energetic, as always, in 10 minutes off the bench, Miami's reserves didn't have much to offer in the way of scoring.
Aside from the six rebounds (three offensive) Andersen pulled down, five points from Lewis comprised the bulk of the second unit's contributions.
Key Players: Brooklyn Nets
Joe Johnson, Small Forward
Perhaps Brooklyn's most active offensive weapon in the first quarter, Joe Johnson's opening frame consisted of four points, three rebounds and two dimes. Johnson was selective yet aggressive when necessary, tying a team high with 10 points on 50 percent shooting in the first half.
Johnson continued to shoot with improved efficiency in tandem with Deron Williams, torching Miami to the tune of 34 points on 15-of-23 shooting (3-of-6 from three).
Proving once again why he should be considered the focal point of Brooklyn's offense, Johnson hit contested shot after contested shot en route to his marquee performance of the second round.
The output was wasted in the loss, but Johnson earned his paycheck with some miraculous shooting displays this postseason.
Paul Pierce, Power Forward
Bullied by James in Game 4, Paul Pierce needed to respond with a stronger all-around effort in Game 5.
Specifically, LeBron scored 11 points, forced Pierce into four fouls and recorded an effective field-goal percentage of 70 during their extensive matchup time on Monday.
Pierce set the tone for Brooklyn early, scoring the team's first seven points on perfect 3-of-3 shooting.
From there, Pierce would continue scoring at a steady pace and finish with a respectable 19 points on 8-of-18 shooting, and the fact that he avoided a decisive turnover with five seconds remaining helped his grade.
Deron Williams, Point Guard
For the Nets to put themselves in prime position to extend their season, they needed Williams to come out and execute on offense.
Here's all the evidence you need:
During Brooklyn's relatively hot start (6-of-8 from the field), Williams possessed the mentality necessary to meet those benchmarks.
Not only that, but a relatively productive first quarter allowed Williams to make a bit of history.
After an eight-minute stint on the bench, Williams started to impose his will from beyond the arc, knocking down more threes (two) in the first half than the Heat did as a team.
Given how successful the Nets have been when Williams has worked his way into the flow of the offense, it's a shame they weren't able to capitalize on his 17-point effort that included 3-of-7 shooting from beyond the arc.
He also totaled four rebounds and four assists in the loss and posted a team-worst plus/minus rating of minus-nine.
Kevin Garnett, Center
Kevin Garnett made more meaningful plays off the stat sheet than on it (two points, eight rebounds), but his interior defense deserves praise.
With Brooklyn continually packing the paint in an attempt to force Miami to settle for jumpers, Garnett provided a fierce defensive presence on the perimeter.
The most appropriate way to quantify Garnett's value on Wednesday is through his team-best plus/minus rating of plus-four.
Let's just hope this wasn't the last we'll see of Garnett.
Shaun Livingston, Shooting Guard
Two early fouls forced Livingston to the bench five minutes into his first shift, which stifled his ability to establish any sort of offensive rhythm.
But upon re-entering in the second quarter, Livingston continually looked to create, whether it was via the post or drawing contact in the paint.
The owner of a plus/minus rating of plus-one (one of three positive ratings among Nets starters), Livingston went on to finish with eight points, four boards and three assists.
Nothing special, but Livingston was steady.
Mirza Teletovic, Sixth Man
Mirza Teletovic didn't have any sort of three-point barrage to offer, but with Johnson dropping bomb after bomb, it wasn't the end of the world.
Held without a made three-point field goal for the second game in a row, Teletovic was overshadowed by the Nets' more established perimeter gunners.
Six points was all Teletovic had going for him, as the Yugoslavian gunner went out with a whimper.
Outside of Teletovic, Jason Kidd's reserves were a mixed bag.
Andray Blatche's most meaningful first-half contributions came in the form of personal fouls, while Marcus Thornton got off to a sluggish 1-of-4 shooting start from the field.
Blatche and Thornton wound up being afterthoughts and only played a shift apiece due to their early ineffectiveness, scoring zero and two points, respectively.
Andrei Kirilenko was really the star of the show for the second unit, posting five points and five rebounds, which should tells us all we need to know about how effective the group was as a whole.
What's Up Next?
Brooklyn's headed for the beach while Miami eagerly awaits the winner of the Eastern Conference semifinals series between the Pacers and Wizards.