The Miami Heat ousted the Brooklyn Nets in the second round of the 2014 NBA playoffs on Wednesday at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, winning 96-94 in Game 5 to close out their resilient Eastern Conference rival.
A gritty effort allowed Brooklyn to hang tough, as it endured several strong runs and remained in position to win for much of this game in a hostile environment.
However, the Heat bounced back from a cold-shooting start, using a massive edge at the charity stripe and a balanced effort to claw their way to victory. ESPN Stats & Info pointed out how Miami has remained perfect when getting greatness from its "Big Three."
Heat are 13-0 in playoffs when the Big 3 all play and combine for 70 or more points. They combined for 73 in win tonight— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 15, 2014
All-Star Joe Johnson had a hot hand in the second half, scoring 24 of his game-high 34 points to drive the Nets effort. ESPN's Ryan Ruocco, along with many others, chimed in with praise for Johnson's epic performance with Brooklyn's season on the line:
Joe Johnson is demanding appreciation.— Ryan Ruocco (@RyanRuocco) May 15, 2014
Unfortunately for Johnson, his last two misses came on a block from LeBron James and a missed three-pointer that set the stage for Ray Allen's huge triple to help send the Heat to the Eastern Conference Finals. Johnson was hounded by Allen and stripped by James on the game's final possession to secure the triumph:
The Truth prevailed early on, though, as Paul Pierce engaged in an intriguing scoring duel with Heat superstar Dwyane Wade. Pierce scored 19 points and surpassed a career milestone in the process, according to the Nets' official Twitter account:
Paul Pierce is the 3rd active player w/ at least 25,000 regular season points & at least 3,000 playoff points (Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki)— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) May 15, 2014
ESPN's Numbers Never Lie noted how Wade was far more aggressive than he had been almost all season, setting the tone with a first-half offensive eruption to keep Miami in it:
Dwyane Wade's 20-point outburst in first half matches the most he's scored in a half ALL SEASON. He also did it vs Cavs in December.— Numbers Never Lie (@ESPN_Numbers) May 15, 2014
Wade's sudden dominant form was critical, since LeBron James missed five of his seven field-goal attempts in the first half, and no one else from the Heat scored in double figures. As the game wore on, James imposed his will and wound up edging Wade's 28 points to lead Miami, netting 29 to go with nine rebounds and five assists.
Brooklyn separated itself after a tight first quarter, taking a seven-point lead into the locker room thanks to an 8-0 run to close the second stanza. ESPN Stats & Info noted how putrid the Heat were from downtown on their home court:
The Heat were 1 for 16(!) from 3-point range in the 1st half against the Nets pic.twitter.com/p5miYzQxO7— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 15, 2014
However, the two-time defending NBA champions eventually got going from the perimeter and made a run. The Nets again stayed strong and had momentum in the final minutes of the third quarter.
Nets are on a 12-2 run and have opened up a 10-point lead over the Heat with 5:45 left in the 3rd quarter. #BKNvsMIA— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) May 15, 2014
Brooklyn led by nine at the start of the fourth and withstood an immediate Miami rally that included consecutive three-pointers from Rashard Lewis. Heat Radio Network announcer Mike Inglis felt that Brooklyn's methodical pace was going to win out:
The plodding style was something Nets coach Jason Kidd referenced before Game 5.
"It's Game 5. We understand what's at stake," Kidd said, per The Associated Press, via ESPN New York. "It's Game 7 for us from here on out. If we lose, it's over. If we win, we fight another day. We can only focus on Game 5 and one quarter at a time."
But it wasn't meant to be for the Nets, who built a roster geared toward winning now that ultimately didn't pan out.
The third component of Miami's marquee trio, Chris Bosh, sank four three-pointers en route to 16 points, galvanizing the Heat's charge. All three of Miami's stars set the stage for Allen, the clutch hero of last year's NBA Finals, as he drained the late-game dagger.
ESPN lauded Allen's propensity for coming through at the most pivotal times:
RAY ALLEN IS THE DEFINITION OF CLUTCH.— ESPN (@espn) May 15, 2014
Given how well Pierce played toward the beginning, Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix was baffled that he didn't get touches down the stretch of the past two contests:
In the last two games, on two of the Nets biggest possessions in the fourth quarter, Paul Pierce has never touched the ball. Incredible.— Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixSI) May 15, 2014
How far will the Heat go in the NBA playoffs?
Johnson nailed a three to cut it to 95-94 after two Allen free throws, while James made just one of his two subsequent freebie attempts. That paved the way for the drama fans have come to expect in these thrilling playoffs.
Up next for Miami is a battle in the conference finals against either the Indiana Pacers or Washington Wizards. Indiana may be the No. 1 seed in the East, yet it has looked shaky and inconsistent since the last quarter of the regular season, while Washington's backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal is getting its first taste of playoff basketball.
Right now, all signs point to the Miami Heat moving on and having a chance at a three-peat.
As for the Nets, Kidd has to be pleased with how his squad came together after an arduous start to the 2013-14 campaign. Veteran big man Kevin Garnett doesn't have much left in the tank, but it will be interesting to see how injured center Brook Lopez fits into Brooklyn's puzzle in the future. An injection of youth and superior depth will be necessary for the Nets to truly contend for the Larry O'Brien Trophy.