Miami Heat Proving They Can't Be Stopped When It Matters Most

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 21, 2014

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With the Indiana Pacers struggling to find even a serviceable closer, the Miami Heat swiped home-court advantage behind dueling Mariano Rivera-type performances from LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

If Chris Bosh finds his shooting form, the two-time defending champs could have Trevor Hoffman as a setup man.

Miami's starting rotation has been rather forgettable, but boy did that bullpen look sharp Tuesday night. After stop-and-go spurts throughout the first 42 minutes, Miami's switch finally flipped down the closing stretch, and Indiana had no counters.

Down three with 5:33 left in regulation, the Heat went to some familiar wells to pull off a come-from-behind 87-83 win.

James ignited Miami's coffin-closing run, sandwiching a layup and a jumper around a pair of free throws to turn that three-point deficit into a three-point advantage. Wade picked up the slack from there, following a James miss in transition with a putback jam and adding another jumper on Miami's ensuing trip.

Indiana couldn't find a bucket, and even breaths proved hard to come by in Miami's game-sealing 10-0 spurt that spanned all of three minutes and 13 seconds. James and Wade expertly handled every challenge the Pacers threw their way, moving the Heat only three victories shy of their fourth consecutive NBA Finals appearance.

"I needed to do something in the fourth," James said, via Michael Marot of The Associated Press. "I did a great job in the third quarter of attacking and getting my guys some open looks. I hit [Norris] Cole for two 3s, hit CB for a 3, but I needed to make a few buckets as well to help us in the fourth quarter, and I was able to come through for us."

James makes it sound so simple. Incredibly, both he and Wade even made it look that way.

The results, though, were far from elementary. What the pair produced was nothing short of remarkable, one of those unbelievable stretches sure to fill Heat highlight reels should this franchise orchestrate the league's first successful three-peat in over a decade:

Having a hand in every point scored over a 16-minute stretch? That's absurd production, video game-type dominance:

At the same time, it's a lot closer to predictable than perplexing. When the Heat first formed this historically significant superteam, it did so with visions of this type of performance in mind.

"That's what we envisioned, having two guys that [are] able to be dynamic at the same time," Wade said, via Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today. "It doesn't happen all the time, but fourth quarters and those moments, that's where we envisioned it happening."

Wade is right. That type of perfectly balanced chemistry doesn't always surface. In fact, its very existence seems threatened during an uncharacteristically turbulent stretch in March that saw Miami drop five contests over a six-game span.

Wade was healthy during that stretch (something of a rarity this season), and the versatile 2 guard left his fingerprints all over the box score. His chances took away from James', though, forcing the longtime teammates to relearn how to thrive alongside one another.

"When [Wade] was in and out, I knew exactly what I had to do and exactly how to attack the game," James said in March, via Shandel Richardson of the Sun Sentinel. "His health has gotten better. It's going to be better for the team but it's kind of got me out rhythm as an individual."

Consider that rhythm rediscovered:

Game 2 will be remembered for those five-plus furious minutes, but the groundwork for such a comeback was laid years ago.

The Heat can appreciate the fragility of a Finals push. They know this stage; they've felt these high stakes before. It's that past experience that makes these present performances possible.

"We panicked in situations like this," Wade said of the team's first year together, via Greg Cote of the Miami Herald.

That panic button has long since been banned from South Beach. Taking its place is the insatiable desperation of a team that understands guarantees do not exist this late in the game.

"This was just about how bad do we want it," Wade said, via Cote. "It wasn't about X's and O's."

INDIANAPOLIS, IND - MAY 20: Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat during the game against the Indiana Pacers in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on May 20, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana. NOTE TO
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

That hunger paired with this type of transcendent talent is what makes Miami the championship threat that it is.

Tuesday night was a glaring example of how lethal this team can be down the stretch, but the entire postseason stat sheet paints this club as consistent contributors in the most critical situations. Miami has eased out of the gates throughout the playoffs, but its fourth-quarter play has trumped any around the league, via (media stats subscription only).

Miami's Postseason In-Game Splits
QuarterOff RtgDef RtgNet RtgRank

The Heat know exactly how much knockout power exists in their gloves. They're comfortable taking a few shots before unleashing their first haymaker.

That's what makes the magnificent seem so mundane.

That's why James can post a forgettable 10 points over the first three frames, then unleash a blistering 12-point barrage in the final period when his team needs him the most.

"(James) wasn't in a rhythm through the first 30 minutes of the game," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, via Zillgitt. "He just found a way to break free on a couple of cuts, in transition and that got him going. At this point, it's whatever it takes."

It can happen that quickly. Indiana seemed headed for a 2-0 series lead, and just like that, home-court advantage was lost.

The Pacers don't have the offensive weapons to consistently break out games with the Heat. This series figures to feature nothing but slugfests until one Eastern Conference giant is left standing.

For Indiana, there are pressing questions about who can fill the closer role. On paper, Paul George and David West would seem best built for that spot, but the pair managed only 24 points on 32 shots Tuesday night. Lance Stephenson looked like Indiana's best player in Game 2 (25 points, seven assists), but it's hard to think Indiana is ready to let "Born Ready" run the show.

Miami's challenge is different, and one that any team would welcome. The Heat aren't searching for closers, but rather, deciding which one should get the ball for the final out.

INDIANAPOLIS, IND - MAY 20: LeBron James #6 and Dwyane Wade #30 of the Miami Heat during the game against the Indiana Pacers in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on May 20, 2014 in Indianapol
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Maybe it's James, a four-time MVP winner averaging 28.8 points on 56.3 percent shooting over Miami's first 11 playoff games. Perhaps it's Wade, who's put up 26.0 points on 61.5 percent shooting over his last three outings.

Maybe it will be like Tuesday night, where Spoelstra can go the closer-by-committee route and ride a pair of hands hotter than any in Indiana's deck.

The Pacers controlled much of the contest Tuesday, but never managed to bury the Heat. Once Miami sensed victory was within reach, it pounced on the opportunity and clinched a momentum-shifting victory.

That's what great closers do—and the Heat have two of the best in the business.


Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of


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