Good as the Miami Heat have been in these Eastern Conference Finals, you sort of wonder what might happen if they were firing on all cylinders. After a Game 5 loss to the Indiana Pacers, the Heat still maintain a 3-2 series lead—and they've done it with uneven performances from their superstars.
The Pacers survive Game 5 with a 93-90 win over the Heat! Paul George finished with 37 points and 6 steals pic.twitter.com/Z5JCNTgaTM— Bleacher Report NBA (@BR_NBA) May 29, 2014
The most recent culprit was James, whose early foul trouble limited him to just seven points and 24 minutes Wednesday night.
There will be differences of opinion when it comes to whose fault it was, but all that matters from a results perspective is that LeBron was missing in action. Even when he was on the floor, he managed to make just two of his 10 field-goal attempts.
Though Wade has arguably been the most consistent contributor thus far, he was mediocre in Game 4—a contest Miami still managed to win by a 102-90 margin thanks in large part to James and Bosh combining for 57 points.
Bosh was the one who failed to show up for the first three games.
He scored just nine points in each of the series' first three games, making a combined 12 of 33 shots in the process. Since then, he's combined for 45 in Games 4 and 5. So it seems like whatever was eating Bosh has given way to the All-Star to whom we've become accustomed.
Now all we're waiting for is complete efforts from all three—and at the same time.
Assuming Bosh remains on course, there's a good chance we see just that in Game 6. Consider the circumstances.
LeBron now has a score to settle after officiating took him out of Game 5. His seven points were the fewest he's scored in his entire playoff career.
On the decisive play of the game, James passed to the corner for a Bosh three-point attempt rather than taking the layup himself. It was probably the right basketball decision, even if it was also a deferential one.
As head coach Erik Spoelstra told media after the game, "We'll take that look."
James knows better than to play hero ball. That much should be abundantly clear by now. Nevertheless, look for him to be more aggressive in Game 6 after a contest in which he was a total non-factor.
James doesn't need to score 40 points to have a great game. He just has to be himself, attacking the basket and making things happen as a scorer and distributor alike. So long as he remains on the floor, there's a good chance that happens.
Can Wade join him?
All signs point toward him doing exactly that. He's averaging 21.2 points in the series and even dropped 27 in the Game 1 loss. For the series, Wade's making over 55 percent of his field-goal attempts. He's been rock-solid.
Though doubts persist that the 32-year-old will be able to keep it up, those doubts have increasingly flimsy footing.
The real unknown is Chris Bosh. Which iteration will show up for the remainder of the series? To some degree, this is simply what you come to expect from a player who now makes his living on the perimeter. Sometimes the shots fall. Sometimes they don't.
If they do fall in Game 6, this series will be over soon enough. CBSSports.com's Zach Harper broke down how Bosh got back into the series during Game 4:
Bosh's aggressiveness went from the outside, where he sank 3 of 5 from behind the 3-point line, to the inside where he was drawing fouls. He set up his drives and space to work inside with the jumper, and neither David West, Roy Hibbert nor Ian Mahinmi seemed to know what to take away from him. It was the type of rhythm on offense that made Miami court him in the summer of 2010, and a reminder to his critics that he's capable of putting the Heat in a highly advantageous position to win.
Bosh yielded more of the same in Game 5, though he did whiff on five of seven three-point attempts.
Even without the Big Three all doing their things in Game 5, the Heat were still pretty tough to beat. Rashard Lewis made six three-pointers, and Ray Allen scored 15 points off the bench. As Pacers head coach Frank Vogel told reporters after the game, "Their shot-making was ridiculous."
That's part of what makes the Heat so dynamic, and they know it.
Heat players had a very calm demeanor about this game. Under circumstances, had chance to win. Still feeling confident.— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) May 29, 2014
Even when the superstars aren't all doing their parts, odds are someone else is ready to step up and do his. The Heat's supporting cast is replete with shooters who are all too happy to pick up their leaders' slack.
There will of course be more to winning Game 6 than making shots. In fact, Bosh's biggest test may be on the defensive end. His 10 rebounds in Game 5 were actually the first time all series he tallied double-digit boards. For the series, Bosh is averaging just 5.6 rebounds per contest.
Beyond attacking the glass, Miami needs Bosh to keep Roy Hibbert at bay. Indiana's center is averaging 11.4 points a game this series, but he's had his moments. In Game 1, Hibbert dropped 19 points thanks to a 9-of-13 evening from the charity stripe. Bosh can't let that happen again.
James and Wade will have their hands full defensively as well.
Between the two, they'll remain tasked with stopping Paul George and Lance Stephenson on the wing. All went according to plan during the first half of Game 5, but then George had his best performance since Game 4 of the semifinals—when he scored 39 in a three-point win over the Washington Wizards.
George was resilient and determined Wednesday night. If at first you don't succeed, hopefully you're half as good as this guy. He brushed off a six-point first half and scored 21 of his 37 points in the final frame.
It certainly helped that James was saddled with five fouls during that fourth quarter.
The Pacers don't stand out as a high-octane offensive unit, but in George and Stephenson they have two individual performers who can carry the team for stretches at a time. James and Wade are often assessed by how many points they score, but we should really be paying attention to how many points they let the other guys score.
That could be the real difference-maker in Game 6.