There is a slippery slope atop the sports world where something as simple as one shot can catapult a player or team from falling off the cliff with the rest of the competition to climbing the mountain-top reserved for all-time greats—or at least to the next round.
LeBron James’ game-tying three-pointer over Paul Pierce in the final moments of Game 4 is one of those shots.
Miss it, and you allow the one team that has the underrated psychological edge over you to ride the momentum to a probable series-tying victory. Make it, and you steal that momentum from that team in their own house while earning an all but insurmountable 3-1 series lead.
Miss it, and the ocean waters swallow your confidence in the same manner that a lion consumes a slab of meat—forcefully and with little doubt. Make it, and you break through the tidal wave of uncertainty like a great whale hunting for dinner—forcefully and with little doubt.
James’ 10-0 personal run over the Celtics last night in Game 5 to finish the series is a direct result of his big shot in Game 4. His confidence going into last night’s series-clincher was higher than it has been in probably two years. Any player can tell you how easy the game can be when the body and mind is loose, not worried about missing, knowing the ball with gravitate to the center of the rim. Confidence.
The same can be said about the Miami Heat as a team. Lose Game 4, and you return home not having proved anything to yourselves or opponent—the big, bad Celts liking their chances of stealing one in Miami. Win Game 4, and you return home like a hunter with his prize—everyone at the table ready to feast. Any team can tell you how easy it is to play when they know they’re going to win, no matter what the opponent does to stop them. Confidence.
Boston played as close to flawless last night as you can expect a team to play, until the end. Nenad Krstic, Jeff Green and Delonte West knocking down big shots with Ray Allen completing four-point plays. Big Baby doing his best MJ impersonations. Kevin Garnett and Pierce keeping their team above water with big drives and three-pointers. Jermaine O’Neal, and one.
But James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh kept pace. And James Jones provided a boost. The Heat did what needed to be done to keep it close, knowing in the end that they would find a way to come out victorious.
To quote former Florida State linebacker Kirk Carruthers, after his Seminoles lost to the Miami Hurricanes during one of the epic games in their rivalry, “We thought we were going to win, Miami knew they were going to win,” or something to that effect. Confidence.
Like a celebrity who believes that showing up to the party on time means arriving fashionably late, James and the Heat have finally climbed aboard the ship of ‘ships. There are five other teams looking to toss them back into the sea along with the rest of the league. After this weekend there will be just three contenders who can claim their ticket to the VIP room, each riding similar waves of invincibility.
Dallas may be hanging out with the bouncers, but neither group can really be trusted. Chicago and Oklahoma City are pre-partying at home, but will soon enter the club looking to wreak havoc. As young as their leaders are, they may be too drunk when the conference finals come around.
The Heat, however, now know how good they are. The doubt that is a shadow of a gorilla-sized monkey has been dropped, and the rest of the NBA can feel it. Miami owns the club, in South Beach. The playoffs are their party.
Are the Heat the team to beat from here on out? Maybe.
At least they have a shot. No overconfidence.
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