The Miami Heat have been lambasted for their lack of depth all season long. After Udonis Haslem's 13-point, five-rebound effort in the Heat's 85-75 victory over the Chicago Bulls in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals last night, that may no longer be a problem.
The Heat have suffered all year from not having a spark off their bench. They haven't had that one player that comes from the second unit and ignites the offense. Haslem did just that on Wednesday night. His energy off the bench sparked a big Miami run, and helped the Heat even the series at one game apiece.
It was obvious that the Bulls were taken by surprise by Haslem's effort. They came into the series without preparing for Haslem as a factor. Before last night's game, he had only played seven minutes of garbage time, and didn't appear he would make an impact on the team this year.
After the Bulls bullied the Heat in Game 1 with their physicality, toughness and relentless pursuit on the glass, Miami knew they needed a change. Haslem provided the Heat what they had lacked in Game 1 and for a lot of the year: A hard-nosed, physical big man that can grab boards, set screens and give help defense when it was needed.
Essentially, Haslem epitomized the Heat's shortcomings in Game 1 and filled that void en route to a Miami victory that stole home-court advantage for them.
So That Begs the Question: Is Udonis Haslem the Miami Heat's X-Factor?
Without little hesitation, Haslem has become the Heat's X-factor after his Game 2 heroics.
A huge part of the reason the Heat went a combined 1-6 against the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls in the regular season was due to the lack of an effective physical, defensive-minded big man in the paint.
The Bulls and Celtics bullied the Heat all season long because they were bigger and stronger and used their advantage in the middle to beat the Heat. Miami's lone win against Boston in the regular season came when the Celtics had already traded center Kendrick Perkins to the Thunder.
Numerous analysts believe that the Celtics-Heat second round series would have gone much different if Perkins still had been a member of the team.
It's evident that both the Celtics (before the Perkins deal) and the Bulls exposed the Heat's weaknesses throughout the season. Chris Bosh is not a traditional big man that roams the paint and makes his living on the inside. He is a finesse player that relies on jump shooting to get most of his points.
As for the rest of Miami's frontcourt, they don't stack up to the likes of Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Kevin Garnett, etc.
Jamaal Magloire, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Erick Dampier are too old and too slow to make much of an impact. Joel Anthony has been a defensive genius, but his offensive game is so limited that team's can get away with double teaming LeBron James or Dwyane Wade without having too worry about Anthony scoring.
So, that leaves Haslem as Miami's only reliable frontcourt player in the sense of traditional big man aspects. He gets the rebounds, he boxes out and he plays stellar defense. Basically, he does all the "dirty work."
Haslem's Game 2 Effort Proves He's the X-Factor
It wasn't just the 13 points, five rebounds or two assists that made Haslem's performance so crucial to Miami's Game 2 win. It was the stuff that's not seen on the stat sheet.
"It was certainly inspirational, the minutes he gave us,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And that’s who he’s been his entire career. He’s always led us in charges taken, hits, dives on the floor... He’s smart. He’s tough. He does all the little intangibles."
It's all those things that Coach Spoelstra listed that he did in Game 2. He boxed out Taj Gibson to get a big offensive rebound in the third quarter. He dove for a loose ball that kept the play alive for Miami on the offensive end. He set multiple screens to free up Wade and James. He threw his body in the way of Bulls players left and right in attempts to take a charge.
And if your a person that likes to look at stats, then take a look at this. In the first half before Haslem entered the game, the Bulls had nine offensive rebounds. Once Haslem was inserted into the contest, the Bulls didn't have an offensive board for the remainder of the half.
In the third quarter, the Miami-native went a perfect 4-of-4 from the field and 3-of-3 from the charity stripe. His third-quarter play helped spark a 10-0 Miami run that gave them an 11-point cushion (although they ended up blowing that lead in the fourth).
Haslem is simply giving the Heat all the things they have been missing against bigger teams like the Bulls. He is going to be instrumental during the rest of the Heat's playoff run, and he will key a lot of the team's success from here on out.
Udonis Haslem, the Heat's co-captain and "absolute championship warrior," does all the intangibles that make him Miami's X-factor in the playoffs, and possibly the key to the franchise's second championship.