The Miami Heat: Deeper Than Advertised, 5 Reasons They Are in NBA Finals 2011
The remainder of the team has not just been neglected, they've been actively cited by many experts as the reason Miami couldn't win a title. We all heard—especially after Game 1—that the Chicago Bulls were "too deep" for the Heat, had too much chemistry as a team and that their bench play would be the difference in the series. Well, that didn't turn out to be the case.
In the NBA Finals 2011, Miami face an even deeper team in the Mavericks, possibly even the deepest in the league. Yet with Bosh and James having, at best, merely solid performances, the Heat have still managed to take a 2-1 lead.
All season Miami has been called shallow. Yet they put some of the most consistent play together in the regular season. Sure, the Heat bench averaged less points per game than most other teams in the league. But was that because the team is shallow or because it knows when to defer to their three premier playmakers?
Now, in the postseason, we hear Miami's lack of depth is masked by the tendency of coaches to shrink their rotations down to around eight or nine key players. Is that the only reason the Heat have done well in the Playoffs, or are they a deeper team than we have given them credit for?
Here are five reasons why the latter might be the case.
5. James Jones
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We haven't seen much of James Jones since the Eastern Conference semifinals. In fact, Jones played his last minutes in a Heat Uniform way back in Game 1 of the Conference Finals against Chicago May 15. He had just 4 points in 24 minutes on 50 percent shooting, but hit his only three-point attempt and made his only free throw.
Prior to that, however, Jones played his role well in both the 76ers and Boston series, averaging 7.4 points and shooting 44.5 percent from three-point land. He really came up big in the Heat's 99-90 Game 1 win over the Celtics, when he had 25 points in just 28 minutes on 5-7 three-point shooting and a perfect 10-10 from the charity stripe.
Since arriving at Miami for the 08-09 season, nobody has expected Jones to do much of anything except hit the occasional three. This season his duties were expected to shrink further, with the arrival of Lebron James and Mike Miller, both of whom play Jones's small forward position.
Mike Miller's thumb troubles put a dampener on those plans, and Jones's duties actually increased this season. From 15.8 and 14.0 minutes per game in his first two seasons with the Heat, Jones averaged 19.1 minutes a game as the Heat's backup small forward for the majority of the season. He stepped up to the call, increasing his scoring from 4.1 points per game last season to 7.4 this time around. Nobody would consider that level of scoring exceptional, but along with the Heat's other three-point shooting role-players (Mario Chalmers, Mike Bibby, and Mike Miller) his contribution has helped Miami space the floor and consistently find open men when James, Wade, or Bosh are double-teamed.
4. Mike Miller
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Along with Udonis Haslem, Mike Miller is another player whom the Heat were counting on this season to form part of a solid second-unit that could add depth and provide backup scoring and rebounding to help out the Big Three in close games.
The story goes that Miami had to unload Michael Beasley, the second pick in the 2008 Draft to make cap space for the acquisition of James and Bosh. Beasley went on to have a breakout season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, averaging almost 20 points per game. Say what you want about Mike Miller and Beasley's salary being almost identical. Without knowing more about the exact details of the balance sheet, it's possible Miami wanted to move Beasley simply because of the off the court troubles he had in the 2009-'10 season.
With Miller missing half the season due to thumb injuries, and not shooting well in the games he did play, there are some Miami fans who missed the 15 or so points Beasley could have added off the bench filling in for James or Bosh.
All of this is speculation, of course. Nobody could have known in advance that Miller would injure his thumb, and then when finally recovered injure the other.
What we do know is that in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals Miller picked a good time to show the world why the Heat signed him. In the second half, when it counts, Miller came up trumps. Over the course of the game he landed two big threes, and hit all three of his two-point jumpers. He was also no slouch on the boards, grabbing nine.
In fact, Miller is an underrated presence on the defensive end. Averaging just 16.8 minutes in the Chicago series, he still managed 5 rebounds per game. Miller's Game 4 performance against the Bulls is even more impressive considering the personal issues he is facing. His third child Jaelyn was born during the Bulls series with heart complications.
3. Udonis Haslem
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Since joining the Heat as rookies in the 03-04 season, Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem have become the heart of the team.
We all knew Wade would develop into a superstar, at least after his stellar performance in the 2003-04 playoffs, hitting the winning shot in Game 1 against the New Orleans Hornets. But the undrafted Haslem had no business becoming as important to the Heat as he has.
Playing with Mike Miller at the University of Florida, Haslem was an important part of coach Billy Donovan's mission to bring the Gators into contention for NCAA titles. In fact Haslem played in the Championship game in the 2000 season, when the Gators lost to Michigan State.
After ranking third in Florida's history for points scored at 1,782, and 10th in rebounding with 831, Haslem seemed destined to place well in the draft. Yet the 6-foot-8 and now 235-pound Haslem put on so much weight after his senior season that he tipped the scales at over 300lb. He tried out for the Atlanta Hawks, but was cut during the preseason.
It looked like the dream of an NBA career might be over, as he went to play pro ball in France for a year. Haslem had a great season and lost all that weight, so the Miami Heat gave him a chance as an undrafted rookie in 2003.
Haslem hasn't since missed a step, amassing seven seasons of consistent play, good for 10 points and around 8 rebounds per game. Early this season, however, he injured his foot and missed 69 games. Many analysts thought Haslem would miss the entirety of the postseason too, but he managed to make a, somewhat brief, return in Game 4 against the Celtics on May 9, where he played just three minutes, missed his only shot, committed two fouls and a turnover.
He missed Game 5 against the Celtics, and played just four minutes in Game 1 against the Bulls, where his only statistic was a missed field goal. With the Heat down 0-1 after an embarrassing 21-point loss, Haslem chose the right time to hold a comeback party when he scored 13 points on 5-10 shooting, to go along with 3-3 from the charity stripe. This was a key performance that helped Miami win Game 2 and change the course of the series against the Bulls.
Since then Haslem has been off-and-on, but his performance in that game alone was more than the Heat could have asked for from an injury-plagued season, and without Haslem's performance the Heat might not even have made it to these NBA Finals, where he is averaging 5 points and around 5 boards a game.
2. Mario Chalmers
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Mario Chalmers can shoot the ball.
Drafted in 2008 by the Minnesota Timberwolves, then sent to the Heat where he has now played all of his three seasons in the league, Chalmers in all truth was never expected to fill the No. 1 point guard position for any length of time.
Things change, however, and with the Heat spending almost all its free cap space on re-signing Wade and acquiring James, Bosh and Miller, Chalmers found himself sharing the entirety of the Heat's point guard duties with Carlos Arroyo and now Mike Bibby.
All things considered, Chalmers has clearly outplayed both. It took Erik Spoelstra a while, but he finally saw the light and withdrew Zydrunas Ilgauskas from the starting lineup midway through the playoffs—replacing him with Joel Anthony—probably after someone pointed out Big Z had the worst +/- of any player in the postseason, while Anthony had the best.
That was a smart move by Spoelstra, as the Heat have been getting off to much better starts, but it is a mystery to many observers why he hasn't done the same thing at the point guard spot and replaced the struggling Bibby with Chalmers, who is a much better defender, is currently shooting far better and is clearly the superior athlete.
Nevertheless, Chalmers has come on strong when it counts at the tail-end of the post-season.
After starting all 82 games of his rookie season, Chalmers has since ceded those duties to Carlos Arroyo and now Mike Bibby.
Starting 22 games in 2009-10 and 28 games this past season, he has seen his scoring drop from 10 to 7.1 points per game, and now 6.4 for the 10-11 regular season. Likewise, his minutes per game have dropped from 32.0 in his rookie season to 22.6.
Nevertheless, in key games throughout these playoffs Chalmers has come up with the goods. He hit 6-12 three-pointers in Game 5 against Philadelphia to help close out the series. In Game 3 against the Celtics he put up 17 points, which helped stop an embarrassing loss from becoming a circus. He hit two key three-pointers in Game 4 against the Bulls, to go along with a game-high four steals.
It has been in the NBA Finals series, however, when Chalmers has truly stepped up, developing into a legitimate scoring threat that the Mavericks will have to respect every time they think about double-teaming one of the Big Three.
In Game 1 he hit 3-7 three-pointers to help the Heat go one up on Dallas, but apparently wasn't happy with that. In Game 3 he shot 4-6 from downtown to help the Heat avenge their Game 2 meltdown and go up 2-1 in a close-fought victory on Mavericks home turf.
1. Joel Anthony
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If you haven't been watching Miami play throughout the regular season and just tuned into their games during the playoffs, you might be a little perplexed to hear MVP chants every time Joel Anthony gets to the free-throw line in a home game.
You might even think it's all a bit of a joke, but you'd be completely mistaken on that count. Of course, nobody really thinks Anthony is the MVP of the league, but that doesn't mean the chants are a joke. Anthony has consistently out-hustled opponents on the defensive end of the floor, and has been the glue for a Miami team that is making its championship run on the strength of defense first, attack second.
With regular season stats of 2.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game, Anthony is never going to win a Sixth Man or Most Improved Player award, but in limited minutes he has time and again asserted himself as the Heat's main defensive presence and provided many intangibles that have helped the Heat's defense develop into possibly the league's best unit.
Take Game 3 against the Chicago Bulls on May 22 as an example. Anthony had five blocks. That was a career playoff high. In itself, five blocks is not so impressive a stat. What counts is that four of them came in the first few minutes of the first quarter, and the majority were against Carlos Boozer. Going into this matchup, the series was tied at 1-1. Many had written off Miami after 21-point blowout loss in Game 1.
As it was, Boozer scored 26 points and led all scorers for the Bulls. Without Anthony's stellar defensive effort in the first half, who knows whether the Heat would have been in a position to turn it on and put the game away with that 9-0 run in the middle of the fourth.
Game 3 of that series was definitely Chris Bosh's night, but it was arguably Anthony who had a large say in helping his teammate keep the upper hand over Boozer, in what turned out to be a case of dueling power forwards.
In Game 3 against Boston Anthony's performance was one of the only bright spots in an 81-97 loss to the Celtics. He had 12 points and 11 boards, for a rare double-double, to go along with a steal and a block, on 6-7 shooting. While never mind-blowing, Anthony's stats can seem streaky. He will often go a game or two with no points, and maybe a single block or a rebound here and there.
What stays consistent is his defensive tenacity and the intangibles he brings to the game. Even if he doesn't get a block or a rebound, he is always there to change the shot or box out an opponent. His consistent, gritty play is why Miami fans have come to love him, and why he always gets those MVP chants that—okay, I admit it—might be half-joking, but are also a sign of the utmost respect.