Miami Heat Confidence Meter: 9.8 (ONE MORE!)
• One Win away. That’s it. The Miami Heat on this night had the right focus defensively, but played at a different speed than the Oklahoma City Thunder did. The reason they fell down by 17 early is that the Miami Heat did not contest a lot of open shots, were slow to recognize sets, and offensively, missed shots that they normally make. Then in the span of under 4 minutes, poof..that lead was gone. It must be disheartening. This is the moment when you realize who the better team is. That much is clear now. Like Mike Wilbon of ESPN very smartly observed at halftime, “One team hopes to win, the other knows it will win.” That was the feel, as soon as that 17 point Thunder lead evaporated. How it evaporated was another story. A one/two punch of Norris Cole and James Jones made the difference, With a very intelligent floor game from the best player in the world in LeBron James.
• The anatomy of the run that erased that early 17 point deficit was born from a trust that was built from the first day that Heat President Pat Riley asked for extensive scouting on a guard from Cleveland State. The Scouting report on him was simple. A good handle, a nose for the free throw line, and a player that plays with confidence. Let me repeat that. A Player that plays with confidence. His spitfire 8 points were huge. His defense on the ball, and his work pressuring the ball, especially versus Derek Fisher was huge. His partner in crime in this run was James Jones, who contributed a three, tough rebounding, and some solid rotational defense. Playing Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole together seems to baffle the Thunder, as far as the high pick and roll, and the they seem to give up paint attacks on simple face up defense, whenever the Heat use a small lineup. That’s coaching. That the Heat stick with a gameplan, when a guy like Rajon Rondo, and on this night Russell Westbrook light you up is another story. That takes a commitment from a team to their coach’s gameplan. The gameplan obviously geared toward James Harden and an emphasis on denying the best scorer in the world the basketball. This is now twice (Rondo in the ECF’s) that the Heat cut a star player loose at the expense of others, and it works. Coaching. Guts.
• Again, Chris Bosh’s contribution doesn’t show up in a boxscore. His contribution? Ownership of the paint. He is playing bigger than the OKC bigs, and the Heat still has his face up game to abuse Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka. The Heat reserve that in their back pocket. Another thing they have in their back pocket is a consistent effort to trap Russell Westbrook. It is a successful strategy from the past that they can still employ in a pinch in Game 5. Shane Battier’s effort in ball denial was stellar and LeBron James‘ attentiveness to the OKC sets contributed to the “inactive” game that Kevin Durant played. His low rebound totals, are not an accident. “Contact” is the operative word when describing the Heat’s disposition against the League’s scoring champion. The Heat’s continued focus on James Harden is revealing itself to be a point of emphasis. Make no mistake, they came into this series with a concerted effort to snuff out the Thunder’s second unit.
• Dwyane Wade played a very good floor game and contributed scoring when needed on this night. His communication down the stretch with his team, and his floor generalship brought the Heat home. Mario Chalmers. I have touted him before as a top ten point guard, and now you see why. The guy is fearless, and his basketball IQ is growing exponentially. What a big game from RIO. His recognition of switches and his understanding of what he had to do at all-times was great. I expect talk of a Miami Heat Big 4 this upcoming season. LeBron James, while battling leg cramps, was still the best player in the business. And in my opinion, of course, will return to his ole’ self for Game 5. He will score when needed, and more importantly, he will lead. It’s closing time.
The Heat stay home for Game 5 on Thursday. Tipoff is at 9:00pm.