Above Average Thoughts From An Average Guy
I feel like we’re going to read too much into Game 2. I feel like I’m going to read too much into Game 2—for God’s sake, I initially was going to begin this piece by writing, “Happy Memorial Day in advance, since this column might be on hiatus well before then.” With the series tied 1-1, there are two things that will be discussed ad nauseam until tipoff Thursday and two things that should be discussed but might not be. First, what you’ll be hearing about Wednesday:
1. Where was LeBron James in the final minute?
2. Did we underestimate Chris Bosh’s value to this team?
Now here’s what we should be talking about:
1. The fact that never for a minute have the Pacers exuded anything less than total confidence they can win this series.
2. While Bosh’s absence obviously hurts Miami, other problems have been exposed that, should they linger, would make the Heat just as vulnerable even if he were playing.
First, a major point that I’m probably repeating from an earlier post but can’t emphasize enough: Even before the Bosh injury, these were two evenly matched teams, separated by only four wins in the regular season. The Bosh injury exacerbated Miami’s weakness, which was a lack of depth; their slow, arduous trudge to the Larry O’Brien trophy was anything but a foregone conclusion even with the Big Three healthy and playing at a high level because of their dependence on the few weapons in their arsenal. I’ve mentioned this in a previous installment of this column, but fans and the media have made the mistake of evaluating the Heat based on something LeBron James said on a leaked viral video from an introductory fan event almost two years ago rather than the quality of the team we’ve witnessed on the floor this season and postseason. The root cause of our grossly excessive expectations for the Heat comes from the media’s use of the term “superteam” and the “Not five, not six, not seven” quote that have been part and parcel of this group’s identity and thus ingrained into our consciousness, altering our perceptions of what they can achieve and what they should achieve. In reality, this is LeBron’s putrid 2007 Cavaliers team, the only difference being a fellow superstar nearly his equal and a much shittier bench; mind you, in a recent column, Grantland’s Bill Simmons called that Cavaliers team one of the two worst teams to make the Finals in league history.
The idea of the big, bad, villainous Heat was the byproduct of tactless athletes speaking flippantly with microphones shoved in their faces and aggrandizement stemming from the NBA and their corporate partners selling Miami as the league’s touchstone franchise. This mind-set led fans of and players on the other 29 teams to feel like a win against the Heat would automatically put them in the spotlight and serve as a litmus test of their mettle. Since 2010, that’s been the prevailing attitude when watching Heat games: “They’re the unequivocal and undisputed favorite. Any win against them can be considered an upset and would serve as the equivalent of slaying a pompous Goliath-like figure.”
In reality, this is what’s become of those big, bad, villainous Miami Heat: The final plays of the third and fourth quarter of a critical home playoff game were an isolation and set three for Mario Freaking Chalmers. I’m not even sure if Mario Chalmers is a rich man’s Boobie Gibson or if it’s the other way around.
My initial reaction to this loss was, “It’s amazing that the Heat was even able to be in contention to win at the buzzer considering all the breaks going against them, the hole they dug themselves into midway through the 3rd quarter, and the necessary adjustments in their first full game without Bosh.” But the longer it sinks it, the more it feels like one of those games the Heat had no business winning that nevertheless instilled a lot of doubt in the locker room.
Dwyane Wade and James were clearly running on fumes by the end, and there’s no way that carrying the kind of load they’re putting on themselves is an effective formula for winning 11 more games this postseason. It was questionable if a 3-man team would be enough. A 2-man team is just running on borrowed time.
The Heat should feel discouraged for numerous reasons, particularly since the way in which they lost wasn’t how the doomsayers predicted they might. Consider:
-With the first two games of the series at home, both games were a toss-up until the final minute.
- The Pacers failed to get any production from their best scorer, Danny Granger. Their high-scorer in Games 1 and 2 was David West with 17 and 16 points, respectively.
- James and Wade have been logging all the minutes and doing the heavy lifting. James in particular played all 24 minutes in the second half of Game 1 and was in for 43 minutes in Game 2. (Or as those critical of his move to Miami call it, “taking the easy way out.”) Maybe James and Wade weren’t spectacular, but they were never less than very good. Two superstars playing at a high level should be enough to go up 2-0 even with a sub-mediocre supporting cast.
-I should clarify what a sub-mediocre supporting cast this is. The rest of the non-James/Wade members of the Miami Heat scored 6 points in the entire second half and shot just 13 percent.
-By going for the kill in Game 2 and coming up short, James gets the double whammy of running out of gas in a game he was going all out to win and facing fatigue later on in what now appears to be a long series.
-The Heat matched the Pacers in many of the areas people assumed Indiana had the edge—more offensive rebounds, dead even in points in the paint with 38—so Bosh’s absence didn’t hinder Miami’s production in the paint in any way.
- The Pacers went on a 20-to-4 run in the third quarter. Miami shot 17.6 percent in that same quarter, which is the time they’ve traditionally made their move when trailing.
-Miami is 1 for 22 from 3-point range these first two games.
-The Heat turned the ball over five times less than the Pacers and finished with more assists and steals; good ball-movement for them is usually a good indicator of a successful outing, especially this series, since they can’t outmuscle the Pacers because of the huge size disparity.
-And arguably most frightening to me because it’s one of the Heat’s clear advantages and a necessity for them to be at their dominating best: The Pacers outscored the Heat 13-to-6 in fast-break points.
(I even saw a few instances of the Pacers just stopping the fast break in its tracks by fouling James before he even had a chance to plow his way through everybody and get to the rim. One foul was committed so quickly that it looked like a clear-path violation until I saw a single Pacer upcourt.)
The early talking point has cited the Pacers spreading the wealth on offense (I mentioned West’s paltry numbers somehow still making him the leading scorer both games) and the Heat relying too heavily on two guys, to which all I can say is DUH. That’s exactly the point. This whole Heat experiment is predicated on the idea that three elite stars are enough to compensate for deficiencies in the areas which most teams that don’t have the luxury of luring big names have to cautiously and prudently fill. That was the part of Roy Hibbert’s now-infamous “easy way” quote that was 100 percent honest and true: The teams that aren’t a premier destination for free agents aren’t signing the scrappy big men, perimeter defenders, and penetrating guards because it’s noble or cute or purist or morally superior; they’re doing it because they fucking have to if they want to field anything close to the semblance of a competitive team. That’s the whole point of the Rays quirky methods of going up against the Yankees and Red Sox: The teams that can’t bring in CC Sabathia and Adrian Gonzalez have to slum it with Matt Joyce batting 3rd and a ton of shifts and lineup changes. The Pacers don’t have a superstar and not even all of their role players are great, but their roster succeeds because no one tries to do anything they can’t. Meanwhile, we all get blinded by the Heat’s lofty expectations—in fairness, I’ve stated many times they put these expectations on themselves; many people were just myopic for buying into them—and the big names with the MVPs and TV commercials and forget that when those luminous stars are off the court, we’re watching a glorified lottery team. (At best, with Battier, Miller, and Haslem, we’re watching a feisty 7-seed if it were 2005.)
So onwards to Indiana we go. Game 2 showed us nothing close to definitive. We can’t make the pronouncement that the Heat is doomed. We can’t even say with certainty they’re in trouble. But anyone foolish enough to think they were clear and decisive favorites in this series, with or without Bosh, should be going into Game 3 with a new perspective.
The Pacers are not scared of the Heat. And why should they be? Right now, other than at two of the five spots on the court, there’s no reason to.
Scattered thoughts and observations:
-I still feel like the Heat could lose this series—even in five—and James could acquit himself nicely. He’d need to put up mind-boggling numbers in record minutes the rest of the way, but Bosh’s injury and the crappiness of the supporting cast would get blamed and James would only tread water this summer instead of sinking further in the court of public opinion. Although it’d be really ironic if James were celebrated for heroics in a losing cause since it was entirely his fault for banking his fortunes on a superteam that became entirely dependent on three players that hamstrung their salary cap, thus preventing them from amassing depth.
-Dwyane Wade’s a nice guy with a good reputation. That being said, I totally agree that his hard foul on Darren Collison was shrugged off with a flagrant 1 whereas if Metta World Peace did it, it’d result in a 10-game suspension and a congressional hearing.
-Let me second the plaudits to David West for tamping down on his teammates’ postgame on-court celebration. It was a savvy, veteran move and speaks to my comments about the Pacers not viewing themselves as underdogs.
-The “Dwyane Wade in glasses/Any hipster rapper” look-alike jokes have been made by now, right? Well, I’m making them again anyway.
-The Heat is in trouble. The Lakers look flat. The Clippers are banged up. The Celtics are lucky to be even in their series after two close home games against an 8-seed. In other words, the Spurs-Pacers final we thought we were getting during the Malice at the Palace season in 2005 might actually come to fruition. We’re a long ways away, and that scenario is still unlikely given the Heat series is only tied 1-1 and the Thunder has been winning convincingly, but it’s plausible.
-In response to that previous point: Sigh. This championship was always going to be tainted, but at least it was almost guaranteed to be watchable.
-Gary Bettman definitely FedEx’s the Nielsen numbers from Kings-Rangers to David Stern during every game of that hypothetical Pacers-Spurs series, right?
-Heat Fans Joke of the Day: I enjoyed the Heat fans’ “We Are Miami” shirts. It was important to remind them which bandwagon they’re on.