Above Average Thoughts From An Average Guy
We’ll get to Dexter Pittman and Lance Stephenson later on, but beginning this recap discussing those two would be akin to beginning my Merchant of Venice thesis discussing Salarino and Gobbo.
I ended my Game 4 recap describing how the Heat couldn’t truly prove their mettle and avert a meltdown unless they responded to the pressure of being favorites once again. A resounding 32-point win and a 3-2 series lead heading back to Indiana quelled any lingering doubts. It’s a testament to the Heat’s almost routine dismantling of what once appeared to be an evenly-matched foe in such a convincing manner that postgame discussion could even be predominantly dedicated to hard fouls by Tyler Hansbrough, Udonis Haslem, and Dexter Pittman rather than dissecting how the Heat pulled it off.
Game 5 was never really a contest. It’s hard to say there was ever a moment of uncertainty considering the Heat led by 37 at one point, but my only concern resulted from the Heat’s overreliance on getting the non-Wade/non-James faction of the team involved early in the first half. Yet even those concerns vanished when the reanimated corpse of Shane Battier started raining threes and Udonis Haslem continued his poor man’s Chris Bosh impersonation from Game 4. This spread-the-ball approach could’ve backfired horribly, but after enough uncontested Battier looks, the Pacers eventually had to account for the much-maligned Heat supporting cast. (Maligned by other bloggers, of course. Never here.)
From the waning moments of the second quarter until the starters were pulled when the lead became insurmountable, it once again was the Wade and James Show. During one stretch in the late second quarter through the third, the Big Two single-handedly carried the team, piling on 27 of the Heat’s 35 points. A typical stifling defensive performance from the Heat was joined by a surprisingly efficient offensive outing; their 61 percent shooting was not only a franchise playoff-high but also the best percentage by any team this postseason.
With the Heat firing on all cylinders, the Pacers did themselves no favors, failing to ever get into an offensive rhythm even when the game was still within their grasp. It obviously hurt even more when Danny Granger went down with a sprained left ankle in the third quarter, but Indiana was never able to find reliable scoring. Unlike Game 4, their game plan did attempt to exploit their one favorable advantage against the Heat, big men Roy Hibbert and David West, yet even those two were missing shots. Meanwhile, their guards merely settled for bad jumpers and forced threes, as George Hill, Dahntay Jones, Paul George, and Leandro Barbosa went 2-for-16 from 3-point range; to put it in perspective, those four hit one more 3-pointer than Roy Hibbert, whose desperation heave at the buzzer in the second quarter resulted in his first 3-pointer since 2010.
There will be plenty more opportunities to nitpick what the Heat do wrong and how it might affect their championship aspirations, but none of that mattered on a night where they did everything right while playing to their strengths. Their half-court offense is still a mess, but a 22-to-2 advantage in fast-break points meant they never had to confront the issues they might face against a better transition defense. Their points in transition resulted in many highlight reel plays, including this James-to-Wade one-handed circus pass and a later Wade-to-James full-court heave.
The Heat still show no signs of challenging Roy Hibbert—they continue to resort to floaters when near the rim—but it didn’t matter since they still won the points in the paint battle 46-to-26. Miami, already an undersized team even before Bosh went down, should not be winning the rebounding battle against a Pacers team with a tremendous size advantage, yet they did for the second straight game, this time by a whopping 49-to-35 margin. Even Mario Chalmers pulled in a career-high 11 boards.
Most impressively, the Heat never took their foot off the gas. I can’t say this team’s matured, but at no moment did they seem on the verge of unveiling the 2012 equivalent of last year’s painfully symbolic premature celebration in front of the Mavericks’ bench during Game 2 of the Finals. We’ve already seen enough crazy comebacks this year (paging the Memphis Grizzlies) to know there’s no such thing as running up the score in the playoffs.
Being the fascinating enigma that they are, it makes sense the Heat added another chapter to their unsolved mystery file this series, as we have no answers to what happened before, during, or after that nightmarish Game 3. It shouldn’t make sense that a team can go from a tempestuous no-show that set off an Internet shitstorm for three days to a two-man juggernaut rolling over the once proud Pacers by 32 points, yet it kind of does with this bizarre and indecipherable bunch.
Meanwhile, the bravado, confidence, and swagger the Pacers came into this series with and backed up in Games 2 and 3 has completely dissipated. The enduring takeaway from this game isn’t the physical hits the Pacers took. It’s the mental ones.
Scattered Flagrant Foul thoughts and observations:
-The Pittman/Haslem fouls were tantamount to the Andrew Bynum/Lamar Odom fouls during the Mavericks ousting of the Lakers in last year’s conference semifinals in two ways:
1. They were egregiously over-the-line and warrant suspensions.
2. They were the focal point in the immediate aftermath but will ultimately be no more than subplots to the larger story—in this case, the Heat’s on-the-fly makeover.
-Metta World Peace is often used as a basis for comparison when interpreting hard fouls and whether they warrant suspensions, with the obvious reason being he’s a repeat offender who’s lost all benefit of the doubt. This series has now gone beyond the Metta World Peace touchstone and reached a point with trash-talk and physical play that both teams have lost the benefit of the doubt. We’re at the “Warn both sides” moment in a baseball game after a batter gets beaned. We all know what happens at that point: The next plunking will be considered intentional, a bench-clearing brawl may ensue, and ejections and suspensions are likely.
-I vehemently disagreed with Charles Barkley’s halftime analysis of Tyler Hansbrough’s foul on Wade: It was no more than a flagrant-1, but it was definitely a flagrant-1. Yes, Hansbrough was going for the ball—which, in keeping with the letter of the law, meant it wasn’t excessive, thus ruling out a flagrant-2—but hitting Wade’s head meant he absolutely was putting a little extra something on that foul while he had the chance.
-Haslem’s foul was absolutely a flagrant-2 and should be amended to reflect the fact. For crying out loud, it occurred against the same player that hit Wade and it happened almost immediately after the earlier incident. Using the baseball analogy, imagine if the first pitch in the next inning after a team’s star batter got hit was chin music to the other team’s star batter. We’re not stupid.
-Pittman’s hit on Stephenson warrants a multi-game suspension. I know that’s easy to say since his contributions in this playoff run have essentially been limited to a surprise Game 3 start that set off some snarky Twitter comments for about 15 minutes and the role of hockey enforcer in garbage time of this game, but considering who was on the court and the score of the game, his foul was even more blatantly intentional and malicious than Haslem’s.
-It says a lot about Haslem’s remarkable turnabout that I actually feared he would be tossed. If he got ejected at any point before Game 4, I probably would’ve shrugged.
-I love the Heat establishing themselves as a physical team that stands up for one another and I’m absolutely fine with them taking on the Pacers below the belt. To be fair, I’m just as fine with Granger getting in LeBron’s face and Stephenson doing the choke symbol; this is what you do when your team’s winning and you want to assert yourself against an opponent you perceive as pompous and presumptuous.
But passions need to be kept in check. We need to remember Lance Stephenson is still a 21-year-old human being that doesn’t deserve to be concussed or seriously injured just so some nebulous statement can be made.
-While I hope boundaries are enforced and a certain level of collegiality is acknowledged, the ability of both teams to sustain their chippy behavior and get under each other’s skin has been extremely refreshing. I wish the NBA and their players could try and find a healthy middle ground that avoids repeating ugly episodes like Rudy Tomjanovich/Kermit Washington or The Malice at the Palace yet still harkens back to the league’s salad days when teams truly hated each other and played like it.
-Finally, not that anyone will heed my message if they weren’t going to already, but can we prod the commissioner’s office to do what’s right regarding suspensions without resorting to pious haranguing about sportsmanship or championing basketball’s version of capital punishment just to try to one-up each other’s outrage? Is it wrong if I just call for unacceptable on-court behavior to be appropriately reprimanded without treating it like a human rights violation or crime against humanity?
Other scattered thoughts and observations:
-David West also claimed to have had his knee targeted by Shane Battier late in the third quarter. Let’s be frank: It wasn’t called a foul at the time; it pales in comparison to the excessive contact made on the Haslem/Pittman plays; and it seems like he’s just trying to feed into the narrative that the Heat is now resorting to dirty tactics. Nevertheless, I really wanted to make a “So that explains why Gregg Williams gave the halftime speech” joke after hearing his comments.
-The only time in the second half I thought Miami might blow the game was when they had to waste a timeout so Mike Miller could put his shoe back on. Can’t you just envision that sequence setting off a 24-2 Pacers run and the missing shoe eventually becoming the Heat’s version of the Cubs’ Billy Goat?
-I could listen to Marv Albert read promos for shows he’d never watch all day long.
-Once again, I’m not rooting for injuries on any team since this playoffs has already been decimated by hobbled stars (hence the title of these blog posts), but I did wryly smile at the fact that Granger finally had to exit the game for good after reinjuring his ankle trying the hack-a-LeBron strategy when James got in the paint. It was oddly fitting that he took the easy way out on the play and still paid the price for it.
-Heat Fans Joke of the Day: They started an “M-V-P!” chant when LeBron was at the free-throw line in the 3rd quarter. Wait till they find out he actually won it!