We knew the irritation ringing in our ears of the ‘LeBron going back to Cleveland’ narrative would be strong. The Cavaliers winning the first pick earlier this week, however, has transferred that attention meant for the offseason to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Bearing a striking resemblance to the third quarter from Game 4 of the 2012 semifinals, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade combined to stifle any hope of Indiana taking full control of the series.
Had the dynamic duo not come through then, the Heat would have faced a 3-1 deficit. This time around, it would have been a 2-0 deficit, with 94% of teams previously going on to win series’ when they win the first two games.
Wade and James wouldn’t let that happen. In a critical fourth quarter, which featured Miami outscoring Indiana 25-20, Wade scored ten points on a perfect 5-for-5 from the field, while LeBron dropped 12 points on 4-for-7 shooting.
Norris Cole’s three, off a LeBron assist, with 10:45 left were the only Heat points in the quarter not scored by either Dwyane or LeBron.
Those two alone combined to outscore Indiana in the final frame. And with 7:18 left and the Pacers holding a four-point lead, it became the LeBron James show.
James, who had struggled to score ten points going into the final frame, would score nine consecutive Heat points, and then assist on a Wade dunk to give his team an 80-75 lead with 3:17 left.
For all the early criticism he was bludgeoned with for most of the contest, LeBron still ended with a well-rounded 22 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks, and 2 steals on 50% shooting. He struggled from beyond the arc, but hit his only three of the night to cut Indiana’s four-point lead to one.
For as much attention as Lance Stephenson received for his five minute stretch of uncharacteristic brilliance, Wade was better, finishing with 23 points on 63% shooting, and also saving his best for last.
Stephenson, who had 23 points going into the fourth, scored two points in the final 12 minutes. You can thank Norris Cole, as well as the law of averages, for that.
Things certainly look your way when the uncontested shots you’re taking are actually falling.
While this wasn’t the case in Game 5 against Brooklyn or Game 1 against Indiana, it was in Game 2, with the Heat converting 58% of their 31 uncontested attempts.
Norris Cole, who finished with 11 points and his both of his three-point attempts, was a perfect 3-for-3 on uncontested shots. Mario Chalmers also hit both of open threes, while Dwyane Wade supported the squad with 4-for-6 shooting on uncontested shots.
Miami’s 40% shooting from three marked the first time they’ve shot better than 34% from three since Game 2 against Brooklyn. Bosh and James combined to shoot 2-for-9, but it was the supporting cast who led the way, with Chalmers and Cole combining to shoot 4-for-4.
Even Shane Battier entered the fray, knocking down one of his two threes.
The Pacers, meanwhile, who shot 60% on uncontested shots in Game 1, were only 41% this time around. David West and Paul George were a combined 4-for-12, while Luis Scola went 0-for-3.
Lance Stephenson and George Hill were the only players to thrive on their open makes for Indiana, going 8-for-14.
Indiana was no better on contested looks, shooting 38%, while Miami shot 44%. However, they still managed to shoot near 50% on 19 three-point attempts, converting on better than 40% of their threes for a second consecutive game.
The Pacers were a middle-of-the-pack shooting team in the regular season. One has to wonder how much they continue to rely on George Hill going 3-for-5, Stephenson going 2-for-4, and Rasual Butler going 2-for-3.
The Heat were a travesty on the defensive boards last night. Although they somehow won the rebounding battle, they were annihilated going after defensive rebounds, and gave up 16 offensive rebounds, including eight alone to Roy Hibbert.
Roy had more offensive rebounds than the entire Heat team. He also had 12 points to go along with his 13 rebounds, furthering the now well-known anomaly of Roy Hibbert going completely insane when he plays the Miami Heat.
Naturally, it was his first double-double of the playoffs, and first since March 21st. The eight offensive rebounds was also a season-high.
But his numbers hardly measured up to that of Chris Andersen’s, who once again proved he deserved more recognition for Sixth Man of the Year. In 29 minutes, Birdman brought down a team-high 12 rebounds, the third-most he had this year.
Although he only scored three points on 1-for-4 shooting, he was a game-high plus-25 and was instrumental, alongside fellow bench member Norris Cole, in Miami’s fourth quarter run.
His 28% rebounding percentage was a game-high, as was his net-rating of 49.3 and defensive rating of 77.4.
In a season where apathy and malaise was a repetitive theme, Birdman has been the lone consistent source of energy, even at the age of 36, the second-oldest on the team behind Ray Allen.
It’s for that exact reason why he shouldn’t start, either. Miami needs that energy off the bench, and also doesn’t need him picking up cheap, early fouls against Roy Hibbert, either.
54 points in the paint
As poor as the Miami Heat played on the defensive end, their offense beat up on the Indiana Pacers’ interior as it rarely has before, dropping 54 of their 96 points in the paint.
56% of their total points came from the painted area, with both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade scoring at least 59% of their points in the paint. Chris Andersen also thrived in the paint with 14 points on 6-for-7 shooting and a pair of free throws.
Miami shot an impressive 51% against Indiana, the best field goal percentage they’ve given up in these playoffs, and was getting plenty from their two slashers. Unfortunately, their shooters, for a fourth straight game, shot well below 35%, despite, according NBA.com/stats, getting a fair number of open looks.
The Heat shot 44% on uncontested shots, just days after nearly dropping Game 5 against Brooklyn thanks to 34% shooting on uncontested looks. Lowlights from Game 1 included 1-for-7 shooting from Chris Bosh, who struggled heavily finding his stroke from beyond the arc, and Mario Chalmers going 1-for-5, including a pair of wide-open threes from the same corner.
The Heat were 0-for-6 overall on corner threes. LeBron James, 1-for-5 from beyond the arc, shot a pedestrian 4-of-8 on uncontested shots.
Meanwhile, the Pacers, who only took 21 uncontested shots to Miami’s 36, shot 57%, with Lance Stephenson, David West and Paul George combining to shoot 9-for-14.
Plain and simple, the Heat are going to need their shooters to step up if they want a shot at winning another title. Norris Cole, Ray Allen, Udonis Haslem, Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier, James Jones, and Chris Bosh all had their moments in the past three playoff runs with their shooting.
The same obviously applies to this season. LeBron James already had to score 49 points for a below average shooting effort in Game 4 against Brooklyn. They can’t rely on him to be better than great every night. At some point, more of his passes need to turn into assists.
For a moment there, the Heat looked poised to begin shooting the ball at an elite level after such an uncharacteristic year from beyond the arc. Expectations certainly rose as the Heat crushed Charlotte with 43% shooting from three, with Bosh, Chalmers, Cole and Jones all shooting 44% or better.
The shooting kept up in Games 1 and 2 against Brooklyn, but has petered off with four consecutive games of sub-34% shooting. Miami shot less than 36% overall against Brooklyn, but, as stated prior, it nearly cost them Games 4 and 5.
Miami opened up the Conference Finals with 26% shooting in Game 1. Although Indiana has held the Heat’s three-point shooting at bay over the course of the season, Miami has also failed to capitalize on open looks in just about every meeting.
Needless to say, it’ll be tough to see the Heat’s uncontested shooting percentage continue to teeter around 40%.
26 bench points
More strong numbers from Miami, but from too few of names. Miami may have gotten 26 points from its bench, but all of those points were scored by two players, with Andersen scoring 14 and Ray Allen scoring 12.
Ray was the only Heat player with more than one three-point conversion, although he was only 2-for-6.
Norris Cole and Udonis Haslem were the only other bench players to play more than ten minutes, but both responded with no points to contribute to the effort. James Jones missed his only shot attempt and went scoreless in four minutes.
After hitting at least one three-pointer in his first seven playoff games this year, Cole has gone scoreless on 0-for-8 shooting in the past three games. He also has only two assists and is losing trust from the coaching staff, playing less than 15 minutes in the past three games with the team electing to go without a point guard entirely for stretches.
By comparison, Norris Cole scored a point in all but two games of last year’s playoffs, and those came in the NBA Finals. He was imperative in Miami’s semifinals victory over Chicago, shooting 9-for-11 from three, and played well in the Game 7 victory over Indiana, contributing eight points and four assists.
Without Mike Miller, and with Michael Beasley perpetually in the doghouse (as he should be), it’s going to be up to guys like Cole to step into a role that asks of him to occasionally make threes and make wise decisions.
Shane Battier, who will likely come off the bench next game in favor of starting Udonis Haslem, will also be asked to shake the malaise of the entire season. After failing to shoot 35% from three this season, the second worst 3-point percentage of his career, Battier has had his playoff moments already, but not nearly on a consistent basis.
He only has one made three-pointer, on only three attempts, in the past four contests, and is becoming increasingly more hesitant when it comes to shooting. Too many times has he already dribbled or passed out of a feasible shot, which only leads to a hitch in the team’s offense on that possession.
Even if the Heat aren’t shooting well, you have to believe something has to got to give in the near future. The team that was mediocre all year shooting from three, after finishing second in 3-point percentage last year, will need guys like Battier and Cole to begin making their shots if they want to get through Indiana, and then face off with the well-balanced, well-oiled machine of San Antonio.
Miami is still reluctant to unleash James Jones for too long to fully scrap any Battier minutes.
Cole, too, has yet to lose complete trust. Although he’s losing minutes, the Heat have not trotted out Toney Douglas in his place. There still hope that he’ll catch fire as he has done in the playoffs many times before.
Paul Pierce asked for this. All of this.
If you thought Game 2 would be as easy as Game 1 was, you haven’t watched much Miami-based basketball.
That was the Heat’s points in the paint edge in their all-too-easy 21-point victory over a Brooklyn Nets team that had beaten them on all four occasions in the regular season.
Miami made a living in the paint, with nearly half of their 107 total points coming from that area. With the Nets failing to find any clear answer to guarding LeBron James, the eventual three-time Finals MVP feasted in the post, abusing the lanky Shaun Livingston, the smaller Joe Johnson, and the older Paul Pierce.
The Heat had 22 assists on their 42 makes, and shot an impressive 57% overall from the field. With the Nets attempting to match the Heat with a small lineup of their own, all the Heat had to do was feast on their individual matchups, and have constant player and ball movement until an open shot was found.
Although they were only rewarded with 16 free throws, including only a combined two between LeBron and Dwyane Wade, it had more to do with the Nets’ matador defense, and their lack of a physical interior defender.
Yeah, Kevin Garnett’s there, but he’s 37-years-old and barely playing over 20 minutes anymore. With the only other interior presences featuring the likes of Mason Plumlee, Andray Blatche and Mirza Teletovic (seriously), Miami had open season going over or around the Nets’ painfully small front line.
Ray Allen: 19 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists
The Heat couldn’t afford a repeat of Ray Allen’s sub-30% shooting against Charlotte in the previous round. So, to say the least, what the Heat got out of Ray Allen in Game 1 is more than they could have ever asked for.
In 26 minutes, Ray, going against his former teammates in Pierce and Garnett, dropped 19 points, outscoring the former Celtics duo by 11, and hit on four of his seven three-point attempts. It’s the first time since April 6th that Ray hit four threes in a game, and only the seventh time all year he’s converted four three-pointers in a game.
Three of those makes came in the second half, where the Heat outscored Brooklyn 61-43.
It’s strange to say, but Ray looked as confident in his shot as I’ve seen this season. He took shots without hesitation and at any point he had a moment of breathing room. The prospect of going up against Pierce and Garnett in a playoff series for the first time may have spurred something.
Allen was actually the second-highest scorer in the game, trailing only LeBron and his 22 points. The 19 points he finished with was the most he’s scored since dropping 25 in a March 16th win over Houston.
The Nets shot 42% from three…
and still received one of the worst losses since the All-Star break. Excluding a season-finale blowout loss to Cleveland, where most of the starters sat, the Nets previous worst loss came in a 110-81 defeat to the New York Knicks back on April 2nd.
Heat fans knew they’d be due for some frustrating shot-making by these Nets, and, sure enough, they got it.
Deron Williams hit not one, but two buzzer-beating threes, including one that was shot over Chris Andersen and banked in from about 30 feet, while Joe Johnson hit three of his own. Paul Pierce hit two, although both came in the first quarter.
Brooklyn shot 46% on 44 contested shots, with Johnson going 5-for-8, Williams going 3-for-4, Teletovic going 2-for-3, and Marcus Thornton going 3-for-6. Paul Pierce was the only perimeter player who struggled on contested shots, shooting 1-for-4.
As a team, the Nets shot 30% against the Raptors from three, and were a slightly above-average three-point shooting team in the regular season.
If the Heat continue to play defense the way they were last night, limiting Brooklyn to a paltry 11 assists on 33 makes, they’ll soon see it pay off, with the Nets’ contested field goal percentage sure to drop.
For once, I was right on one of my predictions.
But selecting the Miami Heat in four games over the Charlotte Bobcats should have been what the consensus was predicting going into the series. Even had Al Jefferson remained healthy, the Bobcats simply didn’t have the offensive firepower outside of him, and spurts from Kemba Walker, to combat the Heat’s small lineup of shooters surrounding LeBron.
In an odd realization, the Heat were actually outscored by Charlotte when Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh were playing together. As a three-man lineup, their net rating of minus-9.5 and defensive rating of 107.7 points per 100 possessions actually hindered the team’s effort against Charlotte.
A lot of that, however, has to do with the slow starts Miami got out to in three of their four games. The starting lineup’s net rating of minus-19.4 was the worst lineup that played at least ten minutes Miami used. They only mustered 87.3 points per 100 possessions with the starting lineup, which was arguably limited by Udonis Haslem.
It was only when the bench hit the floor when the Heat were able to get things going. When Udonis, who finished the series with a team low minus-9 net rating, was on the floor, the Heat’s offense stalled, and failed to get off the type of shot they could have passed into had more shooters been on the floor.
Miami’s best lineup of the series featured Norris Cole, Ray Allen, LeBron James, Rashard Lewis and Chris Andersen. Those five had a net rating of plus-27.9, scoring 127.7 points per 100 possessions and giving up 99.8 points per 100 possessions.
But that was only one of four Heat lineups, among those that played at least 15 minutes together, that had a net rating of at least plus-20.4.
Haslem also had a team-low 91.6 offensive rating. By comparison, no other player on the Heat had lower than an offensive rating of 102.9, surprisingly owned by Dwyane Wade, who trailed off after a stellar Game 1.
Meanwhile, the players with the top offensive rating all came off the bench. James Jones led the way boasting an ORTG of 130.5 points per 100 possessions, while Chris Andersen finished close behind at 125 points per 100 possessions. Rashard Lewis, Ray Allen and Norris Cole rounded out the top five.
Decently impressive numbers against a Charlotte team that ranked sixth in defensive efficiency in the regular season. With the team focusing all of its attention on LeBron James, on account of there being no individual who had a chance at stopping him, the shooters thrived, but not nearly as much as LeBron did.
What a welcoming change it was to see the shooters actually make their shots. After finishing the season in the middle of the pack in three-point percentage, the Heat shot as well as they did in the 2012-13 season when they were second in the league in that category.
Although Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis struggled, and combined to hit only three of their 16 three-point attempts, it was refreshing to see Norris Cole regain some confidence lost, James Jones to get some minutes and respond with quality play, and Chris Bosh to regain the stroke he had earlier in the year.
It’s only Charlotte, but guys like Cole and Bosh hitting shots is going to be huge in the long run. Ray Allen will eventually come around, because that’s just what he does, but someone’s going to have to replace Mike Miller when it comes to the team’s shooting, and Cole, who dominated in the first two rounds of last year’s playoffs, will be a necessity beyond the perimeter.
The same goes for Bosh, as he continues to push his game further and further away from the rim.
While the team shot 43% overall from three, led by Chris Bosh’s 69%, Mario Chalmers’ 45%, Norris Cole’s 50% and James Jones’s 44%, it was LeBron James that proved to be as overwhelming as we envisioned he’d be.
Without astute defender Jeff Taylor available, the Bobcats were forced to go with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who is a good defender in his own right, but lacks the size and strength to combat LeBron. As expected, LeBron abused MKG, as well as Gerald Henderson, Chris Douglas-Roberts and whoever else was unfortunate enough to get the call from Steve Clifford, in the post, and on pick-and-rolls.
Near the end of Miami’s Game 4 win, with LeBron scoring with ease over Henderson in the post, two points were as close to a guarantee every time James went into the post. It truly is remarkable when you recall just how poor LeBron’s post game was as recently as the 2011 Finals, and compare it to what it has become today.
LeBron finished the series with averages of 30 points per game on 56% overall shooting and 35% three-point shooting, 8 rebounds, 6 assists and 2.3 steals per in 39.3 minutes per game. He didn’t make it look difficult, either. LeBron feasted on Charlotte’s lack of a sizable perimeter defender, as well as their reduced frontline.
With Jefferson already being limited, getting to the rim and scoring against the likes of Josh McRoberts and Bismack Biyombo was as easy as you could imagine for a player of LeBron’s caliber.
But that’s what we’ve come to expect from LeBron, which is why I didn’t expect Miami to drop a single game of the series. As many strides as Charlotte took this season, and as much of an All-Star Jefferson appeared to be, Charlotte didn’t have the all-around talent or depth to compete.
TOP THREE HIGHLIGHTS
3. The JAAAAAAMES JOOOONES Show
2. LeBron gets kneed in the thigh, immediately knees Charlotte’s playoff chances in the groin
1. LeBron stares into Michael Jordan’s cold, envious soul