The Miami Heat were the most talented team in the NBA this past season. They were two fourth-quarter collapses away from sweeping the NBA Finals. None of that matters after they lost Game 6 by a final score of 105-95, and the series by a final score of 4-2.
Miami’s losses in Game 2 and Game 4 can be directly traced back to atrocious late-game execution on both ends of the floor and inexcusable performances from LeBron James. Miami had chances to win Game 5, but that game was ultimately decided by a red-hot Dallas shooting performance that the Heat had little hope of matching.
So what happened in Game 6? The Heat, a team capable of doing anything, failed to do the most basic of basketball tasks throughout the night, and their lack of fundamental execution ultimately ended their season.
Miami looked nervous all game long, and while their offense didn’t go stagnant because of too much one-on-one play, it did often evolve into a game of “hot potato,” with the Heat forcing passes left and right and committing a series of turnovers that ultimately destroyed them. Miami gave the ball up 17 times on Sunday, and those turnovers led to an incredible 27 points for the Mavericks. Miami was supposed to be the best fast-break team in the league, but Dallas punished the Heat in transition all series long thanks to their superior discipline.
Miami’s lack of discipline didn’t only show up when they tossed the ball away. With the pressure on them, the Heat failed to do one of the most fundamental and simple tasks in basketball: make free throws. Miami had Dallas in foul trouble for nearly the duration of the game, but missed a stunning 13 free throws, which turned a 15-free throw disparity into only eight extra points for the Heat.
On both offense and defense, the Heat repeatedly simply gave up possessions that they should have treated like the most important things on the planet. Wade, who had carried the Heat through the first five games of the series, was on tilt in Game six, forcing up inexcusable deep jumpers and trying to attack the basket wildly when the lanes weren’t there for him. LeBron James tried, but he had some inexcusable turnovers of his own, most of which were the result of over-passing or trying to force a drive instead of taking an open jumper.
The Heat also let their tempers flare up when they should have been focused on the task at hand. Directly after an impressive 14-0 run that dug Miami out of a 12-point deficit in the first half, Udonis Haslem allowed DeShawn Stevenson to engage him in an altercation, and Mario Chalmers and Joel Anthony both made things work by coming into the conflict. Dallas had already called a time-out, but the extra delay and Dallas technical free throw that resulted from the fracas sapped all the momentum that the Heat had going for them. A Wade technical on a charging call that didn’t go his way later in the game made things even clearer: Miami was clearly rattled after losing three of its past four games and having fourth-quarter leads in all of them.
The Heat also failed to box out at key times, and while the Mavericks only ended up with one more offensive board than the Heat did, several of those offensive boards came in the fourth quarter, when the Heat desperately needed to get the ball and try and get their offense going.
In the end, what did the Heat in wasn’t a poorly-constructed roster or proper offensive and defensive strategy. It was their mentality. With the Heat’s talent, they should have coldly and methodically carved through the NBA all season long and put Dallas away when they had the chance to win an NBA championship. Instead, they allowed themselves to have a roller coaster of a regular season marked by poor late-game execution and losses to elite teams, gritted through the first three rounds of the playoffs thanks to stifling defense and heroic late-game play, and blew the NBA Finals.
The Heat have the right roster pieces to win the championship next season, assuming it occurs. Spolestra is more than capable as a coach. Their stars have shown that they are capable of playing together on both ends of the floor. But if they want to reach their ultimate goal, they are going to have to tighten things up next season. They can’t forget to play defense on the nights their offense is rolling. They can’t let teams back into games by committing silly fouls. They can’t try to get caught up in macho posturing in an NBA Finals elimination game. They can’t throw the ball away when it matters most. They can’t miss free throws.
In 2011, the Heat showed that they have enough talent to win a champions. In 2012, the Heat will have to show that they have the maturity and discipline to be champions.