The easy mantra out of Game 1 of the NBA finals is that the Heat choked. LeBron choked in the fourth quarter. Again.
But that’s not what happened. The reality is scarier for Heat fans.
Miami was exactly who they are. Who they have been all season, all playoffs. And unless they can find a way to grow and evolve past it this season will end just like the last one.
From Christmas Day until Tuesday night the pattern had always been the same for Miami — they didn’t need to bring it for four quarters to win. They were always the most athletic team. The faster team. The team that could overwhelm you with effort on defense and turn that into fast break points. And they’d do all that in spurts of great defense and ball movement and transition offense. Then they’d revert to stretches of stagnant ball and good defense. And that was enough to win.
That’s not good enough anymore.
Oklahoma City is up 1-0 in the NBA finals because they were the more athletic team, the faster team. The team that overwhelmed with defense and turned that into fast break points in the second half while Miami went into it’s shell. OKC won 105-94.
OKC can match Miami athletically and they execute for Scott Brooks for 48 minutes in a way the Heat simply do not for Erik Spoelstra. As they did against the Spurs, the Thunder showed an ability to elevate their game to the moment, to adjust and attack. Can Miami match that?
Miami is nowhere near out of this series — more teams than you can count lost Game 1 of the NBA finals and came back to win it all. Including Dallas last year.
But to that Miami has big questions to answer — how do they get Dwyane Wade attacking in the paint not settling for jumpers? (I’m still not convinced his knee is bothering him more than he is letting on.) How do they get LeBron James some rest so he is fresher and more aggressive late? How can they get Chris Bosh going? Is it time to take LeBron off Kendrick Perkins at times and just sick him on Durant the whole game? How can they improve their transition defense so the Thunder don’t run them out of the building on Thursday?
The Heat looked slow in the second half Tuesday — they looked like a team on a regular season-back-to-back, fading as the game went on. They settled for jumpers and as a team were 2-8 shooting outside 10 feet in the fourth.
Part of it are Xs and Os adjustments — Miami had great success trapping off the pick and roll in the first 20 minutes, and when the Thunder had a little success breaking it the Heat went switching the picks. OKC ate that up. The Thunder ended with 56 points in the paint. LeBron was on Kendrick Perkins so he could be on Durant to trap off the pick, to switch onto KD. Not that it mattered to Durant in the second half who was defending him.
Miami’s defense, by design wants to push you into isolation plays. A good strategy against 28 other NBA teams, but Oklahoma City thrives with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden in isolation. The Heat need better team defense.
“When we’re not defending we don’t get opportunities in the open court,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Then when we don’t attack we don’t get as many opportunities in the paint or at the free throw line.”
The other way to slow down the Thunder attack is to make them take the ball out of the basket.
LeBron James simply can’t be good — ne must be exceptional. Tuesday night he was simply good, scoring 30 points, He was 2-of-6 for 7 points in the fourth. That’s not enough. Wade doesn’t look right and Bosh is coming off his injury, LeBron has to do more. Which is hard when Thabo Sefolosha is crowding you. But it’s the reality of where the Heat are — LeBron has to be a monster. Game 6 vs. Boston monster.
Shane Battier needs to hit shots again. Mario Chalmers needs to hit shots again, and other guys need to step at both ends. For 48 minutes.
But the Heat really haven’t done that all season or playoffs long. Can they change now?