As the national anthem played, a tear streaked down Dwyane Wade‘s cheek.
“I knew tonight would be a great moment for these guys,” Wade said. “I felt that we was going to win this game. I knew that our energy and our crowd was going to be enough, and we was going to be prepared. And I was just thinking about how these guys was going to feel after playing a Game 7.”
Pretty darn great.
The Heat beat the Hornets, 106-73, Sunday in the fifth-most lopsided Game 7 in NBA history. Miami – which will face winner of tonight’s Raptors-Pacers Game 7 – won its first playoff series win without LeBron James since 2006.
Pairing Wade with another superstar (Shaquille O’Neal for the 2006 championship) or two (LeBron and Chris Bosh for the 2012 and 2013 titles) has worked. But that option went out the window this season when blood clots sidelined Bosh at the All-Star break for the second straight year.
With Wade’s waning athleticism forcing him to pick his spots more often, he has needed more help than ever. His teammates have provided it.
Hassan Whiteside (10 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks) and Goran Dragic (25 points, six rebounds and four assists) led the way in Game 6.
Whiteside defended at an elite level. The Hornets shot just 2-for-11 in the restricted area with him on the court. I don’t know what’s more stunning – that they shot so poorly or attempted so few close-range shots in 28 minutes. Whiteside struck fear in the paint.
Dragic’s 25 points were his most in seven weeks and one shy of his playoff high. His aggressiveness fueled so much more. Miami’s offensive rating was 120.1 with him on the court.
“That’s the Goran Dragic we all love,” said Wade, who scored 12 points and had lost his last three playoff games when scoring so little. “Just putting so much pressure on the defense, and it allows other guys to just chill out – especially me.”
Wade can’t always carry the Heat – though sometimes he still can – but he remains the face of the franchise. Whether or not his teammates provide enough support almost reflects more on him than it does them. Fortunately for him, they look up to the task of making him look good.
It’s far too early to look ahead to a juicy Heat-Cavaliers conference finals, but Miami should be favored against either Indiana or Toronto.
Yes, it took seven games to vanquish Charlotte, but the Heat outscored the Hornets by 62 points – the third-largest combined margin ever in a seven-game series. The last team to win a seven-game series or a Game 7 by such decisive margins was the 2008 Celtics, who beat the Hawks by 34 in Game 7 to cap a +84 first-round series. Boston went on to win a title that year.
Will Miami follow that path? Probably not, but there’s something to be said about so thoroughly outplaying a difficult-to-beat opponent.
The Hornets were no pushovers – at least until today, when the Heat dominated on the glass and got most loose balls. In this series, Charlotte earned its first three playoff wins since reemerging as the Bobcats in 2004. The Hornets’ first best-of-seven series victory remains elusive and a potentially turbulent offseason awaits, but this group came to play.
Miami was just too good on both ends of the floor.
The ball went to Dragic, who immediately sped up court. Dragic, who entered the game shooting 37% from the field, spun around Courtney Lee before anyone else could catch up to provide help and made a layup.
Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson, the team’s energetic rookies who had big moments earlier in the series but provided less today, jumped up and down and spun around on the bench. The rest of the team wasn’t far behind in its cheering.
All the while, Wade barely took a few steps forward, remaining back on defense and watching it all unfold in front of him – a starless group of teammates he knew were capable of delivering.
Even without Stephen Curry, adjusting for playoff rotations still favors Warriors over Trail Blazers
When the Warriors put five players expected to be in the playoff rotation on the floor during the regular season, they outscored opponents by 20.9 points per 100 possessions.
No other team even neared that level with five of its own playoff-rotation players.
The second-place Spurs (+13.1 adjusted net rating) were closer to 10th place than first place.
But Golden State’s supremacy obviously took a hit when Stephen Curry got hurt. How do the Warriors rate without him in the rotation?
As I did before the first round, I’ve used nba wowy! to rank Western Conference playoff teams by net rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating), counting only lineups that include five players in the team’s postseason rotation. Both the regular season and first round factored.
For now, here’s each Western Conference team’s rating, from the regular season adjusted to only lineups that include five players projected to be in the second-round rotation:
2. San Antonio Spurs
Offensive rating: 110.5 to 110.0
Defensive rating: 99.4 to 96.1
Net rating: +11.1 to +13.9
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
Offensive rating: 113.6 to 117.3
Defensive rating: 106.0 to 104.6
Net rating: +7.6 to +12.7
1. Golden State Warriors
Offensive rating: 114.9 to 119.7 to 109.1
Defensive rating: 104.1 to 98.8 to 103.8
Net rating: +10.8 to +20.9 to +5.3
5. Portland Trail Blazers
Offensive rating: 108.9 to 111.0 to 110.3
Defensive rating: 108.2 to 107.9 to 107.5
Net rating: +0.7 to +3.1 to +2.8
By this metric, there’s a clear main event and undercard here – at least if the Spurs and Thunder don’t keep playing like they did last night.
Golden State obviously takes a big tumble without Curry, but this measure shows the limit of saying the Warriors got outscored by 3.7 points per 100 possessions without Curry during the regular season. Golden State’s other top players – Draymond Green (88%), Klay Thompson (85%), Andrew Bogut (85%), Harrison Barnes (66%) and Andre Iguodala (60%) – played a majority of their minutes with Curry. Put them on the court more in these Curry-less games, and it’ll help.
With Curry in the rotation (and Ian Clark and Brandon Rush out), the Warriors’ adjusted offensive/defensing/net ratings shoot right back up into the stratosphere: 119.8/98.7/+21.1. Golden State must just holds its ground until Curry returns. This measure suggests the Warriors can against Portland, especially with home-court advantage also in their favor.
Report: Heat complained to ‘highest levels of the league office’ about favorable calls for Jeremy Lin and Kemba Walker
ESPN sources say that one of the factors that ramped up the tension between the teams stems from Miami complaints to the highest levels of the league office after Game 4 about what the Heat deemed to be favorable officiating for Jeremy Lin and Kemba Walker.
Lin and Walker relentlessly driven to the basket. That’s why they’ve attempted so many free throws. If Miami wants to keep them off the line, trap them harder on the perimeter.
That said, this is part of playoff gamesmanship. If the Heat plant a seed with referees – through the league office or otherwise – that Lin and Walker are drawing too many fouls, maybe that affects a call today. With the margins so narrow, every little bit helps.
NBA: Trail Blazers scored after uncalled illegal screen by Trail Blazers in final minutes