When something goes right for the Miami Heat in these playoffs, something else invariably goes wrong. When Wade is on his game, James seems to be off of it. When James and Bosh are making music on the pick-and-roll together, Wade seems to be stuck dribbling into traps and firing up ill-advised jumpers. When the team attacks the paint effectively, the role players fail to knock down threes. When the role players are hitting threes, the team forgets to attack the paint. The Heat managed to get to the Finals and take a 2-1 lead without ever seeming to play a gorgeous game of basketball, a game that forced everyone to sit back and watch with their mouths agape at just how dominant the talent Pat Riley collected can be.
On Thursday night, the Heat finally got their offense to hum. James didn’t score much, but he was anything but passive, putting pressure on the defense, forcing double-teams, and making the right pass time after time. When Wade wasn’t in the locker room nursing his hip, he was just as dominant as he’s been all series, slicing into the Maverick defense and making the simple pass or impossible shot with equal amounts of confidence. Bosh attacked both the paint and the offensive glass with vigor, and had as good of a game as can be expected from a tertiary option. The role players knocked down three after three to keep the Dallas defense honest, with Mike Miller and Mario Chalmers going a combined 7-10 from downtown. It was the kind of offense we’ve been waiting to see from the Heat all playoffs.
Naturally, all of that occurred as the Heat played their worst defensive game of the playoffs and ended up losing by a final score of 112-103. Dallas shot a ludicrous 13-19 from downtown, with many of those threes being either contested or off-the-dribble, can’t be blamed entirely on Miami’s defense, but there’s no doubt that Miami’s swarming, suffocating defense failed to show up.
Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry were allowed to dribble into shots that they make with the frequency that most players knock down layups. Nowitzki continued to play whoever was guarding him like a violin and got himself to the line for 10 free points. Tyson Chandler was allowed to roll to the rim and dunk with impunity. Some of Dallas’ threes were the kind of shots you simply must admire and move on, but a good portion of them were unguarded.
If Miami had played anything resembling the brand of defense they’ve made a priority since Day 1 of training camp and have played throughout these playoffs, they’d be going back to Miami with a 3-2 lead. Instead, they will have to win two in a row to avoid infamy. Of course, it could also be said that Miami would have been on the wrong end of a shellacking if they’d played the type of offense they have played throughout the playoffs. Such are the oddities of perspective.
Even with Dallas making everything they sent towards the basket, Miami once again had a chance to put the game away in the fourth quarter when they led by four points with four and a half minutes left to play. However, they once again failed to close the game, with three empty possessions from LeBron James and 9 points on three-pointers from Jason Kidd and Jason Terry swinging the game and the series to Dallas’ favor.
What does Miami have now? A lot of things they do very well, and no more margin for error in putting it all together. If Wade and James can continue to be aggressive and work off of each other, Miami will be effective offensively. If Mike Miller and Mario Chalmers can keep hitting threes, the paint will continue to be open. If Chris Bosh can continue to be effective and attack off the dribble, life becomes easier for everybody. If Miami can play their brand of defense without letting their offense devolve into AAU basketball, they should have no trouble dominating the Mavericks from wire to wire. If they hadn’t blown a double-digit fourth-quarter lead in Game 2, they’d still be undefeated at home this postseason.
And if Miami fails to put everything together one more time in these finals, they’ll go home without a ring and with the knowledge that they let a golden opportunity to win a championship slip through their fingertips.