Every time they have really been challenged these playoffs, the Miami Heat have been able to summon enough focus and resolve to get the wins they need. Down 2-1 to the Pacers, they rallied. Down 3-2 to the Celtics, they rallied.
Down 1-0 to the Oklahoma city Thunder in the NBA finals, you can bet the Heat will show some resolve with a better effort in Game 2.
The question is, will that be enough this time?
For the first time in the playoffs, the Heat have ran into a team where they are not more athletic, not faster, not just physically superior. The Thunder are their equal, and the Thunder are much deeper. Oklahoma City played the Sixth Man of the Year, James Harden, just more than four minutes in the fourth quarter of Game 1 because Thabo Sefolosha was playing too well to take him out. That’s depth.
For one, no coasting. Particularly on defense. This goes back to them summoning resolve — Miami has up to now been able to get by playing 24 minutes of really great basketball, they can do that no longer. There must be sustained execution at both ends of the floor. No stagnant offense that results in a LeBron James long two. No miscommunications on defensive rotations that allow guys to waltz to the rim.
Miami needs much more out of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. For Wade that is particularly on the defensive end, where he cannot just get torched by Russell Westbrook again. In Game 1 Westbrook blew by him like Wade was a pylon. The Heat do not have Tyson Chandler back there to wipe out their perimeter defensive mistakes, they need to play better defense on the wings. And much better in transition.
Bosh will start and the Heat should try to establish him a little on the block early.
LeBron needs to be exceptional. Not good, but both an offensive force and a guy who gets physical with Kevin Durant and forces him into a pedestrian shooting night. Durant can’t get 36 and be efficient in the fourth quarter if the Heat want to win. Doesn’t matter how tired LeBron gets, he has to power through it. Anything less than exceptional and the Heat will struggle.
And Miami needs something from their bench. LeBron can do a lot but only so much. Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers can’t just be hot for a half then disappear, they need to play 48 minutes.
And all that may not be enough.
Oklahoma City can play better defense as a team. Sefolosha will be draped all over Wade and Serge Ibaka will be in the lane waiting for LeBron to drive. Another big game from Nick Collison would be huge.
And you know James Harden isn’t just scoring five points in Game 2. His beard will get five from the free throw line alone.
Game 2 will give us a better idea of where this series really stands. It’s closer than the second half of Game 1 showed.
But it still may not be close enough for the Heat. Not in Oklahoma City, where the Thunder players are so, so comfortable.