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Shaun Powell

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Jrue Holiday and the rest of the Sixers live to fight another game.
Photo via Getty Images

Familiar ending allows series to return to Miami


Posted Apr 24 2011 9:44PM

PHILADELPHIA -- With eight seconds left in a playoff game that would send the Heat to the next round with plenty of rest, it would seem to be a rather simple strategy. Give the ball to your closer. Let him decide the outcome. Go home with a victory or, at worst, go to sleep knowing the right number was called.

What does the Heat draw up instead? An inbounds pass to LeBron James.

They should be on South Beach right now, taking a breather before a potentially intense and emotional second-round series with the Celtics. Instead, there's a Game 5 with the Sixers on Wednesday, all because the ball went to the wrong guy.

You know, the guy whose driving layup attempt last month was blocked in the final seconds by the Knicks' Amar'e Stoudemire, the most recent of several times LeBron tried and failed to be a hero this season.

Well, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra did say this weird and ultimately wrong strategy of giving LeBron the ball against the Sixers had "a couple different triggers to it." He didn't elaborate, but that's probably code for LeBron was supposed to find Dwyane Wade if possible and let him pull the trigger.

Instead, LeBron isolated from the top of the key, drove the lane and had his shot blocked, again, this time by Elton Brand.

That was ballgame. That was the Sixers, rallying from six points down in the final 95 seconds Sunday, stunning the Heat with an 86-82 Game 4 victory. Mostly, that was the Heat melting down and allowing this series to be extended one game longer than necessary, partly because Spoelstra evidently hasn't learned his lesson and LeBron hasn't learned how to close out a big game in a Miami uniform.

"We weren't able to get anything out of it," Spoelstra said about the Heat's final play, and maybe that's because they didn't put the right amount of thought into it.

Back in Game 1, in another close finish, the ball went to Wade. Which made sense. Wade is the Heat's Mariano Rivera. Wade is championship tested. Wade is just as good off the dribble as LeBron, a better mid-range shooter and also free throw shooter, in the event of a foul. And in that Game 1, Wade wasn't even fully healthy, yet made the big shot anyway and only solidified his credentials as Miami's most reliable clutch player.

Even LeBron didn't have a problem with it, saying, "when the right hand isn't working, sometimes you've got to go with the left."

Well, like a recurring nightmare, the ball found its way back to LeBron, in the biggest game of the year, with a chance for Miami to rest five days before playing the Celtics. Now, let us be fair: LeBron made big shots for the Cavaliers all those years, and he did score 12 of his 31 points against the Sixers in the fourth quarter.

"I had a hot hand and guys kept feeding me," he said.

So the fact the ball went to LeBron wasn't necessarily a poor choice. Not saying that at all. He just wasn't the best or most reliable option, especially since Wade wasn't even checked by Philly's best defender; Andre Iguodala was on LeBron. So who's to blame?

Spoelstra wasn't too happy with "the execution" of the play, quite naturally, and while he never mentioned anyone by name, he did say: "We have to learn how to get better in that situation."

So, yes, LeBron's decision-making wasn't the best. But perhaps he should've never been put in that situation, at least not this time, not with the first-round series on the line.

Want another reason to go to Wade? He felt remorseful after a gruesome 40 second stretch in which he lapsed on defense and allowed Jrue Holiday to hit an open three-pointer, then missed a turnaround jumper and a chance to go ahead by a point, then was victimized on a Lou Williams three-pointer which put the Sixers up two points with 8.9 seconds left. You think Wade, after being burned like that, wanted the ball in his hands and a chance for redemption? Of course. Any competitor would.

As for LeBron, he wasn't terribly remorseful himself.

"I thought I put enough loft on the ball and (Brand) made a great play," he said, before adding it "didn't decide the game."

Sometimes stuff happens. And maybe the Sixers, young and desperate and on their home floor likely for the final time, were due to beat Miami after six straight losses, dating back to the regular season. Holiday and Williams and also rookie Evan Turner made solid plays in the stretch and will only grow from the experience.

Also: Wade wasn't guaranteed to make the big shot, even if he took it. Point is, though, he never had the chance, never had an opportunity to do what he does best. And the punishment for that is another game against the Sixers, another chance for something to go terribly wrong.

Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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