Posted May 25 2011 8:03AM
MIAMI -- After seven months, the team the Heat envisioned last summer when they put this group together finally surfaced, and who knew it would be Dwyane Wade arriving better late than never?
As a result, the end of the Eastern Conference finals is near, if only because the Heat can actually get better if Mike Miller is going to shoot like that.
It was a unified effort, with Miller and Udonis Haslem, the Little Two That Could, finally joining the Big Three and making Miami mathematically impossible for the Bulls to beat in Game 4.
Miller shook off two bum wrists to drop 12 points (with a team-high nine boards), five more than his entire postseason total, all from deep.
Haslem added nine rebounds and elevated the level of toughness all by himself by mixing it up with Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer.
Chris Bosh scored 22 points and remained a steady and damaging offensive force for Miami in this series.
Wade had a shaky night, missing 11 of 16 shots, but in overtime did make the most important jumper.
Finally, and this is the most decisive factor of all, LeBron James is out-playing the MVP. That was never more evident than in the final minute of regulation, when LeBron demanded to check Derrick Rose and proceeded to erase him.
"I just tried to bring my intensity," James said. "The MVP has a lot of energy. And you just try to keep him out of the paint the best you can. Whatever it takes. I love defense. I take pride on that side of the floor."
Rose had the ball in his hands twice with the score tied at 85 and sized up LeBron, one-on-one. And twice Rose was denied, unable to shake a guy who's 6-foot-8 and 265 pounds. Making matters worse for Rose and the Bulls, he dribbled off his foot in OT, sealing a 101-93 Heat win and 3-1 series advantage. It was another poor shooting night for Rose, whose knees and psyche might be fatigued from the burden of trying to be a savior. He shot only 8-for-27 and, just as he did in the fourth quarter of Game 3, missed every shot he took in overtime.
"That's as tough a cover as you can have in this league," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the LeBron assignment. "I've compared Derrick to trying to corral a tornado."
If they waited until now to take the MVP vote, how would the results look? (Dirk Nowitzki would also love to know.) LeBron dropped 35 points, a pair on a dunk that shook the house, several more while bowling through the lane and toppling defenders like plastic pins. With Wade having his troubles, at times it appeared as though LeBron was back in Cleveland, passing the ball to teammates who couldn't make big shots. At least until Miller rediscovered his stroke and Miami finally learned how terrific life can be when the projected five players are fit and focused.
If Haslem picked up the team and possibly turned the series in Miami's favor in Game 2, then Miller likely put the Heat in total control. Until Tuesday night, he avoided the ball, and when he did get it, avoided shooting. Here was a player, who once led the league in three-point percentage, running scared. Here was a player, signed in the offseason on the strong recommendation of LeBron, who resorted to doing the "little things" rather than the one thing he was brought to Miami to do: hit open jumpers.
Wrist surgery didn't help, and another spill and subsequent injury only added to Miller's invisibility. But Spoelstra stuck with Miller over a slumping Wade through much of the fourth quarter -- who would've imagined that? -- and Miller finally came through in a big way.
Haslem has shaken off five months of rust following a foot injury to meet the intensity of the postseason head-on, tough to do when limited only to practice reps until now.
"Six weeks ago the staff was tempering my expectations (of Haslem), saying it probably wasn't going to happen this year," Spoelstra said. "But UD was so stubborn that he kept moving forward. It's all about championship intangibles and the heart he has.
"Mike has really struggled through a frustrating year for him. And now he's able to contribute. These are some of the things we anticipated coming into the season. And now, here where it counts, they both have been able to contribute."
Miami is a team that's still improving, something rarely seen here in late May. Call it a spring bloom. There is the sense the offensive burden will now be relieved somewhat on the Big Three, that help has arrived in the paint, that the Heat still haven't realized their full potential yet. That's not only scary for the Bulls and their chances of winning three straight, but for whoever emerges from the West should Miami indeed advance.
And we haven't even mentioned the true strength of the Heat this entire postseason.
"Defense is the reason we're here," said Bosh, "and defense is the reason we're winning games."
It's all coming together now for Miami, and understandably, all coming apart for the Bulls.
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