"We never thought it was going to be easy"
May 21, 2012
This series isn't over.
Truth be told, it just is getting started.
Each team has a win on the other's home floor. The injury to Chris Bosh hasn't altered the storyline that has stayed true through four games: the battle between collective and individual, between team and superstars.
The team has won twice, the superstars twice.
As Danny Granger said after the 101-93 loss in Game 4 Sunday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse:
"We never thought it was going to be easy."
Even the most rabid Pacers fan had to appreciate the brilliance of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in the second half of Game 4 on Sunday. It was as if Coach Erik Spoelstra scrapped the gameplan and told those two to take on the Pacers by themselves. No need for pick-and-rolls, or any plays, for that matter.
James and Wade were out there by themselves, playing two-on-five against one of the best defensive teams in the league, and winning.
"It comes down to this: yes, you can get the ball out of their hands and make other guys make plays but you get the ball out of one of those guys' hands and it finds its way to the other guy," Coach Frank Vogel said. "It's not just like one superhero and a bunch of role players. You've got to worry about the other guy."
For the purposes of this discussion, not to mention the series, the other guy is Wade. James has been a rock for the Heat, scoring no fewer than 22 points while averaging 30.5 to go with 12.3 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 3.0 steals, MVP numbers to be sure.
Wade has been the variable.
He didn't shoot well but attacked aggressively in Game 1, scoring 13 of his 29 from the free-throw line. After that miserable Game 3 performance he started slowly once again, missing seven of his first eight shots. But after the Pacers took an 11-point lead late in the first half, Wade hit a 3-pointer. A few minutes later he drove for a high-flying dunk.
Those two buckets brought his game to life and he proceeded to make his first nine of the second half. In a span of more than 13 minutes, no one other than Wade or James scored for Miami; those two outscored the Pacers 38-17 as the Heat took control.
"They've been through quite a few battles, we went through quite a bit last year, in all of those series that we went through that were highly competitive," Miami Coach Erik Spoelstra said. "They understand with one of our main components out that they have to step up big. They were tremendous with their force and their will. It’s 2-2 right now and it’s survival the rest of the way out."
It is clear Miami must have both James and Wade playing like MVPs to beat the Pacers. In Game 1, they combined for 61 points and scored 20 in a row in the fourth quarter. In Game 3, they combined for 70 points, including the first 23 in the 25-5 third-quarter run that turned it around.
There may be a reason Spoelstra has chosen the word "survival" to characterize what lies ahead. He used it before Game 4 and again afterward. James has averaged 42.5 minutes, Wade 38.9. While James appears fully capable of handling his share of the load, it could be a bigger challenge for Wade.
He missed eight of the last 15 regular-season games with an assortment of injuries. According to an ESPN.com report, he had his knee drained of fluid before Game 3 and his argument with Spoelstra during the third period sparked when the coach questioned his physical ability to continue.
Miami had two days off between Games 3 and 4, but that's the last time that will happen in this series. And Wade won't be able to benefit from the counseling and film study offered up by Indiana University's Tom Crean on Friday. As tempting as it is to lambaste Crean for giving aid and comfort to the enemy, he was just showing admirable loyalty to a former player.
The Pacers are still younger, fresher, deeper and more balanced. The longer the series goes, the more that should work in their favor.
"I've got a great deal of belief in our basketball team," Vogel said. "We know (James and Wade) are capable of doing what they did tonight. Those two guys are as good as it gets. There's no other way to look at it. But when you have the weapons we have, you can game plan and do better than we did tonight, there's no question about that."
If James and Wade can summon up the energy, effort and grit to do this again -- indeed, to do it again and again—they will deserve to advance.