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DALLAS The things that many will point to as the things that won Game 3 of the NBA Finals for the Miami HEAT are, indeed, the things that eventually won the game.
Chris Bosh won the game when he recovered from a strange 7-of-18 shooting night to hit the game-winning jumper along the right baseline with just under 40 seconds to play, a shot made open by a screen from Udonis Haslem, off a pass he received from LeBron James in the high post, all of which was the result of a James screen for Dwyane Wade.
But that was only the game winner because of the HEATs rotations to cut off the three-point line on the final possession of the game, and because Udonis Haslem didnt bit on any of Dirk Nowitzkis fakes, forcing him into the lowest-percentage look possible.
That was a man to man defense right there, Wade said. It was Udonis putting his chest in front. We had a lot of confidence coming out of the huddle.
And that play featured the deciding miss only because of Wades 29 points and just-as-important 11 rebounds. Because of the patience of James to allow the constant stream of double teams to reach him before unselfishly moving the ball. Because of Mario Chalmers coming off the bench to hit four threes, one a near-halfcourt heave at the end of the first half.
We talk about these things because the HEAT dont win without these things. They provide drama and narrative, sure, but that collection of moments shoulders the burden of a win in June, so they become immortalized.
None of the above exists, however, were it not for this defense. This living, breathing organism of No, this amalgamation of shield and spear, poking and prodding the enemy offense as it lays down thick, mobile walls of iron.
The HEAT have schemed an aggressive, attacking style, as Erik Spoelstra has been prone to say all year, but we often only see the gambles that lead to steals, the steals that lead to open-court scores, the turnovers that deflate an offense. We dont often recognize, on first viewing, the tiny sprints players make during a mundane second-quarter stretch, not just sprints to close out on a shot, but to get to the right spots just to be in position to close out. But with the above factors playing into a win, some recognition is deserved, with the utmost respect for the foe.
This is the toughest offense we've played all year as far as how many guys they put on the floor that can make plays, James said. Not only for themselves, but for others. [An] unbelievable shooting team. And they make you stay in tune. You can never relax or they make you pay.
Its not a momentum-based defense, built on effort as reward. Miami doesnt defend downhill, only putting in the effort as a run grows larger and larger, or as they sense a wounded offense limping on one leg. Its not even defense that can be easily defined by statistics. Its just as good, for example, when holding the Mavericks to 30 percent shooting in the second quarter or 50 percent in the first.
Its around the clock, when everyone doesnt just get their chance to shine, but has to unless the walls come tumbling down.
Its not always perfect, but theres always something right about it. When Joel Anthony leaves his man, Dirk Nowitzki, in Game 1 to help a teammate with a cutter, Nowitzki gets an open jumper, but only because it is Anthonys habit to help whenever, wherever. And in Game 3, when Anthony doesnt help off Nowitzki and the Mavericks get a short floater in the lane, its not perfect then, either. But its players trying to do the right thing.
Players like Mike Bibby who, after bouts of defensive effectiveness against Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose, has taken to closing out on Dallas shooters, in one early possession splitting two at a time and still contesting the shot fake from one and the actual shot from the other.
Players like Anthony, Haslem and Bosh, each with their own style, who help hold the Mavericks to 40 percent shooting overall and a pedestrian 100 points per 100 possessions, but helped force nine misses at the rim, and another five misses within nine feet of the bucket.
Players like Chalmers, who has been a quick-handed hound, disrupting the dribbles of guards large and small not enough for steals, but to alter timing, to push a ballhandler that one inch off their line of comfort, to the point where the pass being thrown causes the slightest twinge in the shoulder as it strains itself.
And especially, a player like James, the man who is less covering ground than the ground is simply getting out of the way so as not to be a part of his pursuit. Few players shrink the defensive side of the floor like James can and does, and though the team saves him for much of the first half, not putting him on Jason Terry until the final minutes of the third quarter, there is nothing he is asked not to do.
That doesnt mean just get steals or blocks or rebounds. That means he is asked to be where he needs to be and know the ten places he might need to be in half a second. And hell be there. Sometimes gambling in the passing lane, sometimes playing straight up, sometimes providing a little too much help. If Miamis defense is a chokehold, James has become the force that lifts the opponent up before slamming it to the ground.
It may not be perfect, but the intent is almost always right, and though those moments of high drama won the game, its the defense that has Nowitzki searching for daylight, that has Barea struggling to find effectiveness beyond spot-up shooting, that has Jason Kidd run off the three-point line, forced into an inefficient jumper he doesnt want to take, or a pass he wasnt meant to make. Its the defense that has morphed Shawn Marion at times Dallas go-to scorer, and has Jason Terry hitting baseline jumpers over multiple defenders as he shoots 5-of-13.
And its the defense, above all other matters of scoring, that has to maintain.
This series is turning out to be an absolute series of endurance, mental and physical, Spoelstra.