After getting throttled in Indiana back in game 3 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals — a game that knocked the heavily favored, Chris Bosh-less Heat off their high horse — the Miami Heat, the most highly scrutinized team in all of pro sports, had a choice: Man up and die trying or wilt in place right then and there, and face the wrath of a ferocious media mutiny and the very real possibility of breaking up the Big 3.
LeBron James went off for the game of many players’ lifetimes (40-18-9) and a once lifeless Wade came alive for 30 and the Heat shook off the pesky Pacers 101-93.
I remember right then and there, talking to my dad on the phone, with a simple proclamation: “If the Heat go on to win the NBA title, game 3 will be the best thing that ever happened to them.”
A little over 1 month later on May 20, 2012, the Heat are 1 win from the finish line. And I stand by my belief that a game 3, two long, grueling series ago changed everything.
While LeBron carried Miami on his back against Boston in game 6 in Beantown to keep Miami literally off of the elimination rack, it was game 3 in Indiana that put Miami’s true colors on the ropes. Without Bosh, with the pressure mounting, the Heat appeared to be falling apart at the seams. And then, just in time to save their fading season, Wade and LeBron came to the rescue in a scintillating game 4.
It was the ultimate gut-check, for a team that seemed to be missing something.
Miami never lost a game the rest of that series and just like that they turned a corner. LeBron and Wade were the ringleaders. But it takes more then 2 to bring home the title.
Which is why this NBA Finals has been so exciting to watch. It takes a team to gallop across the finish line in the grueling test that is the NBA’s two and a half month post-season and after nearly 2 seasons of searching for the right formula, the Heat are 1 win away from proving that they are so much more then just 3 guys.
Miami doesn’t win game 2 without Shane Battier.
They certainly don’t win game 3 without James Jones and his 6 crucial points.
They probably get blown out without Mario Chalmers and his remarkable 25 point game 4.
You see, Miami wasn’t quite ready for the coronation last year. This year they get it. This year when the going gets tough, they’re just getting started. A team with stars is also a unit full of role guys manning up in the biggest moments. People said the Heat couldn’t win a title with just 3 guys. Well, 1 win away from their goal, they were right.
It takes a team. Something the Miami Heat now have.
It might be a different guy each night, but the Heat are getting contributions from everyone in this 2012 NBA Finals. Fitting, considering that the only game they lost, game 1, they played just 6 players.
While the guys on the marquee helped pull ‘em towards this moment, it’s the smaller names who help nail shut the demons. Miami has talent, but talent only goes so far without role players. Talent only goes so far without defense. Talent only goes so far without a real game-plan.
The Heat, after searching for a few seasons for their identity, finally have it:
They’re a physical, hard-nosed, defensive team, powered by aggressive plays to the basket, and their role guys stepping up with whatever it takes. The Heat are not an isolation team, they are a versatile team. They’re a team that peaks when you push them to the edge. They relish pushing the limits as evidenced by overcoming OKC’s huge 17 point first quarter edge in less than 7 minutes. They can comeback, they can hit 3’s, they can post up, and most importantly, they can man up.
While they may not be great with the game on the ropes in the closing moments, Miami has developed a winning mentality since game 7 of the Boston series that they can make shots and get stops when they absolutely have to. Given how many games they’ve had decided in the 4th quarter — starting with that do or die game 7 vs the C’s — Miami has elevated itself from a scared team hoping to close to a confident bunch seizing the moments.
LeBron James playing on one leg hit a goose-bump inducing 3 late in game 4 to give Miami a lead. He was in so much pain that he was taken out of the game shortly thereafter. That was a Kirk Gibson like moment right there. One of those — he’s due moments — that you would expect Hollywood to script. It didn’t win Miami the game, it simply said, ‘hey, this is our time. Now go finish them!’
With the game in the balance it was Mario Chalmers channeling his 2008 Kansas clutch-ness to help seal a compelling treat of a basketball game.
But it’s not just Rio, or Norris Cole — who hit 2 huge threes to quickly whittle away a big OKC lead — it was everyone. It was Battier hitting another 3, James Jones knocking down a triple, Chris Bosh’s tremendous defense and energy and of course Wade and James.
It takes a team to win a championship.
Once a two-man show, Miami appears ready to stand together as NBA champs.
1 more win to end a roller-coaster ride unlike any other. 1 more win for vindication. 1 last triumph left for culmination.