A Fourth Quarter to Celebrate for Miami
Is there anything more criticized in sports than every move the Miami Heat make late in games? Throughout the last two years, Miami’s lack of success in some big moments has drawn the ire of a nation.
Perhaps for the first time, after their Game 7 effort to eliminate the Boston Celtics, the Heat have a performance to hold up to their critics. With the game knotted up at 73 heading into the fourth quarter, the Heat outscored the Celtics 28-15 in the final period.
While the critics might have doubted Miami’s ability to close, internally the team has continued to believe in each other.
“That’s somebody else’s truth,” said head coach Erik Spoelstra about the media’s critiques. “We have a very confident group. We didn’t panic in either one of these last two series when we got behind. Coming down the stretch of fourth quarters, you could possibly have said that about our basketball team last year, not this year.”
No one outside of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh scored in the fourth for the Heat, but the “Big Three” back close to full strength was too lethal to counter. A stretch that started at the 7:17 mark with a Bosh three then successive James buckets gave them a seven-point lead and seemed to be the game’s final turning point.
The final Miami push was also keyed on defense, with Boston shooting just 38.9 percent in the final 12 minutes and going 1-7 from three in that time frame. Holding a plus seven rebounding advantage and limiting the Celtics to zero second chance points in quarter four ultimately gave them the extra boost to pull away.
“We knew we were close,” said Battier. “We just couldn’t get separation from them until the fourth. Chris had a huge three that put us up four and that was really the opportunity for us to open it up. We just had to go on a run and get a few stops.”
Bosh Keys Victory
As recently as the beginning of the week, the playing status of Bosh was unknown. Now, after two games of getting eased back into the lineup, the final piece of the Heat’s great trio might have had his most impactful game to close out the Celtics.
Bosh turned in a masterpiece in efficiency, going 8-10 from the field and finishing with 19 points and eight rebounds. What may have been even more important was the way he spread the court for the Heat’s two leading scorers, James and Wade.
“That was the biggest challenge that I ever had in my life,” said Bosh. “To make sure I stay ready so when the time did come, I would be able to contribute instead of trying to get my legs under me and be a non-factor.”
One element in Bosh’s game never as prevalent as it was Saturday was his ability to knock down threes. For his career, he is just a 29 percent shooter from behind the arc, but Bosh was 3-4 from distance confounding the Boston defense.
Some who had watched pregame warm-ups reported that Bosh was taking an unordinary amount of three pointers and draining them with ease. It is a shot that he says he surprisingly has been working on all year because he knew with the way teams defend the Heat, perimeter opportunities would appear at some point for him.
“Game ball automatically goes to him,” said James on Bosh. “Without his production tonight, we don’t win. He made three (three pointers) tonight and all of them were big. He was big time.“
Thunder Provide the Toughest Test in Finals
There is no question that Miami has faced daunting opponents in postseason play the last two years, whether it is teams like the Bulls and Mavericks last year, Pacers this year, or Celtics each of the past two seasons. Yet, it would be hard to argue they have faced a bigger challenge then who awaits them in the NBA Finals this go-around.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have run through a similar gauntlet to arrive at this destination while building a franchise around Kevin Durant. Winning four games in a row to capture the Westi against a San Antonio Spurs team that had been victorious in their previous 20 straight might have been their greatest achievement to date.
Thus a great stage is set when Heat-Thunder tips for Game 1 on Tuesday from Oklahoma City.
“They’ve gotten over humps themselves,” said Bosh on the Thunder. “They beat the hottest team in the league at the time in San Antonio and they present a lot of challenges. We know they have home court, so we’re going to have to play our best basketball in order to overcome that team.”
Miami will face a new set of circumstances to persevere through against OKC. Defending a young, athletic offensive unit that can match the Heat’s offensive bursts is just one element they have not had to contend with yet.
However, while the Thunder has been clicking on all cylinders, Spoelstra hopes the collective experience his team has built up will carry them through to a championship.
“At this point both teams are dangerous and both teams know it,” said Spoelstra. We’ve been through a lot in two years. We think and talk about it all the time that the trials and tribulations we’ve been through have strengthened our core and built our character. There’s no question we’ll need it in the next round.”