Tale of Two Halves for the MVP
After accepting his third MVP trophy pregame, many probably thought LeBron James would get out to a hot start in game one of the Eastern Conference semifinals. However James was just 3-9 from the field for six points in the first half against the Pacers.
His cold streak would not last long. With Chris Bosh out right before intermission due to an abdominal injury, James had no choice but to become the offensive focal point. The first MVP in Heat history went off for 26 second half points, with ten of those coming in the final four minutes.
Most impressively, James played all 24 minutes over the last two quarters. Losing one of the “Big Three” and entering the third with a six-point deficit gave head coach Erik Spoelstra no other option but to ride his superstar.
“I thought about taking him out for a minute,” said Spoelstra. “Then it got to the seven or six minute mark and I just looked him straight in the eye and said, ‘You flat out cannot get tired. Period.’ And he made MVP plays on both ends of the court; the rebounding, but also creating a lot of offense for us. Particularly in the fourth quarter when we needed some relief.”
James might have had a Jekyll & Hyde day offensively, but he was locked in on the defensive side from the start. He led the Miami rebounding charge, hauling down a season high 15 boards while also shutting down Indiana’s leading scorer, Danny Granger.
Granger averaged over 20 points a game in his team’s first round series with Orlando, but on Sunday finished with just seven points on 1-10 shooting with James shadowing him.
“I do not know if he is going to have a huge offensive series, especially when he had to guard LeBron James for thirty-eight minutes,” said Pacers head coach Frank Vogel. “Obviously LeBron James is the Most Valuable Player of the league because he is also the best defensive player in the league so that has something to do with it as well.”
Undersized Heat Played Bigger Than Pacers
In the days leading up to this series, Indiana’s frontcourt of David West and Roy Hibbert were billed as an advantage against the much smaller Miami bigs. The Heat turned the tables on that theory in game one, outrebounding the Pacers by seven and notching 12 more points in the paint.
Despite the size mismatch, James was not surprised his team kept pace down low because of the style they have played all season.
“It doesn’t matter who we are going against, we are going to attack,” said James. “We have always been a collective group. Not just one guy is going to dominate the glass. The full team is going to help rebound. We understand when we outrebound our opponent, for the most part, we’re a really good team.”
Centers Joel Anthony and Ronny Turiaf were two Heat players that particularly stepped up inside. Anthony had one of the best all-around games of his career, finishing with nine points and seven rebounds.
Turiaf was called upon to absorb some of the injured Bosh’s minutes and provided energy off the bench. Everyone acknowledged postgame that the key for Turiaf and Anthony is that they are always ready to contribute, even when they have received minimal playing time.
“We just played our game, just stayed our course,” said Turiaf of their performance. “We know how physical this series is going to be. It’s just a matter of us staying with the program and just keep pushing.”
Bosh’s Status Unknown
While the Heat came away with the game one victory, they may have also suffered a severe loss. At the 1:06 mark in the second quarter, Bosh slammed home a dunk but came up in pain and was sent to the locker room after one more possession down the court.
It was revealed that he suffered a lower abdominal strain. Bosh missed the second half and pending an MRI Monday might be ruled out for upcoming games, which is worrisome to his Heat teammates.
“Anytime a teammate goes down it’s always a concern,” said Wade. “You saw the look on his face, you knew something was wrong. Hopefully, tomorrow we get good news. We all want to make sure Chris is healthy.”
If Miami is forced to play without Bosh, Spoelstra thinks they can compensate. Conventional thinking is that he will start Turiaf and keep Anthony coming off the bench while placing a larger portion of the offensive load on James and Wade.
“That was on the fly, every huddle,” said Spoelstra on his adjustments. “We’ve been doing that all year. So it’s familiar to us. We don’t know what Chris’ status is, but we have great versatility with this group and also a collective resolve regardless of what happens.”
**Update** 12:00 PM The Heat announced this morning that following the MRI, Bosh is “out indefinitely”. Reading between the lines, I would assume that means at least for this round with the Pacers.
- The Heat went 0-6 from three. It was the first time in franchise playoff history the team had not notched at least one make from downtown.
- Much was made about Miami’s alleged “flopping” by Vogel before the series got underway. While early on it looked like he would get more favorable calls, Indiana ended up with 31 fouls to the Heat’s 22. Miami went 29-38 from the line (76.3%)
- A few final impressive stats on James: 1. His primary defensive assignment, Granger, did not record a field goal until the 7:21 mark in the 3rd quarter. 2. Despite his aggressive style on both ends, James got his first personal foul with 6:20 to go in the fourth quarter. 3. James grabbed a third of Miami’s total rebounds.