MIAMI — There’s a difference between a veteran team and a team comprised of veterans.
The Miami Heat, in their fourth year of the Big Three Era, played like a group in sync down the stretch of their series-clinching 96-94 victory against the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Heat trailed by eight points with less than three minutes to go.
"You gotta keep your cool," center Chris Bosh said. "You gotta breathe."
Miami then went on a 13-3 run that lifted the two-time defending NBA champions into the conference finals for the fourth straight season.
"We’ve been playing together for a while," Bosh said. "You just rely on each other a little bit more. You know what the dude next to you is going to give. There’s a certain pride in that."
There also might have been some chest bumping after holding the Nets to 19 fourth-quarter points on 36.4 percent (eight of 22) shooting. Familiarity, you see, helps at both ends of the court.
"We know where each individual is going to be on the court and that helps so much," said Dwyane Wade, who scored 26 points.
The Nets, too, were a team comprised of veterans. Point guard Deron Williams and forward Joe Johnson were joined this season by former Boston Celtics stars Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to form formidable leadership.
But although Brooklyn sported much individual playoff experience, coach Jason Kidd’s team struggled at key times.
"It felt like we had a great opportunity against the world champions," said Kidd, whose team won all four regular-season meeting with Miami. "We came up short. It’s a process. We just put this together."
Besides knowing each other’s tendencies, the Heat displayed mettle and refused to get rattled.
"Overwhelmingly, the No. 1 key in this series was great mental stability," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "You have to have that throughout the course of each game, each possession and then obviously through the series."
The Heat did not practice Thursday, when the Indiana Pacers and Washington Wizards played Game 6 of their conference semifinals.
"We never shortcut the process and we understand that each and every game is going to be a process for us," said LeBron James, who had 29 points. "This is the reason we came together four years ago."
Miami’s veteran makeup could be a major asset against either Washington or Indiana. The Wizards are younger and might feel the heat of a deep playoff run. The rival Pacers, although together for several years, have been up and down this postseason, looking dysfunctional at times.
Experience also means the Heat won’t take either team lightly.
"Every year, it seems like it gets tougher and you have to work your way into that situation so you can get back (to the NBA Finals)," said Ray Allen, whose 3-pointer with 32 seconds left gave Miami the lead for good.
"If you talk to anybody on this team, four straight years, you talk about all the trials and tribulations that we’ve been through to get here. It feels great. But still, the job is not done."