Yes, I know it’s wrong to assume, especially for a journalist.
But in the aftermath of the Miami Heat’s latest big-game disappointment, a one-point loss to the visiting Bulls, let’s just assume Mike Miller cried in the postgame locker room.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, in an attempt to illustrate how emotionally invested his players were in winning on Sunday and stopping Miami’s now-four-game losing streak, let it slip that a “couple of guys” were crying in the locker room.
We’re going to assume Miller was one. Had to be. Even if the Heat had won, Miller should’ve shed a few tears.
He was awful. He bricked all five of his wide-open looks. He was a liability on the defensive end. And in the clutch, he shoved Chicago’s Luol Deng in the back on a missed free throw, sending Deng back to the line for what turned out to be the game-winning freebies.
Any pride at all and Miller still is bawled up in a fetal position as you read this.
So who else did Deng, MVP candidate Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer leave in tears inside American Airlines Arena?
Well, thanks to Miami Herald reporter Joe Goodman, we have reason to believe it wasn’t Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh. Goodman asked Wade and Bosh point blank. Wade said it wasn’t him. Bosh said he almost did but stopped just short.
I doubt it was Erick Dampier or Zydrunas Ilgauskas. They’re too old and played in too many games. They’re emotionally numb to regular-season losses.
James Jones? Hell, he’s still on a high from winning the three-point contest during All-Star Weekend. Mike Bibby? He’s too new on the yard to show his vulnerability. Plus, it’s bad enough for him right now overhearing his new teammates take bets on who would win a 40-yard dash between him and Big Z. Bibby can handle “slow.” He’s not giving his skeptics “soft and slow.”
That leaves Mario Chalmers and LeBron James. No one else played.
Chalmers turned in his best game of the season, hitting 4 of 5 shots and nailing a late three to tie the score and an even later layup to put the Heat up two. Why cry? With his performance on Sunday, Chalmers locked up the starting point guard job for the time being.
I’m just assuming, but it had to be King James.
It’s the only explanation that makes sense.
The Heat ran a high-screen isolation play for James on Miami’s final possession. James went one-on-one with Noah and banged a left-handed drive off the glass that missed. In the locker room after the game, James felt compelled to address his teammates.
“I told my team, I’m not going to continue to fail late in games,” he said. “I put a lot of blame on myself tonight. I told the guys that I just keep failing them late in games and I won’t continue to do that.”
Sounds like just the kind of speech that would make a leader get emotional and weep. It also sounds like just the kind of speech that would cause a relatively inexperienced coach to share locker-room vulnerability with the media.
Spoelstra wanted us — media, fans and Heat critics — to know just how much the players he’s responsible for getting mentally and emotionally ready to play care about winning.
We’re not stupid. We know LeBron, Wade, Bosh and all the players care, particularly since their rough November start. The Heat play really hard. No one in the league plays harder than James and Wade. The Big Three gave maximum, marvelous efforts on both ends of the court against Chicago. They desperately wanted to prove they can beat the NBA’s elite teams.
There are no legitimate questions about in-game effort and caring as it relates to the Big Three.
The questions are about whether the Big Three know how to go about preparing to win, subjugating their egos and finding a smart, comfortable rhythm/chemistry that produces victories against elite competition, and whether they have the right supporting pieces.
Oh, and now there is one more huge, legitimate question: Do the Heat have the right coach?
Spoelstra is starting to crack. He’s desperate. He can’t handle the heat or the Heat.
Pat Riley did Spoelstra no favors. I’m not talking about the flawed roster Riley gave his young coach. I’m talking about the organizational arrogance that Riley fueled throughout the offseason. In its desire to be relevant in a city that finds it easy to ignore professional basketball, the Heat franchise embraced the illogical and anti-team notion that three players could beat full teams and create an instant dynasty.
Protected by a fawning, local media cocoon and the ESPN hype machine, James, Wade and Bosh are just now coming to realize the depth and the weight of the burden they undertook.
You don’t win NBA titles 3 on 5 or 3 on 8.
Up two points headed into the final quarter Sunday, the Heat opened the final 12 minutes with James and Bosh in the lineup (and Wade joined them 95 seconds in). The Bulls countered with Rose, Boozer and Noah on the bench.
My thought was: James and Bosh are going to play all 12 fourth-quarter minutes and close to 42 minutes for the game, and the Bulls are going to close the game stronger than Miami. It was the Heat’s third game in four days.
Rose checked in with eight and a half minutes left in the quarter. Noah and Boozer re-entered two minutes later.
You can nitpick Miami’s last play and whether Miller really shoved Deng in the back. None of it truly matters. The Bulls were far from perfect — Rose had an unforced turnover and took a bad jumper and Noah blew a defensive assignment on Chalmers’ late layup.
The Heat struggle closing games because the Big Three carry too big of a physical and mental load leading up to the final two minutes. They’re walking a tightrope for 48 minutes.
It helps to be fresh.
“We need to have a stubbornness to keep on getting into these situations, and then have the resiliency to finally break through,” Spoelstra said, referencing Miami’s tendency to lose close games to good teams. “…. It isn’t a matter of want. It is a matter of doing and continuing to put ourselves in this position until we break through.”
Remember when the Heat wanted to win four or five championships, 72 regular-season games and chase history? Now, an all-time great team just wants to get in position to hit a game-winning shot in the final seconds.
I don’t blame LeBron for crying.
The Heat have started a critical 10-game stretch of contests against playoff-caliber teams 0-4. My FOXSports.com colleague Bill Reiter dubbed this stretch the Heat’s “March Madness.”
Tears are appropriate when you get eliminated from serious consideration as a championship team.