Anytime the Heat lose a playoff game you’d think Skylab was falling again.
But perhaps secretly those on the Heat don’t mind all the bashing that comes with their postseason setbacks. After all, when joints are aching during a lockout-compacted season, it doesn’t hurt to have some extra motivation.
The naysayers came out in full force after Miami lost Game 1 of the Finals to Oklahoma City. LeBron James, even though he scored 30 points, was dubbed less-than-clutch after being outplayed down the stretch by Kevin Durant, who in one night supposedly had seized King James’ throne as the best player in the world. Dwayne Wade, all of 30, was suddenly too old.
So the Heat came out with a purpose in Game 2, seizing a 17-point first-half lead before holding on to win 100-96 on Thursday night at Cheseapeake Energy Arena. James and Wade were strong with 32 and 24 points, respectively.
This now marks the third straight series Miami has fallen behind by a game and had to win on the road to perhaps avoid extinction. In the Eastern Conference finals against Boston, it was definitely to avoid going the way of the Dodo bird.
It started in an East semifinal against Indiana, when the Heat trailed 2-1 and were facing Game 4 at a rowdy Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The talk was there was something wrong with Wade, who was coming off an awful Game 3 and a spat with coach Erik Spoelstra. And James was dubbed to be back in a playoff choke mode, not taking the ball aggressively enough to the basket and clanking free throws when he did get to the line.
Well, James came out and totaled 40 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists and Wade had 30 as the Heat rolled 101-93 in Game 4. They then won two more games to close out the series 4-2.
In the Eastern finals, the Heat were down 3-2 heading to Boston, where James already had lost two elimination games in the previous four seasons. Surely, with the ghost of Red Auerbach lurking, James was about to lose another.
Nope. James totaled 45 points, 15 rebounds and five assists as the Heat won 98-79 in Game 6. They then closed out the series with a home win in Game 7.
Compared to those Houdini-like escapes in the previous two series, Thursday’s game must have seemed easy. The Heat, after all, were only down 1-0 in the series.
En route to scoring a Finals career high in points, James shot 12-of-12 from the foul line, including drilling a pair with 7.1 seconds left that gave the Heat a safe 100-96 lead. Wade didn’t quite look like Willie Mays stumbling around in the outfield late in his career, going aggressively to the hole and shooting 10-of-20 a game after he had gone 7-of-19 for 19 points.
Both James and Wade were asked bounce-back-type questions. It would have been a chance for either to go into an I-told-you-so mode, but both held their tongues. That was smart since they know this series is still far from over.
James was asked if his clutch free-throw shooting marked any sort of turnaround. After all, he’s had plenty of fourth-quarter meltdowns, namely in last year’s Finals, when Miami fell 4-2 to Dallas.
“I’m a confident guy,” James said. “On a big stage like this in a big game like this, every point counts, every point matters. So you go to the free-throw line, no matter how hostile the environment, and try to knock them down… We want to make enough plays to win basketball games, not to answer any questions about what people have to say about us.”
Wade was asked if he was insulted about all the questions he had been asked before Game 2. Some were along the lines of whether he still can jump.
“Man, it’s fine,” Wade said. “I’m not sensitive. I understand the way the world works. I get it. You know, it’s fine. Whatever questions are thrown at me, I’m not sensitive, so I can take it. Maybe I’ll get defensive at times, we all do, we’re human. But just know that I’m always going to keep coming back until I don’t play this game no more.”
No wonder Wade is fine with it. It’s been great motivation for he and James whenever they get ripped after falling behind in a series.
Now, the challenge will come before Game 3 on Sunday at AmericanAirlines Arena. OK, there will be some talk about how the Heat barely held on after blowing their big lead. But how will the Heat respond when people are mostly saying and writing good things about them for several days?
Even the Thunder, by offering no bulletin-board material, didn’t cooperate in the motivation department. Durant, who had 26 of his 32 points in the second half, didn’t bite when it was suggested he was fouled by James on a short jumper from the left side with less than 10 seconds remaining that clanged off the iron with the Thunder down 98-96.
Maybe the Heat won’t respond well to everything being calm before Game 3. But that might not be all that bad for them. If they lose and the Heat bashers are again out in full force, they simply can resume what they’ve been doing throughout this postseason.