Memories of '11 Finals fresh for cautious Heat
MIAMI — When it came to pain, the Miami Heat had plenty last June. The only debate is what was the biggest punch-in-the-gut moment.
Overall, you'd probably have to go with Dallas hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy on the Heat's home floor with a Game 6 Finals win since that's when the season came to a crushing end. But blowing a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter to lose Game 2 at home and kicking away a nine-point fourth-quarter lead to give away Game 4 at Dallas are right up there.
And since the Heat now lead 2-1 over Oklahoma City in these Finals, the same margin they had last year, Game 4 is now the most discussed Miami painful moment.
"Yeah, of course it stuck with us, all the way to this day," forward LeBron James said Monday as his Heat prepared for Tuesday's Game 4 against the Thunder at AmericanAirlines Arena.
It might stick more with James than anyone. The absence of a title ring on his finger has been well documented, and it was looking as if he was ready to be sized.
James, though, picked a bad time to have perhaps the worst playoff game of his career. He shot 3-of-11 for a career playoff-low eight points.
The Heat looked as if they might survive James' brutal night when they led 74-65 in the fourth quarter. But the Mavericks stormed back to win 86-83, and then claimed the next two games to take the series 4-2.
"We're a totally different team than we were last year when we were up 2-1," James said. "We understand what it takes to win, and we've used that motivation, and we will continue to use that motivation."
Remembering last year is a bit like swallowing daily a spoonful of cod liver oil. It might not be fun, the Heat seem to believe it will pay off in the long run.
"Every day, we remind ourselves, we think of that pain that we experienced last year," said forward Chris Bosh.
Entering last year's Finals, since the 2-3-2 format had started in 1985, all the teams that had won Game 3 when the series was tied 1-1 had gone on to win the title. That's 11-0.
The Heat, of course, became the team that ended that perfect streak. And now they certainly don't want to make it a habit.
"We didn't capitalize on our situation," Bosh said of last year. "We had a major opportunity and we let it slip through."
So what happened? If you listen to Heat players, they're pretty candid about it.
"Don't get too confident," is what guard Mario Chalmers said Miami has learned.
"Last year, being up 2-1, we might have drunk the Kool-Aid just a tad bit and it could have possible cost us as a team," said forward Udonis Haslem. "This year we remain humble, we remain hungry and we remain motivated and focused."
No, the Heat weren't dancing around when they led the Mavericks 2-1 in fashion similar to when James and Bosh joined Dwyane Wade in the summer of 2010 to form the Big Three. But there was a certain arrogance last June that players now say has been channeled into a more focused vision.
There is more comfort among the Big Three that two seasons of playing together has brought. And there is said to now be a better understanding of how to deal with all the scrutiny from the media and general public.
"I think we all got caught up in the lights and stuff and negatively last year," Bosh said. "We let that take our energy away from focusing on what we need to focus on. This year, we're just being ourselves."
James has said he let distractions bog him down last season, and this season has gone back to simply having fun. His more relaxed attitude is showing as James, after picking up the MVP for the regular season, looks primed to add a Finals MVP trophy to his shelf with averages in the first three games of 30.3 points and 10.3 rebounds.
At 40.9 percent, Wade isn't shooting well in the series. But he's still averaging 22.7 points.
Unlike James, Wade had an impressive Game 4 last year at Dallas, scoring 32 points. Bosh was strong as well, scoring 24. But it wasn't enough.
After the loss, the Heat's season careened downhill in a hurry. They fell 112-103 at Dallas in Game 5 and 105-95 at home in Game 6, the Mavericks' two most lopsided wins in the series.
"Obviously, the team that was here that lost the championship last year, that burning sensation is going to be inside of us until we change that," Wade said. "But while we're in the moment, we've got to do what we've got to do."
With a 2-1 lead, the Heat know they must end up closing out the Thunder. History says they will considering Finals teams with such a lead since the 2-3-2 format began are 20-2 when it comes to hoisting a trophy.
But the Heat are well aware what history suggested before last year's Game 4. So they're determined not to let their guard down.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on twitter @christomasson