CHICAGO, IL - MAY 18: Udonis Haslem of the Miami Heat dunks against the Chicago Bulls in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Finals. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Udonis Haslem waited a long time for his chance to return this season and help the Miami Heat do what they began the season together trying to do; win an NBA Championship. Following a long recovery, he has his teammates to thank for getting him that opportunity because they are the ones that got the Heat to the Eastern Conference Finals. If Udonis has been playing for any of the 26 teams that are not still competing, he would have had to wait for next season to get that chance.
Instead, he came into Game 2 late in the 1st quarter with Miami struggling to get any momentum going. Joel Anthony was in foul trouble keeping him off the floor and even though Jamaal Magloire had a quick start he wasn't really getting the job done, so in came Haslem. He instantly reminded Heat fans of why he is the captain, and why he is so very important to this team.
After Chicago picked up 7 offensive rebounds in the 1st quarter, they went the next 12 minutes that Udonis was on the floor without one. Meanwhile, UD grabbed 4 rebounds of his own by halftime and acted like a shot of adrenaline straight to the heart of the Heat. His first two offensive boards were quickly transformed into 4 points for Miami.
The bottom line is that Haslem gave the Heat exactly what they needed. He was running the floor, blocking out the paint on both ends and providing that hard-nosed defense that we all have grown to love from him. While getting him back in the lineup would have benefited Miami at any time, his presence is even more appreciated in this series after the way the Heat lost Game 1 by getting outworked in all the places Udonis does his best work.
Even though he already had grabbed everyone's attention with a pair of huge dunks, one of which came while being fouled and put Miami up by 4 late in the 3rd quarter, it wasn't until I saw him hit a long-range jumper that I felt he was fully ‘back'. He would hit a couple of those shots, in big situations, and hit all 3 of his free throws. Again, typical Udonis.
With a healthy Haslem back in the mix the Heat become that much more scary. Now they can really expand their roster and have productive bigs out there regardless of whether they are gong with a small lineup or not. They can go big and use LeBron or Wade at the point, or go small and have Bosh and Haslem at the 4 and the 5. The supporting cast becomes that much more effective with a guy like Udonis out there who moves extremely well without the ball, and for a guy who was out for almost 6 months his help defense looked that of someone who hadn't missed a single practice.
Sure, he admitted after the game that for the first time in his career he was happy to come to the bench due to being absolutely gassed. That's to be expected. But when he was on the floor he showed no signs that he was tiring, and when he first came in the game I couldn't even say the words ‘shake off the rust' before he was slamming and jamming his way into this series. And this season, really.