It wasn't too long ago that the Miami Heat were down 2-1 to the Indiana Pacers, glaring at enormous pressure and a possible 2nd round playoff exit. Since game 3 of the conference semi-finals, the Heat have looked like a new team, dominating on both ends of the floor, getting out in transition and exhibiting championship focus, intensity and effort.
LeBron James has been the most consistent player in this years NBA playoffs but it has been the all around team effort and in-game adjustments, implemented by Erik Spoelstra, that enabled the Heat to win 5 straight games and be just 2 wins away from the NBA finals. Miami will have to continue their stellar play in a couple key areas in order to take a commanding 3-0 lead over Rajon Rondo and the Boston Celtics in the eastern conference finals tonight.
It's become popular vernacular these days, coined by the great Shaquille O'Neal. The role players for the Miami Heat have answered the bell in this series and have proved to be the pivotal difference. Mario Chalmers has been tremendous across the board, averaging 15 points 5 rebounds and 5 assists thus far.
Shane Battier has attempted a staggering 17 3-pointers in the first 2 games and hit just 5, but his defensive presence, veteran leadership and rebounding effort has been enormous. Chalmers and Battier alone have combined to shoot 8-29 from 3-point range and It's clear that Doc Rivers and the Celtics are locking in on Dwyane Wade and LeBron James and subsequently forcing the role players to make shots.
Udonis Haslem has also been huge in this series. Despite averaging pedestrian numbers, his timely shot making ability and physical toughness have been imperative to the Heat's success. Mike Miller has also contributed, shooting an efficient 50% from both inside and beyond the arc 3, but most of all, looks confident and relatively in rhythm. Miller has seen his minutes heavily reduced but it's important for all role players to stay ready and able to contribute across the board when called upon.
Defense without fouling
The Heat have done an excellent job of playing suffocating defense without committing costly fouls. The free throw disparity was 47-29 in the Heat's favor for game 2 and with all the attention the officiating has gotten thus far, Miami needs to be careful and tactful in how they play defense for game 3. Paul Pierce, Keyon Dooling and Mickael Pietrus all fouled out of game 2, which severely impeded the Celtics overall effectiveness. It will be imperative that the Heat's core unit stay out of foul trouble to be fully engaged and capable of playing the kind of lock down defense that's been key to their success.
The Road to victory
It's overbearingly cliche but true; On the road, star players tend to step up while role players seemingly get tentative. The Heat will certainly need an all around effort from their role players but sometimes it's the powerful plays from a teams superstar that set the tone. Sometimes it's that one hustle play, blocked shot, slam dunk or highlight razzle dazzle play that snowballs the kind of team confidence and energy that can lead to victory. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have faced the Celtics too many times in their 9 year careers to know that they will never back down and surrender. The Heat are going to have to beat the Celtics down with the same energy and effort they exhibited in the first 2 games and I expect both LeBron and Wade to impose their will and lead by example.