Continuing a season long tradition of slow starts and playing down to the opponent, the Miami Heat had their hands full holding off the Philadelphia Sixers 97-91 to wrap up the series in five games, their first series victory since winning the NBA Finals back in 2006.
Ultimately, the Heat won't be judged by how they performed in this first round but questions still remain over this squad and whether they can actually topple the Boston Celtics. This was not a feel-good close out game with lackluster play and vets Mike Bibby and Zydrunas Ilgauskas making coach Erik Spoelstra look bad in continuing to keep them in the starting lineup. After yet another slow start they were quickly yanked from the game and only ended up playing 4 minutes each.
It was no coincidence that immediately after Mario Chalmers and Joel Anthony were inserted into the game the Heat came roaring back from a 4-14 hole. Not wishing to make the same mistake twice, Spoelstra went with the same lineup to start the second half. Even though the Heat were a minute away from a clean sweep of an impressive Sixers team, it will be very interesting to see how much more lineup tinkering Spoelstra is willing to do. Remember, Udonis Haslem will be given minutes if he is ready to go because the Heat desperately need someone just like him who can do some damage at the midrange spot and bang inside to make those kind of scrappy, heads-up plays that Mike Miller was doing before one too many injuries shut him down.
Question all you want about his toughness but Chris Bosh really came through for the Heat consistently throughout all four quarters with 22 points and 11 rebounds (5 off the offensive glass). LeBron James started slow from the field with only 3 points at halftime before warming up quickly near the end of the third quarter and finishing with 16 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists. LeBron got going after a pair of bogus non-calls and led a 7-0 spurt that gave the Heat a lead they wouldn't give up. Mario Chalmers was a revelation today with 20 points and 6-12 shooting from 3-point land (including 3 crucial ones in the first quarter.
Most importantly, the right player led the Heat down the stretch today with Dwyane Wade handling most of the ball duties (yet only having 2 turnovers) while James Jones was on the floor instead of Bibby or Chalmers.
Elton Brand and Andre Iguodala had their best game of the series while Thaddeus Young, Jrue Holiday and the rest of their young core played the Heat very well. They played hard in every game except their blowout loss in game 2 and have nothing to be ashamed about. The Heat simply were the better team and were able to grind out tonight's final game against a hungry team with nothing to lose.
Unfortunately, there was plenty to be worried about with Boston looming. Too many iso plays/shots, too much whining to the refs and porous interior defense were all on display tonight. Will the Heat step up their game against their bitter rivals? We'll find out Sunday.
Round 2 schedule:
Game 1: Sun., May 1, Boston at Miami, 3:30 p.m. (ABC)
Game 2: Tues., May 3, Boston at Miami, TBD (TNT)
Game 3: Sat., May 7, Miami at Boston, 8 p.m. (ABC)
Game 4: Mon., May 9, Miami at Boston, TBD (TNT)
Game 5*: Wed., May 11, Boston at Miami, TBD (TNT)
Game 6*: Fri., May 13, Miami at Boston, TBD (ESPN)
Game 7*: Mon., May 16, Boston at Miami, 8 p.m. (TNT)