Before the Miami Heat’s meeting with the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals, media pundits replayed Erik Spoelstra’s comment after a Miami loss to Chicago in March that a couple of players cried in the locker-room, an admitted mistake from Spoelstra. And in the days leading up to the start of the NBA Finals, those same pundits went back to the infamous Bump-gate controversy that occurred in a Heat game against the Dallas Mavericks that dropped Miami to 9-8 on the season.
Remember Spo saying that his team had a different timetable than everyone else had? Remember all that talk of "the process?" Remember when Spo talked about not letting go of the proverbial rope?
No one questions those statements as mere coach speak now. Spo has the Heat playing their best basketball of the season, consistently closing out games in the fourth quarters during this playoff run. The Heat hold a 1-0 lead on the Mavericks in the NBA Finals, due in large part to some great tactical moves from Spo, who will probably never get the credit he deserves.
Going into this season, Spo was in a lose-lose situation. If Miami lost, pundits and fans would say, "How could he not win with all that talent?" And if the Heat won, those same people would say, "Of course he was supposed to win. Look at all that talent." But throughout Miami’s struggles, the critics of the Heat pointed out that no, an NBA team can’t win with two alpha dogs, can’t win without much depth and can’t win with a soft power forward.
LeBron James guarded Jason Terry in the fourth quarter of Game 1, helping hold Dallas’ second option to zero points in the second half. The move caught the Mavericks by surprise, and Terry looked just as frustrated against James as Derrick Rose did when the 6-foot-8 two-time MVP defended the 2010-11 MVP. Rick Carlisle said that he thought James would check Dirk Nowitzki, but the Akron, Ohio native only defended Nowitzki on a switch once.
The Heat defense also swarmed J.J. Barea, who shot just 1-for-8 from the field. Miami big men used the “hard show” they utilized against Rose, and Chris Bosh ended up following Barea all the way to the hoop and blocking his shot on one possession. Miami’s athletic defenders helped on Nowitzki and still recovered in time to contest Dallas’ 3-point shooters.
Spo isn’t simply preparing for the game well, but also making adjustments during the game. Miami almost exclusively relied on the 3-point shot against the zone in the first half, but ran some plays for Bosh in the paint after intermission. Although Bosh did not shoot the ball well, he made 12 trips to the foul line.
We can debate the move to put Juwan Howard in the game, but perhaps James Jones’ toe injury has not fully recovered. And Howard picked up three offensive rebounds in almost eight minutes. After holding his own against Doc Rivers in the conference semifinals, Spo out-coached NBA Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau. Now, he has found some moves that Carlisle may not have any answers for. What can Terry do against James? The Mavericks can go to a zone defense, but that gives up offensive rebounds. If Carlisle puts Tyson Chandler on Bosh, it takes him away from the basket. Bosh got to the foul line because once he got past Chandler, Nowitzki was the last line of defense. Chandler also only grabbed four rebounds.
If the Heat win three more games, the entire summer will be about the Big Three. With the way both James and Wade played last night, we may have another off-season of debating who the leader of this team is. But Spo should get a lot of credit for everything he has done this season and postseason.