Last night the Indiana Pacers did the unthinkable. Not only did they beat the Miami Heat to stake themselves to a 2-1 series lead, but they did it in highly impressive fashion. Well, that’s if you consider a 19 point thrashing impressive. The score when it was all said and done, 94-75. Thanks for playing, drive home safe, and good night.
Normally when such misfortune bestows itself upon my favorite basketball team in the entire world (sarcasm) I achieve a sense of sense euphoria that is hard to explain. Throw in the fact that usually this misfortune comes at the hands of LeBron James and it’s even better. That wasn’t the case last night, not at all.
LeBron played pretty well in the first half and the game as a whole (10-22, 22 pts, 7 rbs), but thanks to the complete disappearance of Dwyane Wade (2-13, 5 pts, 5 rbs, 5 turnovers), he was unable to do anything in the second half to keep the Heat in the game. That’s not to say he doesn’t share some blame. As the reigning MVP and someone who was used to carrying the entire team on his back in Cleveland, LeBron could have and should have done more.
Like I said though, last night’s craptastic performance by the Heat falls squarely on Wade’s shoulders. He was worse than awful. He couldn’t put the ball in the basket, he turned the ball over more than a handful of times, and he got into one hell of an argument with Erik Spoelstra. It’s that final point though that’s attracting the most attention, and it should. You see, everyone always assumed LeBron would be the one to finally play the “you’re not even good enough to be washing my jock strap, let alone be coaching me” card. Well, Wade pulled it last night. With his star struggling when they needed him most, Spoelstra got in his face in an attempt to motivate him. Wade wanted none of it. He fought back like a pre-teen girl who just lost her cell phone for a week. Rather then using it to fuel him, Wade came out and had three of his worst possessions of the game. Well played.
The issue here is it now appears that Spoelstra is a dead man walking. The frustrations of watching this team continually under-achieve in two years are finally coming to a boil. With each and every minute the heat get closer to elimination from these playoffs, the closer we get to Pat Riley taking Spoelstra out on a boat for a “fishing trip” and coming home alone.
That’s how the NBA goes though. The levels of accountability for a team’s failures fall squarely on the shoulders of the coach and rarely do they extend further than that. Spoelstra will get the ax for this, no doubt, but he doesn’t deserve the blame. After all he’s not one of the players on the floor who went 4-20 from three point range (5 of 42 for the series). He’s not the one unable to keep Roy Hibbert in check (19 pts, 18 rbs, 5 blocks).
The blame should fall mostly on the shoulders of Pat Riley. As the chief executive of the Heat and the one who assembled this mess, he should have known rolling the dice with three near max contracts and a roster full of scrubs would never work. You can’t just put a team together in the same way you would put together the cast of the Jersey Shore. It can be all flash and sex appeal. It needs to be like a well thought out drama and grown organically (see Thunder, Oklahoma CIty/Spurs, San Antonio/Pacers, Indiana).
Right now the Heat are playing the part of Snooki (the drunken, bumbling, stumbling mess) to the Pacers Dexter Morgan (the well thought out, multiple, complex layers of finally tuned killing machine). Now the flaws have been made even more apparent by the loss of Chris Bosh, the one player many felt would be the most easily expendable of the Wade,/James/Bosh trio. Go figure.
So now that the Heat find themselves in a 2-1 hole, America will finally get to see what they’re made of. Gone is the once believed “easy path” to the finals. They have one hell of an uphill battle in front of them against a Pacers team that sees the Heat’s flaws and knows exactly how to exploit them (and if they find a way to get past Indy, does anyone see them beating Boston, OKC, or San Antonio? No way).
The Pacers have size and speed. They have a young athletic core that can keep up with them and get in their faces on the defensive end. Most importantly, the Pacers aren’t going to take the Heat’s crap. You can see it each and every time Danny Granger gets up in LeBron’s face and every time David West puffs out his chest in defiance. The Heat were supposed to roll over the Pacers. Well, Frank Vogel’s team didn’t get the memo.
The Pacers could just as well be up 3-0 in this series and they know it. After holding Miami close in game 1, they came back in games 2 and 3 with a plan for how to beat the Heat… and it’s working. Exploit Roy Hibbert’s size advantage, sell out on the defensive end every possession, and play efficient half-court basketball, thus limiting Miami’s fast break opportunities and forcing them into more half court sets where they have shown an inability to run any sort of offense. Right now the only thing that can stop the Indiana Pacers is the NBA finding a way to rig the next three games in Miami’s favor (somewhere, every member of the 2002 Sacramento Kings is nodding sadly in agreement).
Is this series over? Not by a long shot. It’s doubtful that Dwyane Wade will have this bad of a game ever again in his career and the Heat have enough pride to force the issue. They won’t simply roll over and die. Unfortunately for them and fortunately for the rest of America, that’s going to be a difficult task.
But, with his legacy on the line as a three-time MVP, it’s going to be fun seeing how LeBron James responds to this latest obstacle in the way of him winning an NBA title. Does he have the testicular fortitude to do the unthinkable for Miami? I have absolutely no idea, but it’s going to be fun to find out.
Buckle up America… Buckle up.