Sometimes, when you brush aside all the analysis that goes into dissecting a matchup, the difference can be as simple as superstars taking over in the fourth quarter. That was the case in Game 2, when LeBron James and Dwyane Wade combined for 22 of Miami’s 25 points in the fourth quarter. LeBron, in particular, went into one of those phases where he just put his head down and barreled his way to the basket on every possession. Wade — a somewhat forgotten star as injuries have slowed him down — was magnificent again, shooting 10 for 16 from the field for a very efficient 23 points in 34 minutes.
I grew up watching Jordan’s second three-peat, when he always managed to raise his level of play often just in the nick of time to pull the Bulls out of some very difficult situations. The Conference Finals against the Pacers come to mind, and of course, the signature flu game and that jumper over Bryon Russell, an image that’s etched in every basketball fan’s memory. Whether it was because I was younger, or because there was not as much advanced statistics as there is now, I never saw those Bulls teams as flawed. They were champions, and they played that role as you would expect. They would dominate most times, and when things got tough, they always found a way. As time has passed, the champions I’ve watched feel more flawed. Even as the Heat have made their way to three straight Finals and won two consecutive titles, we’ve repeatedly picked apart the team. It started with LeBron’s inability to rise to the occasion in late game situations, and now it’s very much about the diminishing parts around him.
And yet, it’s these types of performances where the Heat look like champions. Two seasons ago, the Heat trailed these same Pacers 2-1 in the semifinals, facing a must-win in Game 4. LeBron put up 40 points, 18 rebounds, nine assists with two steals and two blocks in a Heat win. Miami won the next two to advance. In the next round, they faced an elimination game at Boston in Game 6. Remember, this was at a time when LeBron was coming off another Finals defeat and still without a championship. With all of that pressure on him, LeBron answered all the questions with a 45 points, 15 rebounds and 5 assists, in a game that was never in doubt. The list goes on. In those same playoffs, the Heat rebounded from a Game 1 loss at Oklahoma City in the Finals to win four straight. Last year, James was spectacular in a seven game showdown against these Pacers, and was magnificent to close out the Spurs in the Finals. You can add last night to the list. And while this appears to be a long series, the Heat can take comfort in knowing that in situations when they need a win, they have the best player in the world with a growing resume of delivering when it’s needed.
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