At the start of the Miami Heat’s Eastern Conference semifinal series versus the Brooklyn Nets, most people (myself included) thought this would be a tight affair, one that would go so far as Game 7 even. Boy, was that wrong.
In a nutshell, the Heat have steamrolled over the Nets and are now on the verge of quickly wrapping up the series.
Coming into the series, there were worries Miami may have some rust following an eight-day layoff while waiting for the winner between Brooklyn and the Toronto Raptors. Fears of last year’s ugly(and surprising) 93-86 Game 1 loss to the Chicago Bulls under similar circumstances increased with each passing day but come tip off, the Heat were ready and ran out to a 107-86 winners.
It was a team effort, with five players racking up double digits, and that was the same recipe to success in Game 2’s 94-82 victory.
As expected the Nets finally added some bite to their bark but taking Game 3 with a 104-90 win at the Barclays Center but LeBron James was in a bullish mood as he led the troops with a 49-point performance in the 102-96 triumph in Game 4. Simply put, King James was a force to be reckoned with and Brooklyn was powerless to stop him.
After averaging just 5.3 drives in the first three games, LeBron had 10 times in Game 4. He scored 34 of his 49 points attacking the basket and was 11-for-12 in the restricted area, in addition to nailing three of his six attempts from deep – although he couldn’t hide his disappointment at missing after what would have been career high setting free-throw.
“At the same time that I’m in the moment, I understand history,” James told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols. “To score 50 would have been pretty cool but at the end of the day, the win is the most important[thing].”
He would later call it, “the most disappointing win” in his career, but a win is a win, and now the Heat are in a position to close out the series.
The surprising thing is that the Heat have actually been outperformed in quite a few key statistical categories such as rebounding (33.5 to 39.5), 3-point shooting percentage (36.8 percent to 40 percent) and assists (16.5 to 19.5) per game, yet they have somehow pulled it out of the bag. That is thanks to their incredible offensive efficiency – their 113 points per 100 possessions is the best in the playoffs.
But deeper than the numbers, and perhaps more importantly, Miami just looks right. The ball moving around (despite the low assist numbers) and players are passing up good shots for even better looks. That was the case in Game 4 when Chris Bosh hit the game-sealing 3-pointer from the corner.
LeBron James was having his way with the Nets defense and positioned perfectly in the paint to power his way through the double. However, he kicked the ball out to Mario Chalmers, who then found a wide-open Bosh for the corner dagger. The unselfishness and awareness by James to pass up a shot that had been falling all night for potentially a better look is testament to the sort of trust between the Heat and that has been the key to them having the sky-high (51 percent) field goal percentage.
That trust has also been a factor defensively and you can tell by the way in which the team is able to clamp down as collective to shut opponents out. The latest example of such stifling defense was when the Heat locked up the gates and limited Brooklyn to just a single field goal in the final four and a half minutes of Game four.
Granted, Brooklyn going 5-for-22 from 3-point land played a huge part in its demise, but don’t underestimate the consequences of facing Miami’s suffocating defense over a long stretch of time. Sooner or later it does take its toll.
Another aspect that has been vital during this series has been shot blocking.
Miami has swatting away nearly six shots per game while the Brooklyn has managed just 1.5 per contest. Obviously without Brook Lopez and with a small lineup, that should be expected, although it does a huge impact on the flow of the game. As a player, no matter what level you are, nothing is more demoralizing than seeing your shot get pounded against the backboard or sent flying into the stands. Therefore, next time the Nets go into the paint, they will always be wary of the rim protectors.
Moreover, it’s a tool that can be used to pump up (or shut up) the crowd which is what home court is all about. Otherwise every game may as well be on the road. Don’t get me wrong, the Nets fans have been great in cheering their team on but it’s hard to get excited when your team is constantly having shots spiked left, right and center without returning the favor.
Nevertheless, odds are they’ll probably have to wait until next year to see their team do better because the Miami Heat will be determined to quickly wrap things up Wednesday night at the American Airlines Arena, where they have yet to be beaten in during the 2014 postseason.