She’s not singing just yet, but the fat lady’s preparing to bellow out a huge number in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Unless there is a miraculous comeback by Frank Vogel’s Indiana Pacers – or a collapse of epic proportions by the reigning NBA champions – then the Miami Heat will be representing the East in the NBA Finals for the fourth straight year.
Coach Erik Spoelstra constantly emphasized the importance of utilizing all the players available to him and his bench players have been the key to Miami taking a 3-2 lead.
Norris Cole sparked life into the team during Game 2 in Indiana due to his effort and defense, laying out for a couple of loose balls and making things difficult for Lance Stephenson. He managed to keep the Pacers’ guard out of the paint, limiting him to just one basket in the fourth quarter after pretty much having his way in the other three. Such a performance garnered quite bit of praise and Dwyane Wade was happy to oblige and share his appreciation.
“He did a great job on Lance and made it tough for him in the second half,” said Wade. “That allowed me to shift to Paul George and allowed LeBron to shift to the point guard (George Hill). We’re very versatile when he is out there. He did a phenomenal job.”
It was more of the same in Games 3 and 4, which is why Cole has averaged nearly 30 minutes in the last three contests and has been Erik Spoelstra’s first choice at point guard during the closing period.
Chris Andersen, the Heat’s designated energizer bunny, has also continued to find a way to impact the game one way or another.
In a losing effort in Game 1, Birdman ended up with 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting. In Game 2, he had just three points but Miami came away with the win and his 12 rebounds played pretty big part. Roy Hibbert was dominant with eight offensive rebounds but it could have been a lot more if it wasn’t for Andersen’s scrappy play.
In Game 3, he continued to grab boards at an impressive rate, hauling in seven rebounds during his 23 minutes on the court. However, his overall defense has been the biggest contribution. Heck, it’s been great throughout the postseason, as he ranks within the top 10 in opponent field goal percentage at the rim (46.8 percent) among players who have defended at least five shots per game.
He missed Game 4 with a thigh contusion, but his absence was hardly felt because Rashard Lewis continued to play excellent defense.
The 16-year veteran has done a magnificent job covering David West so far, which has resulted in him recording a plus/minus rating of +21 in Game 3 and +14 in Game 4, despite notching zeroes in every category apart from a single block.
In fact, his Game 3 plus/minus was second only to LeBron James – who accrued 26 points, seven assists, six rebounds and four steals on the night – and is the best ever for a player who was didn’t register a single point, rebound or assist since the statistic has been charted. No wonder Spoelstra deemed it one of his “favorite stat lines of all time.”
Lewis finally found his touch in Game 5 and Miami will be hoping his stellar play continues while the likes of Ray Allen continue to knock down threes and carry the load on offense.
The 38-year-old finished Game 5 with 15 points but it was his Game 3 performance that had people stirring. He went on a rampage from beyond the arc in the fourth quarter of Game 3, nailing four straight three-point attempts in the quarter on his way to 16 points as Miami ran away 99-87 winners. Then again, it shouldn’t really be much of a surprise considering poor David West was left guarding the NBA’s All-time leader in three-pointers when Miami went to their small lineup. But still, that doesn’t take away from the performance and Spoelstra is glad he doesn’t have the headache to stop him anymore.
“It’s great to have him on our side,” he said. “He’s inflicted a lot of pain to a lot of us and there is so much scar tissue from seeing him run around and break your back in the fourth quarter. That is why we went after him so hard.”
The Miami Heat are now on the verge of closing out the series to once again compete for the NBA title, which they can do as early as tonight’s Game 6 at home. Expect Wade and particularly LeBron James to have a huge games in order make up for a subpar outing in Game 5, but don’t be shocked if one or two of the role players also comes up big.