James Handles the Heat
LeBron James can finally shut up the critics, at least for one night.
His 32 point (10/22 FG), 8 rebound, 5 assist performance in game two of the NBA Finals helped achieve that goal. Sure, his fifth straight game with at least 30 points should stop the “un-clutch” references about James’ game. But, for his standards, it’s not good enough.
The only way he can get everyone off his case is to win a ring—and show some clutch 4th quarter performances in the process.
Game two showed to be the canvas James has been waiting for. A clutch jumper late in the 4th quarter, along with two game clinching free throws, was the perfect mixture of paint to help create that career defining picture he has been waiting for.
When the Oklahoma City Thunder started to march back from 13 points down in the fourth quarter, James had the answer. It was quite the come back, but James didn’t want two straight Heat collapses. So, with about a minute left, and the Heat’s lead only at three points, James got the ball on the left wing, drove to about 18 feet and drained a tough, fade away bank shot with the shot clock widening down. That made it a five point game.
But the lead wasn’t cushioned enough. The scrappy and energetic Thunder wouldn’t stop fighting.
Neither did James though.
After missing a three with 12 seconds left, the Thunder was only down by two with the ball. James needed a big defensive stop on Kevin Durant, who was looking for the game tying jumper, and he got it—even though it was a controversial “no-call.” Then to put the cherry on top, James sunk two free throws with Loud City doing what it does best.
And that was the game.
For a guy who has probably the most pressure in NBA history to perform and succeed, the 4th quarter of game two was a good start to winning his first ring, and healing his, once, shattered mind set of NBA fans and writers.
He proved himself in game two, simple as that.
After the win, LeBron withstood Doris Burke’s horrible interviewing skills—and not to mention that moose-like face—before heading back to the Heat locker room. On the way back through the tunnels of Chesapeake Energy Arena, James’ right hand man, and best friend, Dwayne Wade put his arms around him and started yelling stuff into his ears. He was congratulating his buddy on a huge game two win on the road.
The whole time James showed an emotional-less face as he nodded to Wade’s remarks. He was exhausted by his career best Finals game.
But James, that’s what it will take to be an NBA champion.
And he’s finally starting to understand that.
Wade & Bosh wake-up, show what the Big 3 is made of
Look what some extra help did for the Miami Heat. LeBron James needed said help in game one, but he didn’t receive it. In game two, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh were there by James’ side.
And look at what happened: they won.
Wade had 24 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. Bosh had 16 points and 15 boards. In game one Wade had only five less points, but his energy in the second half of game two, especially the fourth quarter, proved to make the difference. He said after game one that he just wasn’t hitting shots. He did in game two—shot 10/20 from the floor.
Bosh, who didn’t start in game one, was put into the starting line-up and provided a nice spark of energy for the Heat. His 15 rebounds were huge and they helped the Heat get going on the fast break, which is their strength.
Sure, OKC’s big 3—Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden—combined for 80 points in game two but the Heat’s Big 3, who combined for 72 points in game two, still has my vote for more superior. Even though they didn’t score as many points as a whole, the group of James, Wade and Bosh showed better poise than Durant, Westbrook and Harden in the fourth quarter. Obviously, that turned out to be the game.
If Wade and Bosh can continue to provide this kind of production, plus the huge performances of James, the Heat will continue to create miss-match opportunities and continue to, simply, win.
Better offensive flow in game 2
This was the problem in game one. The Heat struggled to buy a bucket in the fourth quarter. They looked out of sync and played an isolated game—they only had 4 fast break points all game. This was one of the keys for game two: open up the floor and improve the offensive ball movement.
In game two, we saw this adjustment. The Heat is a team that likes to get up and down the court and get to the free throw line. In game two, they improved their fast break pursuit (10 points) as well as made the Thunder pay from the free throw line—the Heat shot 22/25 from the charity strike.
But why did this change happen?
Well, it goes back to the offensive game of the Heat. Game two saw them open the court up through a team-based passing attack. Penetration was the key for the Heat, and it didn’t matter who it was. When there is spacing, more holes open up in the defense. This allowed LeBron James and Dwayne Wade to attack the basket and if they couldn’t make their shot, or get to the free throw line, they had outside shooters harassing the three point line.
We saw Shane Battier go off from beyond the arc, just like in game one. He finished with 17 points, 5/7 from three point land. When a guy makes five three pointers, the Thunder defense is almost forced to spread out their attack. Also, Chris Bosh’s presence, especially as a starter, helps space out the defense, because of his ability to hit the outside jumper.
So many things went right for the Heat in game two. Even though they are struggling to stop the fourth quarter-dominate Thunder, good signs are present. One of the biggest signs is James’ game one and two performances. In game two, specifically, we saw James score most of his points from inside the paint and from the free throw line—he was a perfect 12 for 12 from the line. This was because of the opened up Heat offense.
James is a monster going to the basket and if he keeps it up, like in game two, the Thunder better watch out.
Weather report: heat is proving to be more dangerous than thunder
If you look at the big picture of this series, the Heat has dominated six out of the eight quarters played. Both games the Heat started off hot, created a lead and waited until the fourth quarter to either keep it, barely, or blow it.
The Thunder, in both games, has proven to be far better team in the fourth quarter but only one of the two games was a win. Even though the Heat blew big leads twice, their poise in game two proved to be better than the first game.
We could say the Thunder need a few quarters to heat up (no pun intended) but as we saw in the second game, that mentality and game plan caught up with them.
Really, if you look at this series, it should be a 2-0 lead for the Heat going back to Miami. It was an immature mistake to lose game one after having a big lead. This is also a bad sign for the Thunder who need stop playing catch up so much.
–By James Nosek