LeBron, Dwyane Wade and the rest of the Heat shared words on Saturday that spurred Sunday's win.
PHILADELPHIA -- The trainers, security and other support staffers were kicked out and doors slammed shut. For well over an hour the Miami Heat player and coaches met Thursday afternoon at the Philadephia 76ers practice facility. And, apparently, had it out with each other.
It was one of those meetings that happen periodically throughout any season in any sport. This one, though, apparently had some edge. There were some strong words used and some players singled out. Some star players, it sounds like.
The night before in Milwaukee the Heat had embarrassingly blown an 18-point lead in what turned out to be a chemistry-shaking loss. What looked like a healthy dose of swagger contributed to them becoming lethargic. Then, what looked like some borderline selfish -- or call it hero ball if that’s more politically correct -- offensive play from LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Plus some lazy defensive play from everyone else down the stretch that killed any chance of surviving it.
The Heat had rolled into Philly at 16-6, a good record with a handful of nice victories already. But it had them in a pack of five teams at the top of the Eastern Conference, not where they thought they should be.
Sensing there were some issues -- there was some grumbling the previous night and it perhaps was growing worse -- Erik Spoelstra cleared the room and it was put-it-on-the-table time.
When it was over there weren’t tears or hugs, in fact the team had a businesslike and rather emotionless practice. Then everyone went to their separate corners to caucus. It wasn’t immediately clear if the exercise was going to have positive results on negative.
The answer revealed itself Friday night as the Heat played a strong team-oriented game and slammed the 76ers, 99-79. It was the end of a seven-game homestand for Philly and they’d been hot, winning five of those games including a trouncing of the Chicago Bulls Wednesday night. Overall, they’d been 12-2 at home.
But the Heat handed them their worst loss of the season as six different players scored 11 points or more. They had good focus throughout the game, turning it over just nine times, the fewest of the season. They got stronger as the game went along. Basically, they looked like a title-contending team.
Wade had 26 points and took only eight shots in the second half. James took just 16 for the game and was masterful playing point guard in the fourth quarter, racking up six assists. The Heat went to the strongest playoff lineup from a year ago with James, Wade and Chris Bosh plus Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem.
That group had barely played together this season but shut down the Sixers, holding them to 37 percent shooting, while going on a 15-0 run to close the door in the fourth.
How did this intense meeting lead to this? What was it all about? Let the players and Spoelstra tell it in their own words as they did afterward in the locker room.
Spoelstra: “Not all of all of our moments on this ride are going to be good. Yesterday was certainly a tough day. But everybody was pure about it. Everybody’s intention was to find a way to get better and correct some of the things that ailed us against Milwaukee. It was a long day and we improved. It was a very good team win against a team that was playing very well. We were there about two and a half or three hours. We had to speak the truth. We had to correct some things that we did wrong. Everybody was pure about it. It was a very important team win.”
James: “It was a little bit of everything. It was no holds barred, honestly. There were no tongues being held. If we are going to hold ourselves to a championship standard then we have to go out there and play like it. No one can take things personal if someone says something to him. You have to take constructive criticism. We have to go out there and play at the highest level we are capable of.”
Wade: “It was a very important day. Every team, especially good teams, you have to sit and reflect and see what you can do better. It was a wake up day for us. We came in and did what we talked about. The biggest thing was the lines of communication opening between players and coaches. It should be that way but sometimes you get lost and there’s a separation.”
“We opened up the lines of communication yesterday, which became greater today especially down in the stretch. We were able to communicate with coaches and they were able to communicate with us on what we feel comfortable with and what we wanted and what lineup we wanted in there as well. That is the kind of team we should be. Not saying we’re always going to play that way, not saying we’re always going to make the right decisions. But we should always been in control of our own destiny.”
Bosh: “It was extremely important. Just to get some feelings out there and talk about what was going on. We talked about the elephant in the room, which is we’re not giving the effort we’re capable of. We want to win a championship and in order to do that we have to take small steps in the regular season. We have to get better and we have to keep it up.”
“We took some huge strides today but that’s over now. We have to really keep it up. We showed what we can do when we really put our minds together. It was not about our record, it was about the way we were playing and the way we were giving up some leads. We should’ve been getting separation. But that is over now. We have to work on getting better and that is what the last two days have been about.”
Shane Battier: “The player meetings, they can go one of two ways. You can say things in those meetings that can be destructive or constructive. I thought it was good to just allow people to vent a little bit. In this game, communication is the most important thing. I don’t care how talented you are. If you don’t have that trust and can’t communicate that talent is going to go to waste. It was indicative of our season. If we communicate and we’re more together, we’re a really good team. We seem to struggle when we become individual.”
“If you polled the guys, they wouldn’t say we were playing at the highest level and that has been disappointing. We need to have these sort of efforts two or three times in a row.”