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Heat at Sixers, Game 4: Five things I saw

Dwyane WadeHoward Smith-US PRESSWIRE

Lou Williams hit the game-clincher on Dwyane Wade, just one of Wade's many mistakes down the stretch.

The Miami Heat brought out the brooms but couldn't sweep the Philadelphia 76ers away on Sunday. Here are five observations from the Heat's 82-86 loss.

The real reason the Heat blew the game

To continue with the closer analogy we’ve adapted from baseball, here’s how we can interpret the ending of Game 4 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinals series: While LeBron James may be remembered for the loss, it was Dwyane Wade who was responsible for the mess.

Wade had the game in his hands with one minute remaining and a four-point lead. Spoelstra called for the lethal Wade-LeBron pick-and-roll, but Wade couldn’t get the ball to LeBron in the high post. Essentially, the Heat had a perfect mismatch, a power forward posting up on a point guard, but Wade failed to make the entry pass. Instead, he swung the ball in the opposite direction to the weakside, leading to a Mario Chalmers missed 3-pointer.

On the next play down, Wade relaxed on Jrue Holiday, and the 20-year-old drained a 3-pointer right on Wade to cut the lead to one. Wade then tried to isolate Holiday one-on-one but missed the fadeaway jumper. Next trip down, Wade checked Lou Williams, giving the Philly supersub an inch of space. Consequently, Williams nailed a 3-pointer on Wade to take the lead.

Four plays in a row, Wade failed to execute, and just like that, the four-point Heat lead turned into a two-point deficit. After watching Wade's shortcomings, Spoelstra drew up a play for LeBron, and the two-time MVP drove on Andre Iguodala and missed the game-tying runner, a shot that might have been grazed by Elton Brand’s swatting hand.

That miss is on LeBron, no doubt. But Wade almost single-handedly blew the lead, and the Sixers took control of the game with him at the wheel. The knee-jerk reaction will be to blame LeBron for not tying the game, but let’s not ignore who put the team on life support.

That is on Wade, no doubt.

The Heat’s starting five continue series-long struggle

Erik Spoelstra has never been satisfied with his starting lineup. Carlos Arroyo started for 42 games, then was handed a pink slip. Joel Anthony started for nine games, then was relegated to the bench. Erick Dampier started for 22 games, then was demoted to the inactive list. Mario Chalmers was the starter for a while, then he was squeezed out by newcomer Mike Bibby.

And now, the Heat starting lineup is overdue for another change. The unit of Mike Bibby and Zydrunas next to the big three Ilgauskas failed miserably again in Game 4, causing Spoelstra to sit his starting point guard and center for the final 18 minutes of Sunday’s game. The Heat were blown out with the seasoned veterans on the floor. Bibby registered a minus-15 on the court (the Heat were outscored by 15 points with Bibby out there), while Ilgauskas posted a minus-16 rating of us own. Combined, they shot 0-for-9 from the floor, totaling one point between them.

Simply put, they can’t keep up. It’s odd to hear Spoelstra emphasize and re-emphasize the Sixers’ overwhelming speed and athleticism all series, and then watch him continually fill out the starting lineup card with two immobile players well into their mid-thirties. The contradiction may have cost him Game 4.

It’s painfully obvious that the defense is at its best when Mario Chalmers and Joel Anthony man the floor, sparking the team with the defensive energy it desperately seeks. It is not a coincidence that the Heat have blown out the Sixers by 55 points with human waterbug Anthony on the court this series.

There is little, if any, evidence to support the notion that the Heat’s current starting five is the team’s best starting five. It’s time to make the switch for Game 5.

Chris Bosh’s run comes to a screeching halt

For the second straight game, Bosh was outplayed by Elton Brand, despite two critical late-game blocks. The Heat’s All-star forward finished with 12 points and five boards on Sunday, getting outrebounded by four of his teammates.

One of the keys heading into Sunday’s game was whether Bosh could contain Brand and win the battle on the block. But once again, Brand used his wide frame to seal Bosh underneath, essentially cementing Bosh’s feet into the hardwood. By the end of the game, Bosh wouldn’t even try to get around Brand for an offensive rebound, electing to trot back on defense instead.

LeBron and Wade are elite rebounders at their position, and Spoelstra has said that the two guards have eaten into Bosh’s rebounding totals this season. But more often than not, Bosh needs to exert more effort on the boards. It’s not simply a case of guards acting like vultures.

The Heat need Bosh to come up big on the boards since they don’t have a prolific rebounder to pair with him in the front court with Udonis Haslem out. Consider this: In Bosh’s 20 best rebounding performances this season (as measured by rebound rate), the Heat are 18-2. In his worst 20 rebounding performances, the Heat are 11-9. Bosh has been dominated on the boards the past two games, and it’s no surprise that it’s been the two closest games of the series.

Will a 3-point shooter step up?

This offseason, Heat president Pat Riley surrounded the big three with sharpshooters for two reasons: (1) to space the floor for big three penetration and (2) to make sure the big three don’t shoot 3-pointers themselves. LeBorn and Wade are below-average 3-point shooters, but still maintain that part of their shot repertoire to keep the defense honest every once in a while. On Sunday, the two combined for 1-for-7 from downtown with many of those shots taken in poor judgment. The rest of the team shot 4-for-16.

Spoelstra owes much of the Heat’s offensive improvement over the season to LeBron and Wade shedding the “home runs” from their games. That is, trying to nail 3-pointers instead of chipping away with basket attacks. On Sunday, we saw Wade and LeBron swinging for the fences, trying to compensate for their teammates, who were clanking 3-pointers left and right.

For the series, the Heat are shooting a paltry 24 percent from downtown (16-for-67) and, remarkably, still own a 3-1 lead on Philly. If Mike Bibby fails to bring his spot-up shooting skills to the table, there’s little justification for keeping him out on the floor. It’s critical for them to hit their shots early since it opens up the floor for LeBron and Wade to do attacking, and keeps them focused on penetration.

The poor shooting may not hold the Heat back in this series, but missing 76 percent of their 3s won’t cut it against their next foe.

Heat making a habit of hole-digging

The Heat know the Boston Cetlics are just around the bend, and with the media peppering the players with questions about Boston, it’s understandable why they may have lost their concentration from the get-go. But as the Chicago Bulls are finding out with the 37-win Indiana Pacers, the edge in talent alone may win a couple games, but it’s imperative to put forth the effort from start to finish.

While everyone will magnify the end-of-game failures, it’s worth reminding ourselves that the Heat dug themselves into a hole early -- again.

On Sunday, the Sixers jumped out to a 20-6 lead. In Game 3, the Sixers jumped out to a 13-4 lead. In Game 1, the Sixers jumped out to a 25-11 lead. In the last regular-season meeting, the Sixers jumped out to a 13-8 lead.

See the pattern here?

Now, the past several slow starts could be attributed to the overmatched starting lineup that Spoelstra keeps trotting out there, but then we have to also remember that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are out on the court too. Spoelstra could switch up the starting lineup and inject some energy with Joel Anthony and/or Mario Chalmers, but at the end of the day, the big three need to come out punching.

Again, the Heat may get by on sheer talent in the opening round of the playoffs, but they run the risk of digging a hole so deep against their next opponent, that they could bury themselves alive.