The Heat got a stop when they needed one to put away the Sixers.
Heat overcome flashbacks, stop Andre Iguodala on last stand
The Heat were up by three points with 16 seconds remaining in the game. The Sixers had the ball coming out of the timeout and the Heat needed a stop.
That’s when the flashbacks came to the forefront.
Back in late February, the Heat found themselves in an eerily similar situation, desperately needing a stop in the closing seconds of a tie game against the Chicago Bulls. As most Heat fans remember, Derrick Rose penetrated against LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade made the fateful decision to cheat off of his man, Luol Deng, so Wade could lend a hand to James. Rose saw Wade collapse and hit Deng in the left corner for the game-winning 3-pointer.
That was two months ago, and on Wednesday night, the stage was set for a repeat performance. James guarded the opposing team’s penetrator, this time Andre Iguodala, at the top of the key while Wade guarded Jrue Holiday in the left corner.
But in this instance, Wade stayed home on the shooter and James forced Iguodala into taking a tough midrange jumper, a shot that he missed.
Wade got burned back then, but he evidently learned his lesson.
“I wasn’t leaving a guy in the corner again. I’ve done that before,” Wade said with a smile, referring to the gut-punching loss in Chicago.
“I’ve gotten scalding looks from this guy,” Wade said as he pointed at James who was sitting beside him on the podium. “I wasn’t doing that again.”
The Heat got the stop they needed and cemented the win over Philadelphia.
Sixers head coach Doug Collins went with the hot hand on that play, giving Iguodala the ball. Collins wasn’t disappointed with his shot selection.
“We had some guys positioned that if he penetrated that he could find them,” Collins said after the game. “But LeBron did a really good job, he sort of backed off and kept [Iguodala] on the perimeter so he’d have to shoot a jump shot. Dre was making all those shots in the fourth quarter so, to me, that was a very good shot at the time.
Indeed, James thought it was a very good shot -- for the Heat, that is. James knew that Iguodala had been on fire, hitting his last three midrange jumpers in the quarter, but the two-time MVP still wanted to entice Iguodala into taking the midrange jumper, which is one of the lowest percentage shots in the game.
“He hit some tough shots, the same shots he’s missed over the course of the series that I’ve made him take,” James said. “Those are the shots that I want him to take, the step-back jumper, the cross-over jumper. I’m playing the numbers.”
It was an interesting dichotomy of philosophy between Collins and James. Collins wanted to go with the hot hand, but LeBron didn’t seem to care about that theory, instead suggesting that each shot is its own independent event. Like separate rolls on a roulette table, James trusted that the odds of Iguodala hitting that jumper would remain the same, no matter how many jumpers he hit in a row leading up to that shot. On this occasion, James was vindicated, with a little help from Wade who stayed on Holiday in the corner.
In a way, that’s what the regular season is for: to prepare for the playoffs. And after licking their wounds in Chicago, the Heat moved on and learned from their mistakes. And now they move on to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Heat take advantage of Sixers new strategy on D, rain from downtown
The Heat were cold. Heading into Wednesday game, the Heat had shot just 23.8 percent from downtown in the series, struggling to release pressure off of the Big Three. Collins said it was only a matter of time before the Heat caught fire.
"My biggest fear tonight was that they were finally going to start making some 3s," Collins said after his season-ending loss. "And they did.”
Lead by Mario Chalmers' 6-for-12 shooting from downtown, the Heat shot 40 percent (12-for-30) as a team from beyond the arc. The 30 attempts were one shy of the team's playoff record.
Interestingly enough, a shift in defensive strategy by Philadelphia may have created the spark the Heat were searching for. The Sixers trapped Wade out on the perimeter and sent multiple bodies on James, Wade and Bosh whenever they got the ball in the paint.
"It was too many for us," Spoelstra said of the 30 attempts. "With the way they defended -- really loading up multiple guys in the paint -- we do have to step up and make some threes to keep the defense honest. And that will be the case in the next round as well. But we also have to work on our execution to not completely get away from our paint attacks. Thirty is probably too many."
The perimeter was routinely wide open for the Heat's supporting cast to camp out and hit spot-up jumpers. James Jones was one of those spot-up shooters. He's played that role all season, and on Wednesday night he converted three of his six tries.
Once he saw how the Sixers smothered the Big Three, he welcomed the challenge to hit the big shots.
"Their strategy tonight was different," Jones explained. "Their game plan was to protect the paint and put two on the ball, try to keep LeBron, D-Wade and Chris [Bosh] out of the paint so they gave our shooters a lot of shots. We're basketball players. If they're going to give you open shots, you have shoot them with confidence and make them."
Bosh vs. Brand: a battle of bigs
Chris Bosh and Elton Brand are cut from the same fabric. As big men who can step out and hit a midrange jump shot in their sleep, it was inevitable that we'd be treated to a back-and-forth shooting display like we saw in the opening minutes of the third quarter. Brand hit a jumper, then Bosh responded with one of his own 15-footer. Then Brand hit another jumper on Bosh, and Bosh would offer his rebuttal on the other end of the court.
Fittingly, Brand and Bosh each finished with 22 points in the final game of the series.
"Elton Brand, I think he had a fantastic series," Bosh said. "He's had me scratching my head sometimes. I didn't know how to guard him."
Bosh looked lost, that's for sure. One of his strategies was to front Brand in the post and wall off a simple entry pass from the perimeter. Rather than play behind Brand on the block, Bosh often jumped out in front between Brand and the ball handler. That way, Brand couldn't get the ball where he likes it, with his back to the basket, waiting to turn and hit his signature fadeaway jumper.
Bosh's plan didn't always work. When Bosh planted himself on Brand's outside hip, Brand would cut to the basket back door, and a teammate would hit him with a bounce pass. Brand got an easy layup from Spencer Hawes to put the Sixers up 13-4 in the first quarter from and it happened again in the second quarter.
The fronting strategy wasn't ultimately a success, but the good thing is we probably won't see it again in the next round. Garnett tends to face up with his shoulders squared away toward the basket, so Bosh won't need to front him as often as he did with Brand. However, don't be surprised if Bosh and Garnett trade jumpers in the same fashion of Bosh and Brand on Wednesday.
Backup point guard Mario Chalmers steps in and breaks out
Standing in front of his locker after the game, Chalmers tried to recall the last time he took 12 3s in a game. He pondered for several seconds, searching for a time when he had that much liberty to shoot.
"I don't think I ever did it in high school," Chalmers said. And the light came on.
"Oh, in college," Chalmers said. "Big 12 championship against Texas. I shot 8-for-12 in the championship game. I just let it fly that night."
Chalmers nearly matched that performance on Wednesady night, shooting 6-for-12 on 3s and notching 20 points, a season-high for the third-year point guard from the University of Kansas. His 20 points matched a playoff career-high, tying his Game 5 performance in last season's playoffs against Boston.
Chalmers has a habit of doing this. Not only did he drop 30 points in that Big 12 championship game, but he famously hit the critical shot in the 2008 NCAA championship to send the game into overtime.
Again, on Wednesday night, he picked an opportune time to have a career night.
The Heat struggled with starting point guard Mike Bibby on the floor again. Spoelstra needed to find answers for Philadelphia who carved up the vaunted Heat defense early in the first half. Chalmers came out firing, scoring 11 points on top of three 3-pointers in the first quarter alone. He finished with more points (20) than LeBron (16), for the first time all season.
Chalmers has built some momentum heading into the series with Boston. Never one who lacks confidence, Chalmers shot the ball without hesitation on Wednesday and the Sixers were forced to stay honest on defense. In the first round, the Heat were at their best with the backup, outscoring opponents by 54 points during the series when he was on the floor. He's long, quick and agile which should bode well for him in the series against Rajon Rondo and Boston. Spoelstra will have a decision to make on Sunday, whether to keep Bibby in the starting lineup or to reward Chalmers' career night with a promotion. Speaking of promotion...
Spoelstra finally bags the starting lineup
At practice on Tuesday, Spoelstra said he had no intention of making any changes to the starting lineup in Game 5. He followed up on that promise only halfway.
After subbing out Mike Bibby and Zydrunas Ilgauskas at the 7:33 mark in the first quarter with the Heat down 13-4, Miami went on a tear with Chalmers and Joel Anthony on the floor. Thanks to Anthony's stifling defense and Chalmers' shooting, the Heat came roaring back to take the lead going into halftime and all eyes were on Spoelstra after the intermission.
Would the coach cave and keep the Chalmers/Anthony duo alongside the Big Three to start the second half?
He did. And it worked. The Heat didn't have to play catch in the third quarter like they did in Game 4 when the Sixers came out with a 10-4 run in the opening minutes of the second half, a spurt that prompted Spoelstra to break the emergency glass again. Instead, Spoelstra made the gutsy call to start Chalmers and Anthony, and the Heat successfully kept the Sixers at bay. The Heat went on to win with Bibby and Ilgauskas never entering the game after that 7:33 mark in the first quarter.
Will the starting lineup stick?
"I know that's probably a very common question right now," Spoelstra said. "The Celtics are much different. They beat you with precision, veteran experience and the execution of their offense. They don't necessarily play with this speed and quickness. They carve teams up with all that experience. So we'll have a different makeup. You don't face teams like the Sixers very often."
It's too early for Spoelstra to commit to a starting lineup for Sunday's game, but his flexibility on Wednesday suggests that he won't be hardheaded when it comes to the starting five against Boston. Erick Dampier could be activated after riding pine all series against Philadelphia, especially if the Celtics give Shaquille O'Neal the green light. Spoelstra likely won't start Dampier, but there are a lot of variables that could affect the rosters between now and Sunday. Expect Spoelstra to go with Bibby and Ilgauskas for Game 1. After all, it worked last time these two teams met earlier this month.