1. Riley's Influence Felt From The Shadows
MIAMI -- With head high and shoulders back in his dark tailored suit, Pat Riley was quickly and purposefully striding down the hallway of Chesapeake Energy Arena on his way to his seat just before Game 2 of the NBA Finals when he saw the familiar face of a reporter.
Riley is no longer on the bench, and no longer showcasing his brand of confidence during timeouts and at news conferences. But make no mistake, the Heat's president is still deeply involved in the fight. And the game plan.
Riley, who recently turned 67, experienced his first NBA Finals 40 years ago, when he won his first of seven championship rings as a reserve for the Los Angeles Lakers in 1972. He's now in the midst of his 14th Finals, having experienced them as a player (2), an assistant coach (1), a head coach (9) and now an executive (2).
He's the highest-profile executive in the league running the highest-profile team in the highest-profile moment. In other words, right in his comfort zone.
Riley has been attending practices and shootarounds, and has regularly consulted with Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra throughout the playoffs. This is no different than the regular season, as he is always around the team when it's not on the road. But given the pressure Miami is under, his role has been magnified.
Riley tries to avoid the spotlight, declining most interviews and even staying in his seat when the Heat received the trophy for winning the Eastern Conference finals last week, but the cameras still find him. And the Heat's leaders and decision-makers still seek him out.
During a practice before Game 2 earlier this week, Riley drew up plays on a clipboard for assistant coaches from a perch in the stands above the floor. When a player is in a slump or his role changes, Riley often will have a private conversation with him after a practice. Riley's communication with Spoelstra is nonstop.
"We talk all the time, all the time," Spoelstra said after the Heat's practice Saturday, a day before the Heat and Thunder clash in Game 3. "It's almost as if he's a member on my staff. If I'm not calling him, if I'm not bumping into him at the office, I'm texting him. Our dialogue has been very good."
At times over the past two years, Riley's omnipresence has been a target for Spoelstra detractors. Because Riley took over for Stan Van Gundy before the Heat won the title in 2006 -- a story that has many facets and still many versions to this day -- the assumption for some has been that he might eventually do the same with Spoelstra.
But at no time has Riley's support of his young coach waivered publicly. And Spoelstra has never been afraid to say he continues to lean on Riley and his experience.
"It's most relevant with a team like this," Spoelstra said. "He's walked in my shoes before. It's not that I don't take other people's opinions, but if you haven't walked in these shoes, it's tough to have the proper perspective."
The Heat and Thunder have been constructed in opposite ways. Both were somewhat deliberate -- the Thunder needed three years of high draft picks, and the Heat spiked two seasons to clear cap space -- but the two had vastly disparate goals.
The Thunder, as general manager Sam Presti has been widely lauded for, conserved cap space and gathered draft picks. The Heat spent fast and heavy, dumping prospects and draft picks for instant gratification. Of all the projects that Riley, the 2011 executive of the year, has started and executed in his long career, this is probably going to be his last. And he's committed to not riding into the sunset until he's proved again that he's right.
"Where am I going to go?" Riley said earlier this season. "I'm in this."
2. Postseason MVPs
Obviously, one look at the box score from Game 1 tells us that Miami did not lose the opener because Bron was a no-show. But it's fair to suggest that he didn't play with the same fire, focus and plan as he did against Boston. Early on, even though Miami was rolling, LeBron settled for long jumpers far more than he needed to with Kevin Durant on him; LeBron's first attempt at backing Durant down ended up with a foul on KD. In other words, LeBron wasted opportunities to do more damage to the Thunder.
Every possession counts against a team as potent as OKC, so when Miami is up by only nine points instead of 15, it matters. We saw this scenario play out in Game 2, as Miami built a lead it never lost. LeBron clearly realized that he is far better off looking for deeper catches, backing in to post-ups, and generally attacking the paint. In the end, this was the single most important recognition and execution of the series.
He beat up OKC all night with this plan of attack, although he also settled for a late 3 that missed and almost cost them the game. LeBron has to realize that even when he is tired and open from deep, he needs to attack late in games. But we have to admit that a 32, 8 and 5 game, with 12-of-12 from the line, must go down as one of the best games of his playoff career because it spearheaded a win over a team that had not lost a home playoff game this year.
3. What's Up With D-Wade?
Something's up with Dwyane Wade.
At 30 years old, Wade is in the midst of one of the worst postseasons of his career. His PER is down from 26.3 last postseason to 22.1 this postseason, his lowest rate since his rookie season (minimum five games). He's not quite old enough at this point for us to attribute his precipitous drop-off to a natural decline.
His sore left knee might be the culprit. Before Game 2 of the Indiana series, Wade had his knee drained because of fluid buildup due to inflammation. Although Wade won't publicly admit the severity of his knee issues, he is regularly exhibiting a slight limp on the floor.
There's something peculiar going on with his in-game splits that might have gone unnoticed by the casual fan.
Wade has been a remarkably slow starter in these playoffs, needing until halftime to play like we're accustomed to seeing him play. In fact, over the past 15 years, we haven't seen a player exhibit a wider gap between productivity in the first-half compared to after the halftime intermission.
4. NBA Video Channel
5. Tweet Of The Night
6. Quote Of The Night
"I'm not making no adjustments, regardless of what anybody says. I'm going to play my game regardless of what happens."
-- a defiant Russell Westbrook, in response to critiques of his play in Game 2.
7. Ball's In King's Court?
9. Stats Check
In the Thunder's Game 1 win, OKC outscored the Heat 56-40 in the paint, the second-most paint points allowed by the Heat in a playoff game in the Big Three era. Seven players scored from inside 5 feet for the Thunder, led by a postseason-high 14 from Russell Westbrook and 10 from Kevin Durant.
In the Heat's Game 2 victory, Miami had a 48-32 advantage in the paint, the Heat's second-largest paint points margin this postseason.
LeBron James was 9-of-16 in the paint in Game 2, and all but one of his 10 made field goals came from that range. Dwyane Wade also attacked the basket more in Game 2, going 3-of-7 from inside 5 feet after making just one of four shots from that area in Game 1.
10. Alternative Listening