OK, so I purposely waited until the day after to analyze this Heat collapse. The reason being, I spent the entire second half with my head buried in the computer trying to finish a column that needed to be completed before the game was over (I apologize to anyone who read that print version, by the way).
So while I was still looking up at the game on occasion, it was hard to actually detail what was going so wrong.
The good news is, it allowed me to sit at home and dissect the second half on DVR. It was telling. Very telling. And it will be no fun at all pointing fingers at Dwyane Wade, Erik Spoelstra and LeBron James. But it’s inevitable.
(Also, fair warning. This isn’t really a blog entry. It’s a long, long, Bill-Simmons-column long entry, but not nearly as funny. So either take time to read it, or read it in spurts.)
Starting the third quarter with an 18-point lead, you can already tell the Heat is in cruise mode. Because rather than start the half with exactly what worked in the first half, the guys switch it up and run action for Chris Bosh. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Bosh actually got four points in three possessions out of it. It’s just an obvious change in approach. When you’ve already lost big leads at home this year, you’d like to see Wade and James stretch the lead to 30 by being ultra-aggressive just like they were to start the game. But, no, the signs start early…
Possible worst-case-scenario, the Heat goes up 24 in the opening minutes of the half. Cruise mode suddenly went into idle mode.
It was most visible on the defensive end. Wade in particular helped turn this big lead into a small lead real quickly.
After going up 24, he gets caught up in a screen, eventually his man, Jason Richardson, hits a wide-open three-pointer.
Next Heat possession, Wade misses a couple free throws – a disturbing trend because his bad FT-shooting games always seem to come back and cost the Heat.
A Heat possession later, Bosh gets ball in the post, no movement other than a late cut by Mario Chalmers. Wade and LeBron just standing and watching from the edges. Bosh misses tough turnaround.
Next possession, again, just standing and watching from LeBron and Wade, leaving Bosh for a long jumper that doesn’t go. Still up 21.
Next possession, yet again, LeBron at top of the circle without the ball and not moving, Dwyane in the corner and not moving, ends up in long Chalmers jumper with 16 seconds left on the shot clock.
At this point, you’re starting to notice a couple of things. First, Chalmers is practically begging to be benched. The one thing he did decently well before starting was hitting threes. He’s missing badly these days.
Second, and possibly most important, is that whole crutch theory that “everybody makes a run in the NBA” is just that, a crutch.
There’s a reason teams make runs. Because you’re allowing them to.
The Magic’s run was extreme, and it was because the Heat was playing extremely lazy. Here you thought LeBron was “re-FOCUSED,” according to his Wednesday tweet. Apparently that only lasts one half.
After LeBron hit Bosh in the head with a bullet pass (as if he wasn’t struggling enough to see the basket straight), the Heat’s next possession was a one-dribble fadeaway for Wade from the left corner with 16 seconds left on the shot clock. Bad shot. Bad result, made worse after Wade’s man, J-Rich, gets a fastbreak bucket as a result.
All the while, the Heat still has a comfortable lead, so it’s apparently not registering that these possessions are costly and horrible.
A few possessions later, more proof that the mentality has changed from the first half. On a pick-and-roll play between Wade and Bosh, the Magic switch, leaving Wade with the ball against Brandon Bass. Rather than try to take him (TAKE HIM!!!), Wade tries to pass to Bosh, who has a smaller man on him, but he’s posting up at TOP OF THE THREE-POINT CIRCLE! Why try to force a pass there rather than be aggressive and go yourself, Dwyane? The pass was bad, and it resulted in a turnover.
And it didn’t stop there for Wade. Very next Magic possession, he lingers in the lane as Dwight Howard is driving to the rim on the opposite side of the baseline. Bosh was already there to double Howard at the rim. Wade was doing nothing to bother or deter Howard. It just looked like he was going to actually help, when all he did was leave J-Rich open for an uncontested three. Lead down to 75-61.
The lead stayed at 14 for a spell, but the end of the third quarter is where the Magic made another push.
The Heat blitz a pick-and-roll hard, J-Rich is open for a three. 80-69.
Mike Bibby airball (he can’t be blamed for any of this, because it’s unfair he even has to play), Jameer Nelson free throws, and suddenly it’s a nine-point game.
At the quarter buzzer, James Jones missed a three-pointer. Can’t really expect that make, of course, but it gives us an excuse to look at his recent shooting numbers in contests that don’t involve a rack of basketballs.
Since the beginning of February, Jones, who does have a hip issue, has shot 8 of 28 from three. That’s 28.6 percent. That’s not good. But he also hasn’t had but two games where he played more than 15 minutes. Seven of those 13 games he has played eight minutes or less. Not a great opportunity to get into a rhythm. In every game that he has hit three three-pointers or more, he’s played at least 16 minutes, and most of them he’s played at least 20. Cutting those minutes in half doesn’t leave Jones much time to contribute. You almost have to commit to playing him double-figure minutes or don’t play him at all.
Fourth quarter, more one-or-no pass offense for Heat. Bibby to Bosh for a one-dribble pull-up, miss. Wade another pair of missed free throws, Wade another tough fadeaway from the corner, this one over an outstretched Howard, another miss. Wade 0 of 3 for the half at this point. That rebound leads to an open three for J-Rich, who would’ve been Wade’s man if he didn’t have to start from the baseline when recovering on defense.
Finally, on the next Heat possession they get back to multiple pick-and-rolls. But on the second one, Mike Miller misses Bosh when he’s open, and instead hits him after the defense recovers. The resulted is a contested two for Bosh that misses.
Then more laziness. Wade gets a steal, hits Miller for an open three that misses, but Wade doesn’t recover defensively, J-Rich hits another three. It’s not 82-79 Miami, and there doesn’t seem to be any plan on the Heat’s part to turn things around.
To this point in the collapse, it seems Wade can take most of the blame. Bad offense, bad defense, just plain bad. But Spo can’t be left out of the blame game. He has had plenty of opportunity to watch what’s happening and change it. There were too many “plays” where the Largest Two were either standing and watching or not being aggressive. It’s OK for a coach to tell his guys to be aggressive. It’s OK to demand that they “drive the ball.” You hear it all the time from coaches. Didn’t see or hear much of that from Spo on Thursday.
Just after a timeout, LeBron missed a wide-open three. Granted, it was open, but LeBron also had a lane to drive into, and had he done it, he very likely would’ve found an open Bosh underneath the basket because the Magic bigs were contemplating whether to run out on James and had lost contact with Bosh.
A quick, hibachi-like three from Gilbert Arenas, and suddenly this bad boy is tied at 82-82.
But nothing changes on the Heat’s offensive end. Wade waits in the corner because catching a pass, faking, then missing an out-of-rhythm baseline jumper.
As a result, J-Rich leaks out, forces Bibby to cover him. He backs down Bibby and then finds an open Ryan Anderson for a layup. Magic lead. Game officially a disaster right now. Even if Heat comes back to eek out a win.
More awfulness. Bibby misses a three on another possession where LeBron neven stepped inside the three-point circle.
Then Bibby doubles Howard, Wade is so late rotating to Arenas that you’d think he was just hit in the head with a LeBron James bullet pass. Magic up five.
Two more plays that make you want to never see Chalmers on the floor of a non-blowout ever again.
He commits a ridiculous offensive foul on an attempted screen. It was clearly a foul. One that Chalmers thought he might get away with, but it was entirely unnecessary.
Very next play, he can’t come close to sticking to Nelson on a screen-roll, Nelson splits Chalmers and Bosh for a runner.
That’s an 18-0 run. That’s the type of run that you’d never think the Heat would be on the wrong side of. Not when you have free-throw machines like Wade and LeBron. But unfortunately, teams don’t tend to foul guys who stand around the three-point line most of the time.
The Heat try to turn on the switch, but the Magic is already humming, mostly on defense. Wade gets doubled in the post. Turnover. Heat moving the ball to find an open shot, Erick Dampier parks in the lane for a three-second violation. Chalmers decides he wants a whole possession to himself, never passes the ball, drives to the lane and tries to get a foul call on Howard, who slaps the shot out of bounds. LeBron and Dwyane? Yeah, they’re parked outside the three-point line the whole time.
Bosh finally hits a driving layup, but one possession later, Chalmers continues his horrendousisosity (new word) but bricking another open three.
You have to ask yourself at this point why he’s in there. His mistakes are plentiful offensively, his defense is non-existent. That’s a Spo choice that’s questionable.
The Magic manage to maintain a seven-point lead, 93-86, and Wade’s answer is to launch a three-pointer from the top with 14 seconds on the shot clock. He hasn’t made a field goal or a free throw in the period at this point. Horrible shot. Again, LeBron parked in the corner the whole possession.
Another missed Chalmers three, but Heat get fortunate rebound and Wade finds Dampier for an and-one bucket.
Nothing against Dampier, but he was the best player in the Heat’s fourth quarter. Once again, Erick Dampier was the Heat’s best player in the fourth quarter of a big game. Disturbing sentence.
Finally, Chalmers is on the bench, but Nelson gets past Wade just as easy, collapses the defense and this time it’s Quentin Richardson who nails the open three. 96-89.
Heat’s answer? Bosh drives into double team searching for foul. No call. No call deserved. Wade never steps inside three-point line.
Finally, a big shot. Miller with a three, 96-92.
But it’s followed by, arguably, the biggest play of the game.
Now, in a game of huge plays and equally horrible possessions, it’s hard to pinpoint one as critical. But this one was.
Miller grabbed a steal and throws just a horrible pass over Wade and toward Q-Rich in the open court.
As much as this game wasn’t Miller’s fault, by any stretch, that was the biggest failure down the stretch. That would’ve been at least two points for Wade, who had a retreating Richardson between him and the basket. It would’ve made it a two or one point game with 1:30 left.
Thanks to Dampier – again – who hits a couple free throws, the Heat’s within two and on defense. If Miller’s turnover was the most crucial play down the stretch, this was easily the most insane.
For starters, it’s frustrating to watch when the Heat just spent the previous 20 minutes or so playing like lazy dogs. Had they played with anything close to this kind of effort in the second half, it never would’ve gotten to this point.
Q-Rich misses the dagger three. Howard muscles Dampier and positions himself perfectly in front of the basket. He didn’t get the rebound, but he reached back and got a hand on it, forcing Wade to tip the ball almost out of bounds. Wade dives over the bench to save it in, but it gets to Howard, who finds Anderson on the baseline. LeBron comes in for a clean swat. But because Bosh bumped into the massive Howard, Bosh was face down on the floor rather than chasing down that loose ball, so Howard gets it first.
This is a perfect example of why Howard’s ridiculous physique is good for way more than magazine covers and ESPN The Body issues. He made two gigantic, game-saving plays just by being a beast.
LeBron then gets called for a foul on Nelson, but it might have been an anticipation call by the refs, who figured he’d be fouling in that spot with the Heat down and barely a differential between shot and game clock. It didn’t look like LeBron actually fouled, though.
Heat goes for two on next possession. Not a bad choice, but it did take way too long. Wade got bailed out a bit on the foul call, but he made both with 9.6 seconds left.
Inbound play after timeout makes no sense. Howard’s on the floor. Why bother keeping a guy even close to him. You want him to catch the ball. Instead, LeBron completely ignores J.J. Redick after he floats into the backcourt. Why? You want anyone else catching it other than him, but LeBron just chose to stay in the frontcourt. Complete brain fart. Redick makes two free throws, Heat trails by three.
Now for that last possession.
Let’s start with LeBron’s postgame claim that the Magic must’ve scouted the Heat and known that they like to throw the ball in the corner in that spot.
That sounds like a shot at the coach. But watch the play again.
The Magic didn’t “know” anything. They didn’t even switch on the screen from LeBron for Wade, the way people immediately after the game suggested. It was just good defense. It wasn’t a very difficult play to defend, either. Pretty simple screen. J-Rich got a little help from Q-Rich, then just recovered in time to force Miller to throw it elsewhere.
As for Bosh, that action was well designed at the top of the circle. He screened for a curling Bibby, who returned the favor and screened an unsuspecting Howard. Bosh was wide open. Brick.
Here’s the problem with that. Why is Bosh even there? That same action probably gets James Jones wide open. He’s the guy who should be there – Eddie House’s height might have made him a less ideal candidate, plus he hadn’t played a single minute. But Bosh?
Granted, the Magic probably would’ve countered by taking Hwoard out of the game, but Bosh has ended up with that shot far more often than he should have this season. He made a couple, but if you play the percentages, you figure he’s due to miss even more. This was one of them.
What can you say about that final wide-open three from LeBron? He missed it. All that “closer” talk is nonsense. Guys make and they miss in those situations. He missed. Whatever. Even if he had made it and the Heat recovered to win in overtime, it would’ve masked the multitude of problems that were so evident in this game.
There were some talk after the game that Wade needs to be the guy who plays aggressively in those close-game situations, and that as much as the “who’s team is it?” debate is silly, maybe in those situations there needs to be a clear distinction as to who is the primary guy.
That’s entirely untrue. It doesn’t take a guy taking over late. It takes guys NOT slacking off in the middle of the game. That way you avoid those situations altogether. This isn’t a late-game issue. This is an all-game issue. Picking your spots doesn’t mean playing with no effort in certain stretches and taking horrible shots time and again. Might as well be on the bench.
If the Heat doesn’t turn into a bunch of bickering children as a result of this, it might help them down the road. But this game is on, in order, Wade, Spoelstra and LeBron. There’s no sugarcoating this – especially when you watch it a second time.