The Miami Heat suddenly regained their elite form in the blink of a Game 7 blowout.
The Heat once again displayed their superteam flair by walking over the Indiana Pacers, 99-76, on Monday night to claim the Eastern Conference for a third consecutive season.
LeBron James added to his legacy as the greatest player of a generation, and Dwyane Wade slipped back into his extravagant sidekick role. On the other end, Miami’s relentless defensive pressure forced 21 turnovers and held Indiana to its lowest scoring output of the series.
However, as convincing as the victory was in culminating an incredible conference finals, Miami walks into the 2013 NBA Finals with an obvious limp. It’s a hitch that surely didn’t go unnoticed by San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who had time to analyze most games of the East finals.
The Heat lost their invisibility cloak in their seven-game battle against the Pacers, suffering lapses of consistency and emotion from both Wade and Chris Bosh that could derail the team against San Antonio. They were good enough to beat Indy with those two showing up every now and then, but that inconsistency won't hold up against the Spurs.
James played his role as the team’s leader, as he discussed in an interview with the Inside The NBA crew after Game 7:
The last two days I was on them. I let them know that, "Hey, it’s just us three at the end of the day. We have to put our team in a position to win. And I cannot afford to have you two struggle again." They heard the message.
Wade was the worst offender. His demeanor on the floor against Indiana was tired, and he disrespected his status as a superstar by failing to let the game come to him. It’s as if with each play, he had an ulterior motive: to make it about himself. And more often than not, he would rip apart an official with his glazed-over grumble in the aftermath.
He looked selfish on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor, seemingly giving up on plays that didn’t involve him. Maybe he’s hurt, maybe he’s mad at the world—or maybe this is just how he plays now.
But Wade stashing his phenomenal talent only to reveal it at his choosing is an obvious detriment to the Heat. He entered Monday averaging just 13.6 points on 44.8 percent shooting in the playoffs, after having averaged 21.2 points on 52.1 percent in the regular season.
Wade scored just 10 points each in Games 5 and 6 of the conference finals, but in Game 7, he hit seven of his 16 shots and was perfect from the free-throw line for 21 points. He also added nine rebounds, six of them offensive.
The star shooting guard's productivity will be necessary for Miami to win a second straight NBA title.
Not only that, but Bosh will also need to wake up. The Heat forward who plays center will be glad to escape the daunting assignments of Roy Hibbert and David West, but the Spurs frontcourt features a rejuvenated and rested Tim Duncan, who is four wins away from a fifth title.
Bosh cannot be a no-show as he was against the Pacers. In Games 4, 5 and 6, he averaged just 6.3 points and 4.0 rebounds. In Game 7, the big man wasn't much better offensively, going 3-of-13 for nine points, though he did tally eight rebounds.
Bosh didn't settle into the game as Wade had appeared to. Without the strength or dexterity to score inside, Bosh stayed rooted on the perimeter and never found his touch.
He looked like he had never played in the paint, getting pushed around and frazzled near the rim. And while you would think that Bosh would have worked harder against Indiana due to his physical limitations, he looked disengaged and a step behind.
If Bosh and Wade are disinterested from game to game, not even the epic basketball talent that is LeBron James will be enough to overcome the Spurs.
San Antonio has too much coaching and overall talent to lose to one player.
Winning the East shouldn’t be overlooked, but the coming together of Erik Spoelstra's squad in a Game 7 at home doesn’t give credence to the hyperbole that has surrounded this superteam for the past three years.
Entering the NBA Finals, the Heat look like a great team led by the greatest player. But without the heightened play of Wade and Bosh, they are far from invincible.