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With many NFL water cooler conversations centered on concussions and the effects of long-term brain injuries, it feels mildly inappropriate to revel in the physicality of a Heat playoff series that was in many ways more fitting for the Tim Hardaway and Alonzo Mourning teams of the late ’90s than for this current group.
There were fouls in the series that, had they been committed in a stadium on Sunday, would have been videotaped and sent to Roger Goodell for further review.
You could argue that this was one of the more physical series in recent years. Every game seemed to feature a handful of hard fouls, post-whistle stares, and genuine animosity. It may not have been a late ’90s Heat-Knicks series, but it was noticeably more acrimonious than most of these basketball games in the AAU era in which opposing players all seem to be off-court buddies that go out for dinner after the game. For those of us who grew up with those hotly-contested late ’90s punch-ups, this series made us feel slightly nostalgic on some level.
The Heat were not supposed to be built for games like this. If this Miami team resembles any past Riley squad, most talking heads would agree it’s the ’80s Showtime Lakers, certainly not any of Riley’s gritty New York squads.
Regardless of how many hard fouls LeBron, Wade, Haslem and Pittman dole out, few are willing to use any synonym connoting “tough” to describe this squad. After all, the face of the franchise has the time of his life at New York’s fashion week. Come on, he wears pink pants to press conferences! They’re soft!
That seems to be the general perception anyway.
Basketball fans that came of age in the ’80s all have one go-to hobby horse that basically consists of them emphasizing just how much purer the game was back then. “Those were the days when men were men,” they say, completely ignoring those J-Lo shorts.
“Flagrant? What’s that? Back then we only had two types of fouls- hard and harder! Defenders can’t touch guys nowadays!” And on, and on they go.
Against the Pacers, LeBron James confirmed what many already knew- the man could have thrived in any basketball era. So far in his nine-year career, James has played in 689 of a possible 722 regular season games. He’s never missed a playoff game; 103 and counting.
With Chris Bosh out, James flew around like a cross between Karl Malone and Scottie Pippen. When Miami needed rebounds to close out close games, there he was, soaring above the 7-foot-2 Hibbert and 6-foot-9 David West. When Miami was struggling and needed a basket, he lowered a sizable shoulder and morphed into a basketball bartering ram.
His virtuoso Game 4 performance, on the road no less, came when Miami was facing the very real prospect of going down 3-1 to a Pacer team smelling blood. It will become a tale you’ll bore people with 20 years from now: 40 points, 18 rebounds, 9 assists. You’ll remember that game.
Then there was Dwyane Wade delivering three consecutive performances that made you think it was 2006 again. That is, until you saw Shaq on “Inside the NBA,” sighed longingly, and began reminiscing fondly about the days when he killed coaches instead of successful post-game shows.
Wade’s 40 points and 10 rebounds in the decisive Game 6 contained some of the most efficient, versatile basketball you will see on a court. He made 17 of his 25 shots and scored at will in a myriad of fashions–from post-ups, to floaters that seemed to scrape the scoreboard.
The physical nature of the series brought out the best in Wade and James. Like Haslem, Wade raises his game when he’s angry and/or bleeding. By now, you’d assume every coach in the NBA has seen the highlights of that regular season game between Miami and New York in 2009. With eight minutes left in the fourth quarter of that game, Miami trailed by 15 points. It was at that point Danilo Gallinari elbowed Wade in the face, spliting his lip. No foul was called. Next Knick possession, Wade gets blind-sided by a moving screen. Heat timeout.
24 Wade fourth quarter points later, Heat players and fans alike were trying to comprehend how the Heat were walking off the court with a 120-115 victory.
Frank Vogel could have been many places that fateful February day, but we can say with certainty that he wasn’t in attendance. He somehow thought aggravating the Heat’s two stars with willing irritant, Danny Granger, would rattle the Heat enough to cause a surprise second-round exit.
It made for a hell of an entertaining series, but if Vogel could do it over again, he would probably tell Granger to “settle down” this time around.
You could also argue that perhaps Vogel played his hand correctly. Everyone knew Indiana didn’t have the best two players on the floor, so Vogel took it upon himself to convince a team full of complimentary pieces that it could compete with the big boys, the championship chasers.
It may not have worked out for him this time, but it doesn’t take much imagination to envision a Miami-Indiana Eastern Conference Finals showdown next year. With Derrick Rose possibly missing next season entirely and the Boston Celtics creaking to a stall, Indiana is an Eric Gordon signing away from climbing to that second seed.
And if you still guiltily enjoyed the hard fouls and borderline dirty play more than you care to openly admit, then you should be secretly rooting for a few more Miami-Indiana clashes in the near future.
- Thomas Johnson
The Top Plays
While this series was far more defensively-oriented than the Heat’s first round match-up with the Knicks, there were actually far more highlights to choose from this time around. So without any more delay, here they are.
Agree? Vehemently Disagree? Any unforgivable snubs? Let us know, below. ‘Till next time.
By Thomas Johnson (Twitter)
Check back at the conclusion of every round for our winners and losers breakdown.
Be sure to check out other Winners/Losers recaps for each series.