After a year of unprecedented scrutiny, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and the Miami Heat earned a spot in the 2011 NBA Finals on Thursday night, shocking the Chicago Bulls with a comeback in the final minutes, and staking their claim to greatness like never before.
The Bulls led by 12 points with little more than three minutes to play in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals Thursday night, but if the playoffs have taught us anything about the Miami Heat so far, it's this: Never underestimate the power of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
With just three minutes to play, Wade hit a jumper to close the lead to 10. Then came a lay-up from Wade. Then a three from LeBron. Then a three from Wade, plus the foul. Then a three from LeBron. Then, with the game tied, came the dagger: a 21-foot jumper from LeBron.
Back-and-forth they went, trading huge shots, and making it look easier than playoff basketball should ever look. This is what the we'd expected all along from these superstars and this team.
"We don’t honestly know what happened," James said afterward. "We know some big plays happened and we know we won the game. It went so fast." Well, for one thing: LeBron James outscored the Chicago Bulls all by himself over the final eight minutes.
For another, Dwyane Wade came alive after struggling for nearly the entire series and looking downright irrelevant at points in Game 5. Of all the shots Miami hit during their flurry in the final minutes, none was bigger than Wade's four-point play, his first made three since May 7th.
But what really happened was the Heat's grand vision coming to fruition. The regular season wasn't kind to the Miami Heat; they lost nearly every close game they were in, and struggled against the NBA's elite teams. (Against the Bulls, for instance, they went 0-3.) The playoffs have been a different story, though, and Thursday night hammered home that theme like never before.
Instead of the regular season team that could be counted on to crumble in crunch time, Miami's evolved into a team that can never, ever be counted out. Even on the road, facing a double digit deficit with three minutes to play. Even against the NBA MVP, and the best defense in the NBA.
When James and Wade came together with Chris Bosh last summer, it sparked a neverending argument into whether it could actually work. Together, the Heat polarized the NBA like never before. The debate raged into the fall and the winter, too. This spring, though, LeBron, Wade, and the Heat have made all your arguments invalid.
Together, they rendered the NBA speechless on Thursday night. The sort of mind-bending display that doesn't seem possible or fair. In other words, for the first time all year, the 2011 Miami Heat were every bit as surreal as their origins--two of the best five players in the NBA, joining forces to form an unstoppable duo of untold explosiveness. In Game 5, the dream became reality.
For the rest of the NBA, Miami's an absolute nightmare.