The Miami Heat lost to the Orlando Magic Thursday night, and in a game where LeBron James and Dwyane Wade combined for 47 points in the first half alone, the Heat surrendered a 24-point comeback to Orlando, and Miami's first half superstars combined for just two points fourth quarter.
For the Magic, it was the second largest comeback in franchise history, and an encouraging sign as they get ready for the NBA playoffs. For the Heat, though, it's pretty much exact opposite.
On Monday afternoon earlier this week, I was dazed and completely out of it after having my brain melted by Charlie Sheen all morning, but SB Nation needed a story to run, so I put together a quick piece on Miami's struggles lately. The relevant information was here:
Starting on Thursday, they play the Magic, the Spurs, the Bulls, the Lakers, the Spurs again, and then the Thunder. ... And looking at Miami and looking ahead to the playoffs, it's probably the best benchmark yet for a team that's been scrutinized all year long, and still seems like a total mystery.
Which brings us back to Thursday night, the first phase in this supposed moment of truth for Miami. And you could not have imagined a worse way for them to lose a game. I mean, seriously. Not only did they break the play and give it to Chris Bosh on the game-tying possession, but Bosh missed, and the ball bounced out to LeBron James for a wide-open three that would have sent it to overtime. Of course, playing perfectly to his stereotype, he missed in crunch time.
So maybe it's true. Maybe pro basketball really is scripted, and the Heat are just supposed to be the stereotypical good-looking idiots of the NBA's movie. Like Bradley Cooper in Wedding Crashers. And Bradley Cooper in The Hangover. Or, hey! Bradley Cooper in Failure to Launch. But when it comes time to get serious, the Heat are like Bradley Cooper in Limitless, which is to say, there definite are limits to how seriously we should take this.
In any case, there's been no game this entire season that better epitomizes both the potential and the problems with the Miami Heat, so I decided to re-watch the second half and take some notes. (Sadly, I DVR'd the NBA TV re-broadcast, so I didn't get to re-watch any of those super hilarious Franklin and Bash promos.)
First, a recap of the first half:
Without dwelling too much on what should be obvious from the numbers above, the Heat made it look easy in the first two quarters, and reminded everyone that when LeBron and Wade are hitting their jump shots, it's pretty much impossible to stop Miami. I mean, if any two stars are hitting 18/21 field goals, it's going to be tough on the other team, but Wade and James each get to the line so often that it's just impossible to compete when they're shooting like that. Of course, there was also the second half...
10:21 - Miami runs their first three possessions through Chris Bosh, who rewards them with a made jumper and two made free throws. The Heat do this at the beginning of every game, too. Isn't it cute when they pretend they have a low post option to free up 'Bron and Wade?
8:56 - LeBron spins baseline for an easy dunk, the Heat go up 24. Things are going well.
6:11 - This just happened, and it will be infinitely funnier in four of five months, when LeBron James is doing an interview with GQ and taking subliminal shots at Bosh.
As an aside, can someone please put together a highlight reel of every embarrassing moment that Chris Bosh has endured this season? At this point, every embarrassing moment just blends together, and I would believe any story I heard about on Twitter.
"A ref accidentally kicked Chris Bosh in the nuts tonight"? Of course that would happen. "Chris Bosh said after the game that Pat Riley needs to lighten up and realize it's just a game." Again, totally believable. "Chris Bosh said 'I know guys want to hustle and everything but we all want to play and have a job.'" That actually happened. I'm telling you, Chris Bosh is basically the Charlie Sheen of embarrassing basketball moments. It just keeps getting crazier.
5:16 - Despite the awkward moment, the Heat recover, and LeBron nails a jump shot from the top of the key to put them back up 17. TNT's Kevin Harlan: "They just can't miss." Just you wait, Kevin...
4:06 - Dwight Howard draws three defenders underneath the rim, kicks it to Jason Richardson in the corner, and Richardson's three-pointer brings them within 14. Oralndo's on a 12-2 run, and between protecting the lane on defense and freeing up the perimeter on offense, Dwight Howard reminds us all why he's a perpetual MVP candidate.
1:07 - ...But then there's possessions like this. Orlando comes down and Jameer Nelson finds Howard one-on-one in the the post. Howard spins toward the hoop, flails a lay-up toward the rim, misses badly out of bounds, and looks on incredulously, waiting for a foul on Erick Dampier that simply never happened. And just like that, Howard reminds us why he's a perpetual MVP runner-up.
1:03 - Right on cue, Howard picks up fourth foul.
1:03 - Probably the highlight of the game for me. Kevin Harlan trying to be diplomatic, talking about the crowd in Miami: "You know, we don't talk about crowds very often. And the game certainly hasn't been very close. The home team's playing well, or has been playing very well up until the last four or five minutes. But we were in Chicago last week, and there truly was a buzz the entire game. And we said at halftime, one of the things that Miami has to battle, is maybe not a lot of elecriticity at home. It's more laid back, and you don't have the buzz here, like they have in Boston, or certainly in New York."
00:06 - Jameer Nelson gets fouled, hits two free throws, and the Magic just cut it to nine points. The crowd is basically silent at this point, and barely audible during Nelson's free throws. I know it's a regular season game and most of the Miami fans had already penciled in bottle service at Mansion, but it's sort of amazing to see the Heat crowd in action.
It's like a vacuum for excitement. They all get there late, nobody has any clue when to cheer, guys are wearing Uggs courtside, and even someone like Kevin Harlan can't help but mention how incredibly lame the whole atmosphere is. Maybe things will be different during the playoffs, but is it crazy to think this might actually matter at some point? Like, in a seven game series with Chicago, don't the Bulls have a huge advantage playing three games at home, and four on a neutral court?
12:00 - It's not Eric Spoelstra's fault that he's got the deer-in-the-headlights look going at all times, but it certainly makes it funnier when you juxtapose his face with a murderous-looking Pat Riley in the Miami stands. Make no mistake, at some point, Spoelstra will actually be a deer in the headlights, and Riley will be driving the car.
"We have to keep on grinding," Spoelstra says to Craig Sager in that awkward interview they do at the start of the fourth. "This is a team you can't beat with home runs." I don't know that you can't beat any team with home runs in basketball, but I get what he's saying. I think.
10:38 - The wheels are coming off for Miami. It's still a nine point game, but everything that was easy is now impossible. Dwyane Wade has a breakaway lay-up that would have been an and-one in the first quarter. Now, he misses, then misses the first free throw, misses a second free throw that's waved off by the ref, and finally, misses a third free throw. Momentum isn't always intangible.
9:25 - Coming off a Jason Richardson three to cut the lead to six points, Miami feeds Bosh, who clanks a 15-foot baseline jumper off the back rim. FYI: When your low post option can only shoot 15-foot jumpers in crunch time, that player is not a low post option.
9:03 - Dwyane Wade gets Mike Miller a wide open three to try and stop the bleeding, and Miller barely draws iron. Like, we were this close to an airball from the Heat's three point specialist. Orlando converts the miss into a three on the other end. It's a three point game. Hey, remember all those, "You just wait till Miami gets Mike Miller back" stories?
8:20 - Good God, Gilbert Arenas is alive!!! He ties the game with a three, and we've got a ball game on our hands! Hey, does anyone know why the Heat have to play without fans?
7:00 - Gilbert Arenas hits another three to put Orlando up five, and even Reggie Miller can't ruin it for me. "The Orlando Magic have taken a wake-up pill here tonight!" he says. And yes, that's some of the worst announcing you'll hear in any sport, but guess what? Gilbert can't feel his face!
It's now a 38-9 run by Orlando and TNT is running the "blown leads" graphic for the Heat...
6:10 - Reggie: "I like what Stan Van Gundy has done here. Goes with the two point guard lineup, leaves Jason Richardson on the floor." For the record, Jason Richardson is not on the floor.
4:27 - The Heat are still down seven, and TNT pans to Bibby on the bench, and Reggie says "He's a little bit of a defensive liability." A bit of a defensive liability? No. Kevin Durant is a bit of a defensive liability. Mike Bibby is a defensive catastrophe. He's an apocalypse. He's Derek Fisher without the big shots and with a lot more dribbling. And that, my friends, is why Mario Chalmers is in the game.
4:17 - Bosh drives to the hoop! It's like a solar eclipse. Sure, he runs into an almost-dumbfounded Dwight Howard, who puts his hands up and easily blocks Bosh's runner, but hey! The ball bobbles into Erick Dampier's hands for an easy dunk. That's an assist!
1:54 - "This is a stunned arena here in Miami," says Kevin Harlan. Either stunned, or simply not paying attention. One or the other. Thankfully, Mike Miller hits a three and keeps things close. Four-point game.
1:00 - With a minute left and the Heat down four, LeBron gives it up to Wade, who drives, jumps into Howard, and is flabbergasted when he doesn't get the call. Which brings us to the biggest problem with Miami in crunch time. So much of what they try to do is dependent on the refs. Wade and LeBron are good shooters, but they're great players because like we said above, in addition to whatever they give you from the field, they're generally good for 9 or 10 free throws a game. (In the entire league, they're tied for third and fourth in average attempts).
In crunch time, though, it's a lot riskier to depend on the officials to bail you out. Wade's drive would have gotten a call in the first quarter, but in the fourth, a ref's not going to send you to the line just for throwing yourself into Dwight Howard's body and heaving the ball at the rim. You know, unless it's the playoffs and David Stern needs a seventh game.
Luckily for Miami, Dampier gets fouled and bails out Wade the way refs never did. Dampier calmly hits both free throws, and it's a two-point game.
0:44 - How to describe the most insane possession EVER? A Quentin Richardson three leads to a bobbled rebound out of bounds, which leads to Dwyane Wade diving over the Magic bench to save the ball, which ends up in Dwight Howard's hands. Howard hits Ryan Andersen under the basket for a lay-up, but LeBron James comes out of nowhere to block the shot. Howard then recovers, and hits Jameer Nelson, who's fouled by LeBron, but misses one of two free throws. Somehow, all that madness led to a three point game.
0:20 - TNT comes out of the break with a montage of LeBron and D-Wade last-second shots. If the team needs one or two points, Reggie explains, they're better off going with LeBron James on a drive to the basket, hoping he'll get fouled (see above). When they're down three, they're better off going to Wade. So who will it be this time?
0:09 - Wade, but his attack comes straight out of the LeBron playbook, as he again drives straight into the body of Howard, and this time, he gets the call. Reggie goes to the replay and says of the call on Howard, "Let's see if there's verticality here."
Not gonna lie, I've got absolutely no idea what that means.
0:08 - After Wade hits both, the Heat foul, and J.J. Redick makes it a three point game again. We're right back where we started. Who gets the last shot this time? "The last two losses for the Heat, it's been LeBron James," Reggie says. "But he's not your best three point shooter." And it's true, with James Jones, Mike Miller, and Eddie House around to spread the floor, the Heat have some pretty solid options from the perimeter. Or they could just give it to LeBron and Wade and hope they make a play. Or they could...
Wait, they really gave it to Bosh???
Yep, they gave it to Bosh. And you're not going to believe this, but after angrily spiking the ball to punctuate the loss, Chris Bosh cried in the postgame press conference. But it was a rough night for the big fella, so we'll lay off him. No reason to drawn any attention to that damning Ryan Anderson comparison. Or the Onion video where he gets abandoned by his Heat teammates. Or the Latino-themed photo shoot he just had in preparation for his wedding. Really, we should just move on.
As for the Heat, it's one more game, but it's one more failed test where the Heat disappeared down the stretch. "It's definitely concerning," Kenny Smith said on TNT's postgame show. "Because when you play quality teams, the only way you win is down the stretch."
And that's the thing with Miami. They can dominate bad teams, and they can dominate quality teams, too, but when quality teams have the nerve to fight back, the Heat rarely have an answer.
There's hope, of course, because it's not like Thursday's game proves much for the Magic. Orlando won, but they needed out-of-this-world shooting from Gilbert Arenas and Jason Richardson, and once again, it's clear that the Magic are at their best when the offense doesn't revolve around Dwight Howard. That worked three or four years ago when the talent around Howard was much better; but with Richardson, Arenas, and Hedo Turkoglu prominently involved, Jameer and Dwight can only do so much. Thursday night proved the Magic have more heart than Miami, but they've also got more holes that'll hurt them in the long run.
So if it's a (relatively) meaningless win for Orlando, isn't it risky to read too much into it on Miami's side? Maybe. There's obviously a good chance the Heat will learn from this and get better in crunch time as soon as the playoffs get started. But there's just as good a chance that they won't, and we've been making excuses for them since October, ignoring some fundamental flaws.
Watching LeBron disappear during the fourth quarter while Wade careened into traffic looking for the foul, you had to wonder whether maybe this is what Miami is. A good team, without a killer instinct, and with a couple fatal flaws that will kill them when it counts.
So... FAN UP, AMIRITE? Almost time for the Heat to win six straight titles!