When LeBron James and Chris Bosh washed up on the Miami shores three seasons ago, what looked like an unprecedented level of NBA excess also meant the Heat were going to be more dependent on the top of their roster than any team in the league.
It makes sense: with James, Bosh and Dwyane Wade combining to take up nearly 90 percent of the allotted salary cap, Miami's success would ultimately be determined by how great its stars could be. While what's happened since has proved there will never be a shortage of veterans willing to take a pay cut for a shot at a championship, the Heat simply won't ever have enough cap space to give a big contract to another free agent.
The players that surround Miami's Big Three have always been crucial to the operation, but those role players have taken on added importance this postseason as Wade has begun some sort of injury-induced regression. Wade can still be a killer for stretches, but it's clear he's not the same force of nature he was in 2006 when he willed the Heat to their first championship. It's a fact of life the Heat are simply going to have to accept. Anyone who has seen Wade during these playoffs knows it's unlikely he'll opt out of $20 million next summer or $21 million the year after that.
All of this means the Heat are going to be more reliant than ever on their role players moving forward, but they just might be OK with that. James, Wade and Bosh can be so dominant when they're all playing well that it obstructs a very real truth about the Heat: the team is at its scariest when the role players are carrying a sizable portion of the load.
Never was this more evident than in Game 2 of the NBA Finals. The Heat evened the series at 1-1 despite James missing 10 of his first 13 shots, despite Wade only finishing with 10 points on 13 attempts, despite Bosh chipping in just 12 points. It didn't stop the Heat from walking away with a 103-84 victory.
After Danny Green gave the Spurs a 62-61 lead with just under four minutes left in the third quarter, the Heat would embark on a 33-5 run that blew the doors off of San Antonio. James was devastating after the slow start. He drove the lane with a purpose, finished around the rim, hit his jump shots and threw some amazing passes that led directly to points for Miami.
But for all of James' world-beating brilliance, it's still only one-half of the equation for the Heat. The points don't go on the scoreboard unless the shots fall, and the shooters that make up Miami's most important role players were truly dialed in during Game 2.
Ray Allen finished 3-of-5 from three-point range. Mike Miller went 3-for-3 from downtown. Mario Chalmers also hit a pair of threes in leading the Heat with 19 points. Let that sink in: the Heat just won an NBA Finals game with Mario Chalmers as their leading scorer.
A closer look at how Miami scored its points during the stretch reveals just how great some of those James passes really were.
The first backbreaking shot during the run came after a Tony Parker bucket made it 69-65 Heat. Miami started the following possession in the half court with a side pick-and-roll between Chalmers and James. (Hot Hot Hoops broke these down beautifully here.) James received the ball at the free throw line as Gary Neal and Kawhi Leonard converged on him. Here's what James was facing in the heat of the moment:
Mike Miller's subtle movement around the arc put him in position for an open three-pointer, and James' damn near unparalleled court vision made the pass possible.
Miller's second three during the run might have come off an even more impressive delivery from James. Off a Manu Ginobili miss early in the fourth quarter, the Heat pushed the ball and found James in the post. LeBron was immediately double-teamed by Ginobili and Tiago Splitter, but the Spurs' trap didn't do much to fluster James. He somehow found Miller in the corner from this situation:
And then there's the sequence that seems destined to be remembered as one of James' greatest. You can write a short novel solely off his block of Splitter at the rim, but you can't capture James' true power without the ensuing Heat possession.
LeBron stood at the other end of the court and admired his block like a baseball player would after smashing a moonshot home run. After taking more than a few seconds to bask in the moment, James ran down the court and delivered the ball to Allen for another Miami three.
What made this special was James' look-off. After a pick-and-roll, James' eyes were focused on Bosh. It was enough to make Danny Green creep towards the paint and away from Ray Allen in the corner, which is of course where James found him for another three.
It was just another example of James' vision and passing, and his teammates' ability to capitalize on those skills. The easy narrative after Game 2 said something about LeBron succeeding on his own terms. Unlike Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant during the height of their powers, James has always understood that ball movement is fundamental to winning basketball. What gets misconstrued as James being afraid of the moment is usually just a hellbent dedication to making the right play. What other player would be criticized for not doing enough after posting a triple-double in the Finals?
It's how James is wired, and it's an idea that is central to the Heat's team building. They have the best player this game has seen since Jordan, but he's not the type of star that prefers bursting through double-teams to score. He'd rather find his teammates for open looks. Credit Miller and Allen and Chalmers and everyone else for being able to knock down a three-pointer in the face of immense pressure. When the role players are hitting their shots, defeating the Heat can seem damn near impossible.