Everything fell apart the moment LeBron James started cramping up. Maybe it was the rising temperature in the arena that caused all of this; maybe it was simply fatigue or bad luck. These thing happen. But the Miami Heat were dominating, leading, en route to stealing home court advantage. And then everything fell apart.
Danny Green is a very limited offensive player. His only ability is hitting shots when he is wide open, mostly on catch and shoot. He can’t put the ball on the floor, he can’t shoot on the go, he can’t attack the paint. For around 40 minutes, the Heat did a great job of excluding a huge nuisance for them in the previous NBA finals. But once James left the floor the unbalanced lineups weren’t good enough to chase around shooters.
Defensive discipline disappeared, and using the right lineups for most of the previous 40 minutes didn’t matter anymore. The Heat couldn’t get stops, couldn’t get any points in transition and started leaving shooters open as the Spurs simply couldn’t miss in that final quarter. The offense, stuck in half court all through those final nine to eight minutes, turned the ball over and struggled actually generating good shots.
This shouldn’t be a lasting problem. James should be fine by Sunday, getting an extra day of rest. But the Miami Heat need to think about other things and not just LeBron James. The offense can’t look completely clueless without its best player. They had that problem against the Indiana Pacers in the game 5 loss: James was troubled with fouls. The Heat actually handled that issue well early on, but ultimately started to show their weakness without James on the floor.
A huge problem for Miami was Boris Diaw. He wasn’t at the same level of his performances against the Thunder in game 6 & 7, but he forced the Heat’s defense to squeeze, finishing with six assists and 10 rebounds. It’s less of a matchup problem for the Heat and more of a discipline and instinct problem. Without James, the defense simply can’t play in the same way we’re used to seeing. And as we’ve learned, it’s better to let teams try to dominate them in the paint then race for help inside, especially against such an excellent passing team like the Spurs.
The Heat lost game 1 against the Pacers on the road and came back. They lost game 1 at home against the Spurs last year and came back. There’s nothing over, especially when the Spurs were the inferior team for most of the game. But the kingdom can’t collapse every time James doesn’t play, benched for regular reasons or for treatment. The Miami Heat need for that realization to sink in, or this game will be the trigger in a ‘what if’ rant at the end of a disappointing series.