Feeling the wall on your back brings out the best in some players. LeBron James showed he’s one of them in last year’s playoff, and that same kind of desperation pushed him into a massive performance in game 5 of the conference finals, with the Miami Heat needing more of the same thing from their MVP to close out the series.
Because when you look across at the Heat team, that on paper should have been better than before this season, and they’re not at their best at this point of the season. It begins with Dwyane Wade being very far from the superstar he usually is, limited by a knee injury that has been plaguing him all year. He is averaging only 15.4 points per game against the Pacers (Still his best series in this postseason), and has scored more than 20 points only once in their 14 playoff games so far.
Chris Bosh is doing what he can, but battling for 30-something minutes a night with Roy Hibbert hasn’t exactly been easy, which is hurting him on the offensive end, scoring only 7 points in each of the last couple of games, sometimes going through long stretches without even touching the ball. He’s also slightly hurt, but the Heat might benefit from trying to get the ball a bit more to him.
The rest? Well, Chris Andersen opened the series with 16 points, but has slowly been moving away from being productive on offense to trying to win his own personal, irrelavant battles with Tyler Hansbrough, getting him suspended from game 6. His +/- tells us that his time on the floor hasn’t been that productive as we’d like to believe, but that probably means Joel Anthony or Rashard Lewis will get more minutes, which doesn’t bode well for the Heat.
Mario Chalmers is averaging 12.4 points per game in the series so far, but the Heat probably need more from him. He has the confidence, and is one of the players the Pacers aren’t watching too carefully, managing to slip into the paint more than you’d expect, making up, a little bit, from Dwyane Wade being far less than explosive. His three point shooting (40% on 2 attempts per game) should probably be used a little bit more, during the moments the Heat actually focus on moving the ball well.
Ray Allen? A disappointment, no doubt, hitting only 28.9% from the field and 30% from the three. He’s not getting a lot of open looks, and is trying to force a little bit too much out of situations he can no longer come out OK of. Udonish Haslem’s shooting (79.1% from the field over the last three games) probably makes up for that, although only if he’s at a certain spot without anyone watching him.
And that takes us back to James, who has had three games of 30 points or more in this series. It’s not just the scoring that made the difference in game 5, but the attitude. The moments in which James plays like the MVP and rallies his teammates behind him. Not just his red hot hand from long range with Paul George’s hand in his face, but his ability to collapse the entire Pacers defense by driving to the basket, and finding the open man. Simply becoming as unstoppable as he can be when the muse befalls upon him.
The Heat should have been a little less dependent on his heroics this season, but the playoffs and its storylines tend to converge into individual rises like this one. The Miami Heat can’t win without James being all that he can be, which should give James yet another night with that aura of desperation pushing him, making him as unstoppable and flawless as he was in that third quarter in game 5.