Wednesday, May 18, 2011

In Game 94, the Heat Get A Fourth

In the third quarter of tonight's Game Two of the Eastern Conference Finals, Miami looked lost at sea. Chicago's suffocating defense was starting to make every possession a tooth pull, an early lead was gone, and LeBron Jame and Dwyane Wade looked spent. With 5:49 left in the third, Miami coach Erik Spoelstra waved in Udonis Haslem for Joel Anthony.

It didn't seem like a series-changing moment. And while Spoelstra talked about how he knew he was going to get something out of Haslem tonight from his recent practices, the first half didn't give any evidence of that.

Forty five seconds later, Haslem fouled Derrick Rose, who made both free throws to bring the Bulls back to two. After a James turnover, Rose went to the rack... and Haslem made the first big play of his year. He got credit for the block, and it wasn't accidental.

In the subsequent break, Mike Bibby found himself trapped in the corner... and Haslem was steaming down the lane like a runaway freight train, resembling the player he once was. Bibby made the pass, and Haslem threw it down with a vengeance that looked, well, life-changing. Keith Bogans tried to stop it, and wound up doing nothing more than getting on the highlight and sending Haslem to the line. One make later, Joakim Noah made a turnover, followed by a James make, and the Heat were back up to six.

Suddenly the Heat had another option, one that took his shots without looking like he needed to ask a superstar for permission first. Haslem made a layup, then drilled a baseline jumper that wasn't even late in the clock. That jumper came from a Jamal Magloire pass, of all things. Miami actually resembled a basketball team, rather than a defense-only team of formerly name guys deferring to the stars.

This isn't to say that everything became peaches and cream. Haslem scored the next four Heat points, but they came over an 8-minute span; had Derrick Rose been able to put it into the ocean tonight, no one would have remembered that Haslem had a rebirth tonight. But since the Heat won, with Haslem giving them a credible power forward presence on a night when Chris Bosh "contributed" 10 and 8 in 42 nearly invisible minutes, that's the way the world works.

Game Three is Sunday, as part of the NBA's annual head-scratching schedule madness. The 90-plus hours and home court should do wonders for Haslem again, but after that, we'll go to every other game. You have to think this won't help the Heat, who aren't looking like they can handle the Bulls' front court depth and bench... but that's what you would have said before tonight's game, and before Haslem showed us this.

And if the Heat had this Haslem all year, rather than the guy who played just 13 games and didn't have a useful effort before tonight?

Well, Miami might be as good as they think they are. And still might become.

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