Thursday, May 30, 2013

Paces - Heat Game Five - Chris Anderson Uber Alles

At the highest level of pro hoop, you would think that the game would be like, well, other sports. In football, if you spend 1.5 quarters farting around in an NFL playoff game, turning the ball over and generally playing up to about 50% of your ability, you'll trail by 17 points to a good team and spend the off-season bemoaning the lost opportunity and the hill that was too much to climb. The games are too close, the talent and coaching levels too exact, to take time off and still win, home field be damned. In baseball, a bad inning or two against a quality opponent makes you lose all the damn time, really. But not hoop.

Which is why bench players are some of the most beloved by fans of the laundry. The guy that comes in and actually changes the game, gets his more talented teammates to care again, and infuses everyone else with his energy is the single player on the team that all of the scrubs can relate to. Even when he's a tatted out freak who the FBI ran out of Denver on what I presume turned out to be false pretenses. Since you never count on the bench player, you never blame him. And when he contributes, he seems damn near essential.

For the first quarter and a half, it looked like the Heat were just not that interested in working very hard. Dwyane Wade and LeBron James were subdued, and it was only the work of the other Miami starters (another Udonis Haslem sighting? Good lord) and the grind it out nature of the Pacer offense that kept it close. There was one possession in particular that struck me, in which Chris Bosh and Wade posted and re-posted for a score, but with Bosh looking so allergic to contact that he might as well have been wearing flats. Particularly MIA were George Hill and Lance Stephenson, the wildcards of the Pacers, and the guys least likely to show up on the road. (Kudos also to Mario Chalmers for executing the signature Heat play of failing down on offense, never getting back, then draining the three while still being so, so hurt. There are reasons that people hate the Heat, beyond irritation of not getting to root for James in their own laundry.)

But the game was more or less snoozing until Chris Anderson came in and changed the vibe. He did it by getting into a thoroughly predictable tiff with Pacers irritant Tyler Hansborough -- honestly, I think Hansborough could get into a fight while feeding a parking meter -- and while the Miami energy mascot was clearly the instigator and bigger punk, drawing a reasonably justified Flagrant 1 for going after a guy that wasn't even the one that clipped him, the crowd got into the injustice of it all. Anderson then followed up with a block on Hansborough that felt like Karmic Justice to the Heat crowd, and suddenly the Heat were interested again in going inside on offense and fighting for loose balls everywhere. The half ended tied, but the Pacers had already lost.

The third quarter was the turning point, with James just more or less crushing the world in his fist, after calling out his team in one of those moments that look fake if you hate Miami, but at some point, you just have to give him his due. The MVP scored or passed on 25 of 30 points in the quarter, and it wasn't even as if he looked all that ungodly hot doing it. The defense swarmed. The crowd surged. The Pacers had no answer, because, well, they just don't have the talent necessary to withstand those kinds of runs. By the time it was all over, with James draining one of those 25+ foot straight on threes that just feel like poisoned darts from a diffident higher being, it was Heat 70, Pacers 57, and I started writing this recap in earnest. The Pacers scored one field goal -- one -- in the last 7+ minutes of the third. Just absurd. Men against boys. Angry men.

Starting the fourth, George hit a three to make you wonder if the Heat were going to go back into fugue state, especially with James on the bench. Hansborough scored to make Heat coach Erik Spoelstra decide that was enough of life without LeBron in a turning point game. Ray Allen shook off the small sample size of missed free throws, then Norris Cole showed some nice tricksiness with a ball fake and make. Allen's corner three looked like old-school Ray, and a turnover and Wade make gave the Heat one of those instant runs that only they seem to get. 13 point game with 8 minutes left, and we're not far from garbage time at this point.

Hibbert, for this team, is like Boxer from "Animal Farm"; no matter what, he will work harder. He cuts it to 11 on sheer run, plant and post before the defense can get there. Anderson makes from distance, putting  his streak on the line, and that's 18 for 18 now. Yeesh. Hibbert can't will it through Anderson again, and Cole spots up and drains it; 15 point game and counting. Stephenson stops James cold, and the MVP spends time yelling at the refs rather than getting back; the Pacers score to make it 13. Danny Crawford showing the rest of the world how to officiate an NBA game without making it all about you. James draws Stephenson's fifth, and that was inevitable. The Pacer guard gets the smallest measure of revenge with a steal and make, the first for the starting Pacer backcourt. With 3:08 left, Cole blocks West during a session of volleyball, and that might just be the killshot. Kudos to West, honestly, for being the first guy in this series to react to a great defensive play without ref puling. James misses down low, but Indy's 17th turnover of the game -- good heavens -- gives it right back. One minute to scrubs.

Haslem with another make, because, well, Satan's good to his word, I guess. Stephenson fouls out and you'd never know that there was 90 seconds left and a 12-point deficit when it happens. James makes, George responds, but there isn't enough time left in this one to matter. James finishes with 30/8/6; he'll get the credit for this win and should, but this game was won in a single quarter. That's how much more talented the Heat are; they played at peak for 12 minutes and won comfortably. It felt perfunctory, expected, ritualistic. And just like after Game 3, it becomes hard to see how the Pacers can turn back the tide.

As we get into the wrap-up stage, the TNT crew gives it up for the Miami defense, and, well, they should... but it's still such an erratic thing. In Game 6 on Saturday, Indy's going to get something out of their bench (not so much tonight), Haslem won't shoot lights out, and hell, Anderson might even miss. The Heat still aren't getting more than the faint rumor of Wade, and Bosh is the world's shortest big man against Hibbert and David West, but none of that may matter. Miami has two chances to advance, the best player on the planet, and an opponent that isn't explosive enough to run out to big leads when they aren't at their best.

The Heat are going to get to the Finals.

But I'm no longer convinced that they are going to smoke the waiting Spurs when they get there.

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