Late yesterday after noon I tweeted a link to our preview column on Thursday night’s games, asking (rhetorically) whether we would see another epic meltdown from LeBron James and the Heat — you know, something resembling going the final 2:41 without scoring a single point, or missing 15 of 16 3-pointers as they had done in Game 2.
The tweet was not well received by Heat broadcaster Tony Fiorentino, who was coaching Gus and Ray Williams at Mount Vernon high school back when I was getting my start in the journalism business as a paperboy.
Tony and I are friendly, his broadcasting partner Eric Reid and I are friendly, and I bear him no ill will.
But how he responded to my preview tweet was curious, to say the least, for someone who is supposed to be an impartial observer.
Perhaps I was idiotic for pegging LeBron as the potential melter-downer, neglecting to mention the possibility that it might be one of his teammates, a guy who missed a layup with 19 seconds left in that epic Game 2 meltdown. To that, I plead guilty. And to Fiorentino, I shall retort with a little name-calling of my own.
Fiorentino flies aboard the team charter and stays with the Heat at their hotel on the road, so perhaps he will enlighten us today as to the nature of the dispute between Dwyane Wade and coach Erik Spoelstra that grew so heated that Wade’s teammates had to step between the two. It came during a third quarter timeout after Wade had missed successive shots and failed to sprint back on defense, allowing the Pacers a transition layup that was one of the many easy buckets they piled up in crushing the Heat 94-75 to take a 2-1 series lead. (Boxscore here.)
As it was, Wade refused to discuss the incident — “I don’t even remember what you all are talking about” — and Spoelstra said it was no big deal, the type of thing that happens on every team every season in the heat of battle.
“That happens,” Spoelstra said. “Anybody that has been part of a team or has been a coach or been a player, you have no idea how often things like that happen. That was during a very emotional part of the game. We were getting our butt kicked. Those exchanges happen all the time during the course of an NBA season.
“There’s going to be a lot of times where guys say something, you don’t like it. You get over it and you move on. We’re all connected. Dwyane and I have been together for a long time, a long time. We’ve been through basically everything. A lot of different roles, a lot of different teams. That really is nothing. That is the least of our concern. That type of fire, shoot, that’s good. That’s the least of our concerns.
But this dispute was different, as these things tend not to happen in the playoffs — especially with an “elite” team.
Replays showed Wade and Spoelstra jawing at each other, microphones captured Wade saying “get the f-ck out of my face,” and Wade then circling back to get in a few more words before the rest of the Miami bench contingent got between the two and sent them their separate ways.
Wade had an abysmal night in many ways, shooting 2-for-13 and scoring just five points. It was the second-lowest postseason point total of his career (he had a 2-point night against the Hornets in his rookie season of 2004) and it was nine points less than he had in his previous low-scoring game since he joined forces with LeBron James last season.
Perhaps Lance Stephenson said it best without saying a single word:
Stephenson was reportedly directing that choke signal toward James, who was not the villain or the choker on this particular night. That honor belonged to Wade, who was serenaded with chants of “He’s a flopper” by the Pacers fans as he shot free throws.
The second-best player for Miami (check that, probably THE best) was Mario Chalmers, who scored a team-high 25 points on 10-for-15 shooting with five assists and no turnovers but suffered a wrist injury late in the game for which X-rays were negative. James scored 22 points but shot 10-for-22 overall, 1-for-3 from the line and coughed up five turnovers.
Roy Hibbert was a beast for Indiana with 19 points, 18 rebounds and five blocks, and the Pacers limited the Heat to eight fast-break points before Spoelstra waved the white flag with 2 minutes left and pulled his starters (except Dexter Pittman, who started at center instead of, say, Udonis Haslem, who has been a rock for Miami longer than anyone and who spent the entire second half on the bench (WTF?)).
A few takes from the Heat’s traveling media (the ones who do not fly on the team charter):
From Ethan Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: “During the course of play Thursday, Dwyane Wade was stopping himself as we have rarely seen during the course of his Hall of Fame career, stumbling, fumbling, leaving shots well short and giving shooters too much space. With play stopped, he was doing something else. He was seething. So his friends felt the need to try to step in and stop him. They felt the need to step in, after – as was audible courtside and caught on an ESPN microphone – he told his coach, the former assistant he had so long endorsed, to get out of his face. They felt to need to step in after he had stormed away from Erik Spoelstra, during the third quarter of Game 3 that was swiftly slipping away, turning into a 94-75 loss that would give Indiana a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinal series. Juwan Howard tried to contain Wade first, putting a palm on the guard’s shoulder, a supportive gesture Wade brusquely shed. Then, back on court while awaiting the whistle to resume, Mario Chalmers and LeBron James tried to talk Wade down. Then, at a stoppage several minutes later after the Heat deficit had grown, Udonis Haslem was still trying to soothe Wade’s nerves. Wade was still shaking his head. He was shaking his head like Heat fans today, after the second consecutive anemic Miami effort without Chris Bosh, which came with a second consecutive disastrous third quarter: this time 12 points instead of 14. Worse, some emotional cracks showed, cracks reminiscent of the meltdown in Dallas in 2010 that led to a lengthy players-only meeting.”
There, someone else used the word meltdown.
Another good take, this one from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald: “Has anyone seen Dwyane Tyrone Wade Jr.? Black male, 6-3. D.O.B 1-17-82. No visible tattoos but often seen wearing a No. 3 basketball jersey. Mr. Wade is missing. His shots are, anyway. And largely because of that, it now looks as if his team is in jeopardy of disappearing from these playoffs as surely as his shooting touch has. Everything was collapsing all around Wade here Thursday. A game. A series. A season. Maybe everything. And the most beloved player in the franchise’s 24 seasons was helpless to stop it. You kept waiting, right? You filed away Wade’s scoreless first half — the first of his playoff career — as some sort of bizarre aberration and kept expecting the second-half burst, the run, the shots to start dropping, and D-Wade to be D-Wade again, muting the enemy crowd, lifting his team. Nothing. This critical loss isn’t Wade’s alone but it is his foremost, after the whisper of an astonishing five-point performance on dismal 2-for-13 shooting. “It was a bad night,” he said. “There were a lot of reasons for it. I just didn’t have it going.” Wade still was simmering following the game. He was asked if he had anything to say about the courtside outburst. “No,” he said.
And one more, from Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com: Wade has been getting some treatments in recent days to deal with a lower-leg issue that also caused him to miss some games at the end of the regular season. It seems to be affecting his performance, especially his jump shot, and is showing up in other ways such as getting back on defense and being lethargic on defensive rotations. It was evident in Wade’s performance. … The Heat, for rational reasons, won’t talk about the issue bothering Wade. They try talking around it but there’s no denying it. “He never makes excuses and we won’t do that as well,” Spoelstra said. “No one is feeling 100 percent.” “It’s obvious he wasn’t himself,” LeBron James said. “At this point everyone is a little banged up. “It could be a lot of reasons,” Wade said, explaining his bad night. “You get to this point of the season, no one is 100 percent.” Clearly, he was talking about himself. Wade is shooting just 31 percent in the series and has been taking it easy in team practices as he tries to rest on off days. Thursday his jump shots were routinely short, hitting the front of the rim in the classic symptom of a player not getting normal lift. Spoelstra said he hoped the extra day off before Game 4, which isn’t until Sunday, should help Wade. … Combined with the loss of offense without Bosh, though, a diminished Wade is causing a massive dip in the Heat’s offensive potency and it’s creating serious questions if the Heat are going to be able to survive it. They have time left, but if Wade’s condition is uncertain, so is their future. … Even James wasn’t quite himself. He scored 22 points but had just six on 3-of-12 shooting in the second half, which quickly got away from the Heat. Indiana, playing in front of a raucous crowd not seen in these parts for years, is feasting on the Heat’s situation. Instead of worrying about Bosh, the Pacers have adjusted their defense to allow center Roy Hibbert to roam free in the paint, and he’s significantly impacting the Heat’s ability to get to the rim.”
It all added up to an epic meltdown, and a changing of the guard when it comes to who is the villain in Miami right now. (It certainly isn’t the guy who was intelligently compared to Wilt Chamberlain on this site yesterday by columnist Chris Bernucca.)
The Heat are in trouble, there’s no doubting it or dismissing it.
And it is not idiotic to wonder whether some other variation of a collapse might happen Sunday in Game 4.
Sunday might also be the day we see the last of the Los Angeles Clippers.
Yes, there was another game last night. And the San Antonio Spurs were a machine again in defeating the Clips by 17 points, 105-88. (Boxscore here.)
Tony Parker scored 22 points on his 30th birthday, Tim Duncan had 18 and the Spurs took a 2-0 lead in their Western Conference semifinals by winning their 16th in a row with yet another playoff blowout. For the 13th time in a winning streak that seldom run this long in the NBA playoffs, the Spurs won by double digits. Only two other teams have sustained a longer winning streak in the playoffs: the 2004 Spurs (17) and the 2001 Lakers (19).
From columnist T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times: “So what do you want, the feel-good, feisty yarn about how the Clippers never give up? Or maybe an uplifting reminder how the Clippers came from 27 down to win before, pronounced dead in the last series after six games, only to triumph? Do you believe in more than one miracle? Or maybe something to lessen the sting a little with a cute little exchange between father and son: “Bad shot again, Daddy?” says Chris Paul‘s 2-year-old son, Chris, while walking through the locker room. “Don’t put my business on the street,” jokes Daddy, probably thrilled the child can’t count high enough yet to keep track of his number of turnovers. But who is kidding whom here?I’ve got one word for you after this 105-88 defeat: “Fore!” I’ve been invited to play in the Los Angeles Sports & Entertainment annual golf tournament at Riviera on Monday and I don’t see a trip back to San Antonio for Game 5 interfering with those plans. This is a total mismatch, the Clippers just happy to be in the playoffs but not for long, with Paul limited and the Spurs so complete as a team. Paul won’t talk about it, won’t admit it, while emphatically declaring, “no excuses.” But he’s not the same player who changed the way folks regard the Clippers. His mind might be as sharp as ever, but eight turnovers — the most he’s ever been charged in his professional career — suggest his body is betraying his competitiveness.
And one more take, this from Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: “Behind the scenes, the birthday fastened his tie just so, cinching into a knot just so before ambling up to the interview podium to meet his public. It was there, in front of a national television audience, that the newly turned 30-year-old Tony Parker was forced to confront the obvious. Yes, he was old now, too. “I’ve fought it the whole season,” Parker said. “Now I have to let it go.” The team everyone still thinks is older than dirt inducted a new member to the 30-and-over club Thursday, the same day they raced past the Los Angeles Clippers 105-88 in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals.In leading the Spurs to a 2-0 lead that feels insurmountable, Parker didn’t look a day over 29. He celebrated the Big Three-Oh with 22 points, and he defended a hobbling Chris Paul, and he took command of the Spurs’ offense when it needed taking command of. The rest of the Spurs’ Old Man crew didn’t look so decrepit, either. With 36-year-old Tim Duncan again steadying the ship– and perhaps sending the Clippers scurrying for his Virgin Islands birth certificate — and the 30-year-old Boris Diaw enjoying his highest-scoring night since moving from Charlotte, the Spurs won their 16th game in a row. Only twice before have the Spurs won 17 straight: In 1995-96 and 2003-04, the latter streak ending at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers in the conference semifinals. These Clippers aren’t those Lakers. And these old Spurs aren’t those old Spurs. Two nights after notching a playoff-high 26 points in Game 1, Duncan poured in 14 of his 18 in the first half of Game 2, when the score was still in doubt and every basket mattered. He used every tool in the tool kit to get it, going glass one moment, schooling young DeAndre Jordan in the post the next, going 9 of 14 from the field. “Vintage Timmy,” Parker called it. Instead of, you know, old Tim. “I feel unbelievable,” Duncan said. “Better than I have in the last four or five years. For whatever reason, I feel healthy, and I feel great.” Diaw, who went from late-March import to starting center in a French flash, scored 16 points and was a perfect 7-of-7 from the floor. Parker’s countryman, one month his senior, also added some surprisingly rugged defense on Blake Griffin, who again had to work for his 20 points, which came on 16 shots. “He’s fit in pretty seamlessly,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of Diaw. While the Spurs’ over-30 club was running amok — and getting four timely 3-pointers from 24-year-old guard Danny Green — Paul again looked like an AARP member shuffling to the earlybird dinner.”