SOUTH BEACH — “Harden at the end of game three – a bad foul,” said Jeff Van Gundy, former Knicks head coach and current ABC analyst. “Two bad fouls in the third quarter of Game 3. The game is turning based on these small things that turn out to be huge in their amount of consequence going into winning and losing.
“These last three games have been so close.”
You can say that again, Jeff.
To give you an idea of just how close this series is, Miami is ahead by a whopping total of five point total: The total of the points scored through two games adds up to a five-point differential in favor of the Heat (389-384).
Throughout a basketball game, there are numerous minor details that can go either way. A jump ball, a foul, an out of bounds call, a deflection, substitution, technical foul… You name it, it probably impacts the game and, like it or not, the legacies of these players for years to come.
“It’s always like that with every playoff series,” said Chris Bosh while holding his thumb and index fingers up close together to show just how small the margin for error is. “In this situation it’s not, it’s not ‘Who’s the best team.’ It’s about who plays the best games in the series. There’s really no margin for error. You have to play well and if you do make mistakes, you have to make up for them in different aspects of the game. Every series is different. They’re going to come at you in different ways, there’s going to be different homecourt [advantages] and stuff like that. You just have to play each series differently and move on and adjust.”
All of these things that Bosh discussed are easier said than done and take a certain mentality and demeanor in order to consistently execute and excel in these important areas of the game. There is no simpler way to put it: During this series the Heat have been a little bit better under pressure, a little bit cooler with the gun pointed in their direction.
Despite getting down by as many as 17 points toward the end of the first quarter in Game 4, for example, the Heat regrouped and rallied, heading on a 16-0 run over the course of just over 3:30 from the first quarter into the second.
If you get caught sleeping during the playoffs at any point in time for a stretch of a few minutes – a few plays even – especially during the Finals, it could be the difference between winning an NBA Championship or going home empty handed like every other team in the league.
“Every game has been four or five plays, it really has,” said Shane Battier, the Heat forward who has played a huge role in Miami being ahead in this series. “Every game has been four or five plays in the last four or five minutes of the game. Game 5 will be no different.”
Ironically, Battier himself made a huge play in the final seconds of Game 4: Following the crucial jump ball with just over 13 seconds left, he tipped the ball to teammate Mario Chalmers in the corner, helping to keep the ball out of Kevin Durant and Oklahoma City’s hands.
“Shane did an unbelievable job of making sure that we got the ball,” said Dwyane Wade. “They pretty much had it and Shane came out and tipped it, and we got lucky enough where Rio [Chalmers] got fouled and was able to go to the line , and put a little more distance in between the game.”
“Well, they’re always dangerous,” said coach Spoelstra. “Come on, this series has been decided by four or five plays every single game. We have to generate, again, the physical and mental toughness, again, to go through it. It’s going to be a grind, and we have to be prepared for that. Our guys understand. That team is relentless; they’re not going to stop coming, so we have to make sure that we’re swinging and throwing all of our stuff out there. We’re not leaving anything in the locker room, and that’s what we talked about today, that we really, really get ready for probably the toughest game of the series tomorrow.”
Just because the Heat have made most of the game changing plays during the series doesn’t mean that the Thunder can’t learn from their mistakes and take the next step – as soon as tomorrow. If they win tomorrow, they will have a full head of momentum as they head home, to say the least.
That being said, when a team is playing as determined, as dialed in and as efficiently as the Heat have been playing – “Playing to our identity,” as has been the mantra for coach Spoelstra, the stars James, Bosh and Wade, along with the role players, it makes it that much more difficult to impose your will on a team this talented during crucial portions of these intense games.
“Toughness, man,” said Russell Westbrook, who exploded for 43 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists in Game 4. “Just got to come out and play with toughness. Any way we do it, we’ve got to find a way to get a win. That’s all it is.”
“Like I said before the series started and before this postseason started,” said LeBron James. “I wanted to make game-changing plays because that’s who I am, and that’s what separates me from a lot of players, that I try to go out there and make game-changing plays every single game, plays that may seem out of reach or may seem out of range, I try to make those plays. I didn’t do that last year in the Finals, and that’s what stuck with me more than anything.”
The stars in this series on both sides have comprehended that winning a game in this series comes down to more than just who can put the ball in the hoop. It comes down to one team imposing its will on another team – the team that wins that battle, more often than not, wins the game.
Whether OKC can figure out how to do a better job by tomorrow night is up in the air, but if they want to make it back to Oklahoma City with a shot at taking this thing to seven games and putting immeasurable pressure on Miami in the process, they’re going to have to give their best effort.
Jeremy Bauman is a 2011 graduate of Indiana University and the newest writer for SheridanHoops.com. Follow him on Twitter.