Or was it overcoaching?
That’s where the debate lies with his risky and somewhat questionable maneuver.
Spoelstra benched All-Star guard Dwyane Wade for the entire fourth quarter of the Heat’s 104-97 loss at Utah. He kept All-Star forward Chris Bosh on the bench for all but the final 40 seconds, when the game was pretty much decided. And he kept starting power forward Udonis Haslem on the bench.
He essentially benched three starters for the final period.
Spoelstra lost a game, but he made a statement.
The next two weeks or so will determine whether his statement was received.
It will also tell us whether Spoelstra cleverly hedged his bet by using a bit of inside knowledge and sleight of hand.
Clearly, Spoelstra was sending a message with the benching. The message seems to be that no one – not Wade, not Bosh, not Haslem – is too big to called out, and everyone – including Wade, Bosh and Haslem – is to blame for the malaise that’s been prone to grip this team throughout the season.
Well, OK, LeBron James isn’t to blame. He played 44 minutes against the Jazz, finishing with 32 points, four rebounds, six assists, two blocks and three steals. He’s been playing with a relentless fury all season. That’s not favoritism; that’s fact.
But everyone else is to blame. And Spoelstra picked on the three biggest remaining names on the team to set an example Monday night.
Critics will say Spoelstra’s meddling risks fracturing the coach-player relationship on a team which – despite ranking last in the NBA in rebounds (38.6 per game) – still has the best record in the Eastern Conference at 24-12 and is tied for the fourth-best record in the league.
That’s because on the surface, benching the Wade-Bosh-Haslem trio could be interpreted as Spoelstra specifically blaming them for the Heat’s occasional lackluster play.
Wade, who was brief during postgame interviews, stuck to the facts.
“Coach makes the calls,” he said. “I’m just a player.”
Bosh, also caught off guard by not playing for most of the fourth quarter, figured he would eventually re-enter the game.
The result of Spoelstra’s decision? A sluggish Heat team trailing by 19 entering the fourth quarter used a lineup that included James, forward Rashard Lewis, guards Mario Chalmers and Ray Allen, and center Joel Anthony and became energized, cutting the deficit to two with 3:31 left before running out of gas.
Spoelstra didn’t seem totally convinced about the benchings after the game.
“I’ll probably be thinking about that on the flight,” he said.
Spoelstra might realize he bordered on overcoaching.