The Heat often has played with a size deficit during this postseason, the byproduct of both lineup decisions and the makeup of the roster.
But if the Heat hasn’t always measured up to its opponent literally, it most certainly has otherwise.
“It’s great encouragement for us when people say we’re undersized,” Chris Bosh said Monday. “It gives us encouragement to prove people wrong. It puts a little bit of a chip on your shoulder.”
Not only has the Heat outrebounded its opponents by 26 in the playoffs, but also it has blocked more shots — both overall (105 to 83) and among power forwards and centers specifically. Those numbers are impressive, considering the Heat finished 21st in rebounding this season and moved Bosh to center in April to compensate for its shortcomings.King of the boards
The Heat has a narrow rebounding edge in these Finals (120 to 117) and dominated the boards 13 to 6 during the decisive fourth quarter of Game 3.
Oklahoma City, sixth in the NBA in rebounding this season, begins games with more bulk at center (6-10 Kendrick Perkins weighs at least 35 pounds more than the 6-11 Bosh); a two-inch height and at least a 10-pound weight advantage at power forward (Serge Ibaka over Shane Battier); and a size advantage at small forward: LeBron James is listed at 6-8 and Kevin Durant at 6-9, but Heat coach Erik Spoelstra claims Durant is 6-11.
So how can a team that played without Bosh for nine games during these playoffs, and one that is using a small forward at power forward, keep winning without being badly exploited in the interior?
Perkins offered a two-word explanation: “LeBron James.”
James, probably the best rebounder and defender among all NBA small forwards, is averaging 10.3 boards in the Finals and a career high 9.7 in the playoffs.
Bosh (7.8 playoff rebound average), Udonis Haslem (6.8 rebounds) and Dwyane Wade (6.1) also have made significant contributions on the boards, and even Mario Chalmers had an 11-rebound game earlier in the playoffs.
“You don’t have to be big to play big,” Bosh said. “We don’t let stigmas deter us.”
Defensively, Miami hasn’t been hurt badly in the paint, aside from a couple of impressive games by Indiana’s Roy Hibbert when Bosh was out and some issues stopping lobs to Kevin Garnett, primarily in Games 3 and 4 of the Celtics series when Bosh was sidelined.
In this series, “we don’t throw the ball in the post and take advantage of these mismatches,” Thunder center Nick Collison said. “They’ve noticed that. They have active, athletic guys.”
Battier has been able to defend bigger players — including Indiana’s David West, Boston’s Brandon Bass and Perkins — because “he does a great job fronting the post,” Perkins said. “And he beats guy early to the post so you can’t get great post-up position.”Playing small ball
Indiana, Boston and Oklahoma City have tried to counter the Heat’s advantage in quickness and other areas by downsizing, as well, for long stretches.
In Game 3, the Heat used two natural power rotation players together — Bosh and Haslem — for just 3:08.
Playing with that kind of smaller lineup is something “I didn’t see coming, not at this point of the season,” Bosh said. “It’s working out so far. We’re probably going to finish the series like this.”
Though opposing coaches, particularly Indiana’s Frank Vogel, routinely discussed Miami’s “small lineup,” Spoelstra bristles at that term.
“We don’t necessarily look at it that we’re small,” he said. “I know everybody calls it small ball. We have two forwards; neither one of them is a power forward. One of them is as big as anybody, OK?
“Chris is as long as any other center. And we look at the benefits of the flip side. You’ve got to make decisions against us, as well. And our versatility, while it may seem unconventional to some, is one of our greatest strengths.”