This entire season, excellent though it was, didnt feel anything like the first two of this experiment. Miami winning was a droning excellence, the championship a foregone conclusion, an expectation. There werent surprises or confusions or doubts or fears. But tonight we go right back to the us-against-the-world that made the Heat, for the last three years, the most interesting and rallied around team in the history of South Florida sports. The critics, quiet all year, hiding, are perched and ready to pounce, buzzards waiting for someone else to take care of the kill so they can dine. They crowed in Year 1; they fled in Year 2. At about midnight tonight, they will either be spooked by South Floridas roar, or they will feed with gluttonous delight.
Such a funny thing, expectations. Indiana has already exceeded them. The Pacers season is already a success, no matter what happens from here. They will be saluted for their valiance, for making Miami fight, even if they lose. But the Heat? No. Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade have never in their professional lives looked so frail. Wade put this entire thing together, and benching him or reducing his minutes doesnt even seem like a blasphemy. Indianas defense is uniquely qualified, with advantages of size and strength, to bother Miami. If we took the uniforms and reputations off these teams, the Pacers are the ones playing the kind of playoff basketball that usually wins rebounding, defense, and efficient offense near the rim. Miami is playing too far away from the basket, something that must change tonight.
Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra has been talking recently about burning the boats. This goes back to a story legend architect Pat Riley told his team once before a game like this. Riley is a basketball lifer. He has seen and felt and fought through nearly half a century of Game 7s. He loves them, win or lose, because he appreciates the heightened state of existence. And Spoelstra has been around the organization long enough to have heard the burning the boats story a few times at moments like these.
Seems an army spent years building boats in preparation for a war. Upon arrival on the shores, the general turned around and demanded that his troops burn the boats theyd spent years building.
But why? his soldiers asked. We will have no escape if things get bad.
Exactly, the general replied. You win or you die.
The boats are burning behind LeBron James. He feels the strength of the heat behind him, and he feels the weakened Heat behind him.
My God, this is going to be some kind of fight.