Heat coach Erik Spoelestra said something that was small and quiet but it distilled this thing to its essence Monday night as his slumping, angry, searching champions set out looking for answers and a needed victory.
It can be easy to lose sight of what he said. It can be easy to forget the fundamental lesson in it as Miami takes these occasional detours from excellence to fallibility that are the stuff of human nature, but, evidently, thoroughly unacceptable.
Were not above having to work for it, Spoelstra reminded.
How much presumptuousness and gall does it take to think a third consecutive Heat championship which would be the stuff of legends, of dynasties, of history might happen without struggle or sweat? Without questions or doubt?
Mondays 93-91 home victory over the Portland Trail Blazers led by LeBron James 32 points didnt change anything about this ongoing narrative.
Neither did the seven losses in 11 previous games that turned up the angst and made Monday seem bigger than it was.
Miami squandered a 17-point lead Monday and barely hung on, winning on a late left-handed layup by James and then a last-second block by Chris Bosh.
At the end of the day we played Miami Heat basketball, flying around defensively, James said.
Now the imperative will magnify as it shifts quick to Wednesdays game at conference-rival Indiana, but, again, win or lose, the truth about the Heat wont change.
You judge this team in the postseason and only then.
You judge this team when all that matters is everything.
And you understand that the championship ring and golden trophy bear no inscription indicating how easy or hard the getting of it was. Only that you got it.
Were not above having to work for it.
This has been the pattern, in case you havent noticed.
Even if it seemed in the delirium of the summer of 2010 that audacious Pat Riley had assembled something that would make the rest of the NBA meekly cower and curtsy to Miamis omnipotence, youd think wed have adjusted to reality by now.
The first year of the Big 3 era ended in an NBA Finals fizzle that had the critics and cynics questioning everything about Rileys grand plan.
The second years championship came only after Miami trailed in each of its last three playoff series, and needed a LeBron James miracle night to escape Boston and shouts of Failure! in the conference finals.
The third years championship required a seven-game death-match series vs. Indiana in the conference finals last year, and then a Ray Allen miracle-shot and rally to escape San Antonio in seven games to continue the reign.
Now its year four and you were expecting, what, a police escort to a three-peat? An unimpeded waltz or perhaps a samba?
All Mondays victory did was make Tuesdays flight to Indianapolis a little smoother, more enjoyable.
But make no mistake, it did do that.
Miami needed this.
The 4-7 funk coming into this game was the teams worst extended lull of the Big 3 era, marked by careless, sloppy defense.
Spoelstra referred to a major slippage on the defensive end.
Players were angry and vocally so.
The phrase at a loss had taken on both a literal and figurative shade that cast gloomily over the team.
We suck, a frustrated Bosh had said after Saturdays loss at New Orleans. Lose, nobody is upset. Win, nobody is happy. Theres no passion. Theres nothing. We need that competitive drive back. We dont have it.
The dissatisfaction had not softened by Monday (although it surely took a respite as the team celebrated Boshs birthday with a circus-themed party on Sunday).
Were playing basketball were not comfortable playing, said LeBron before Mondays game. We all need to be on the same page. I dont know [why we arent]. If we all had the answers, wed be better defensively.
The Heat is not above placing Chinese fortune-cookie-style bon mots in each players locker before games. Mondays read, If It Is To Be, It Is Up To Me. James seemed to take that personally.
He led not so much with his game-high point total as simply by his presence.
See, Dwyane Wade, adding a tender ankle to his various ailments, missed his 19th game of the season Monday. LeBron, also with a sore ankle and also dealing with back issues, played as usual.
Theres no time to take time off, James said. Im active. Im on the floor. Its my obligation to make plays.
He made enough of them Monday night to shape a victory that was important enough needed enough to inspire Spoelstra at one point to chest-bump James to celebrate a big basket.
It was a display of that missing passion of which Bosh had spoken.
We needed some life, and showing emotion is part of it, James said. This game is too fun to not show it.
Monday was fun. Isnt it funny how winning almost always is?