Forget the Big 3. Try the Divine 9.
The Miami Heat is winning by committee. There has been no need for one of those triple-double, mega-scoring, jaw-dropping nights from LeBron James, nor for scales-tipping domination by the trio of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
The Heat defeated the Nets in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Thursday by sharing the ball and sharing the load. The result was a 94-82 victory at AmericanAirlines Arena that sends Miami to Brooklyn with a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
After a regular season during which changing, patchwork lineups were a recurring reason for the Heat’s disjointedness, the playoffs have showcased a Heat team in full-fledged synchronicity. For the second game in a row, five players scored in double-figures. Nine players contributed points and rebounds, and all except Chris Andersen played at least 15 minutes, with Andersen in for 9:52. In Game 1, nine players saw at least 12 minutes of action.
Heat players took turns taking up the slack, with Wade, James and Ray Allen each going on eight-point scoring tears at different points in the game.
In the two-minute span that sunk the Nets, Mario Chalmers swished a three-pointer on an assist from James; Andersen rebounded a missed point-blank hook shot by Kevin Garnett, and Wade whipped a pass to Allen for a three-pointer from his sweet spot in the left corner. It was a model of a working cooperative and gave the Heat an eight-point lead with 5:10 left.
“We don’t really care who scores; we just put people in position to make plays,” James said. “We didn’t have as many assists as we’d like, but the ball is moving and guys are in a great rhythm. It was a frustrating regular season, but in the first six games of the playoffs, we’ve had that cohesiveness we were missing.”
The Heat showed its willingness to distribute the dirty work on a sequence that demoralized the Nets with time running low. After James missed on a three-point shot, Allen grabbed the rebound. When James missed again, Wade rescued the ball. Then James failed to finish a layup at the rim, but Bosh denied the Nets, and finally, on his fourth attempt of the possession, James got his basket on an assist from Wade, and the Heat was up 89-79 with 1:59 left.
“That was a killer,” Brooklyn’s Joe Johnson said.
The Nets went deep as usual, utilizing 10 players, but their waves of reinforcements weren’t enough to counter the Heat’s seamless subbing.
“You’re looking at two teams with great versatility,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “This is a very possession-oriented series. Not a lot of turnovers. Possessions really, really matter and those extra ones can really be back-breakers.”
Spoelstra, mixing like a master chef, added a pinch of this, a jolt of that. A darting Norris Cole and stealthy Rashard Lewis made timely contributions. Wade came to a boil in the fourth quarter, recording eight points and three assists. Defensive stops, such as steals by Lewis and Wade and a block by Allen, helped limit the Nets to 15 points in the fourth quarter. Sharpshooter Mirza Teletovic was neutralized after hitting six three-pointers in the first three quarters, and Deron Williams was held scoreless, missing all nine of his field-goal attempts.
The Heat reserves appear to be coming through right on schedule after long layoffs in the winter and spring. Allen not only made five of his eight shots but pulled down a team-high eight rebounds after scoring 19 in Game 1. Shane Battier and Andersen played solid defense as none of the Nets starters had banner nights.
“They are a good defensive team that can catch you in their web and flatten you out if you don’t do it with energy,” Spoelstra said. “Ray was playing with a great motor. We were probably getting out best actions off of him running around. A veteran guy, he had a sense for what we needed.”