After Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Hall of Famer and TNT basketball analyst Charles Barkley joked that LeBron James was “Michael Jackson playing with a bunch of Tito Jacksons.”
In the end, Barkley — and all the of the Heat’s detractors and critics, for that matter — couldn’t have been more wrong.
“To win a championship, no matter on which level, you have to do it as a team,” James said after Game 5.
The Heat certainly did.
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The Oklahoma City Thunder entered the NBA Finals the favorite to win the series based on two things: home-court advantage and the perception of having a deeper team. The Heat robbed the Thunder of its first advantage in Game 2 with a wire-to-wire victory and, by the end of Game 5, it was clear which team had the better role players.
Although it might have taken the Heat’s “other guys” a few rounds to get going, the Big3’s accompaniment came together like a symphony orchestra on the game’s biggest stage. Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller each delivered unforgettable offensive performances in different games. With James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh drawing multiple defenders throughout the series, shots were open for the Heat’s role players, and they made them.
Start with Miller, who played in all 23 of the Heat’s playoff games despite suffering from a bulging disk in his back, a bum foot and probably a few other hurting parts. Miller had eight points entering Game 5 and was 0 of 3 from three-point range in the Heat’s first four games of the series.
Naturally, he went 7 of 8 from three-point range in the Heat’s close-out game despite barely being able to walk.
“I told Mike Miller he has the greatest timing in the world,” Heat owner Micky Arison said during the team’s locker-room celebration. “No one in the world has timing like Mike Miller.”
When Miller signed with the Heat in 2010, he was expected to be the complementary piece that made everything work. Injuries derailed that initial plan but everything finally worked in Game 5. Miller had 23 points, a career postseason high, and his seven three-pointers were one fewer than the single-game Finals record, set by Ray Allen in 2010.
“A lot of us dreamed of these situations,” Miller said. “For me, coming from South Dakota and having an opportunity to play in two NBA Finals now is a dream come true. I wasn’t going to miss that for anything in the world.”
Miller’s magical Game5 will stand the test of time, but Battier’s performance in Game 2 might have been more important. It helped give the Heat home-court advantage in the series. He went 5 of 7 from three-point range and finished with 17 points after going 4 of 6 from behind the arc in Game 1.
All told, Battier went 15 of 26 from three-point range in the series, falling one three-pointer shy of tying the all-time Finals mark in a five-game series. And he did it despite playing out of position — at power forward — for the final three rounds of the playoffs.
Chalmers and rookie Norris Cole took the baton from Battier in Game 4.
In the series’ pivotal game, Chalmers scored 25 points and earned a lasting nickname from Wade that isn’t exactly fit to print. The fearless Alaskan had 12 points in the fourth quarter and carried the team late in the game when James went down with a leg cramp.
Cole, sporting a new haircut for Game 4 — his signature high-top fade from his collegiate days — had his series-defining run in the first half. With the Heat trailing by 17 points, Cole came off the bench to lead the rally, scoring eight points in a seven-minute span.
Sprinkled throughout the series were contributions from other reserves. James Jones and Udonis Haslem, Miami’s native sons, each had six important points off the bench in Game 3.
“Everybody stepped up — Shane, Norris Cole, Mario Chalmers, Mike Miller … Udonis Haslem,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.