Forty-eight minutes of basketball is all that separates the Miami Heat from a return trip to the NBA Finals. Forty-eight minutes of basketball is all the separates the Miami Heat from the death of a dream.
So, there’s a big game on Monday at AmericanAirlines Arena.
In a series between opponents so perfectly matched, how one team deals with the added pressure of a Game-7 scenario might be the determining factor.
In other words, the Heat has been here and overcome, knocking off the Celtics in Game 7 of the 2012 Eastern Conference finals. The Pacers, and that scrappy defense that has given the Heat fits, are new to this sort of struggle.
“Game 7s are a treasure in pro sports,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Obviously, we would have liked to have closed this out earlier. But Game 7s are the ones you’ll remember 20 years from now.”
Game 7s are where legends are made, and so there was LeBron James moments following the Heat’s loss on Saturday at Indianapolis’ Bankers Life Fieldhouse, slapping high fives with his teammates, encouraging them as they walked off the court and already looking ahead, already preparing mentally for one of the most important games of his career. James has carried the Heat through the Eastern Conference finals, but he’ll need his teammates to win Monday.
Band of brothers
“That’s the thing about our locker room — we understand,” Spoelstra said. “We’ve been through so much together that these are the times you reveal yourself, when there’s a little bit of adversity, and things don’t necessarily go your way. This is where your brotherhood gets strengthened.
“And so our guys gathered ourselves, by the time we got in the locker room, even though all of us were very disappointed about this game and letting this opportunity slip through our hands. You have to move on immediately.”
But there was tough love from James as well. He publically challenged Dwyane Wade after Saturday’s game, counting off easy looks at the basket that Wade missed. Chris Bosh, who is playing with a sore ankle, also has performed poorly.
Consider this: James has outscored Wade and Bosh combined 83 to 55 in the past three games.
“I mean, we can state the obvious; they’re both struggling,” James said. “Those guys as professionals, as champions; we’ll figure it out. And me as the leader, I’ll have to help them figure it out.”
The Heat did not hold a formal practice on Sunday, but Bosh, who has scored just 19 point in his past three games, arrived early to AmericanAirlines Arena to study film and dissect any area of his game that might help him improve his rhythm, which is conceded on Saturday “just seems off.”
“It’s been like that the whole series,” Bosh said Saturday night. “And now I have to go find it. I’ve got 48 hours to do that.”
Bosh is shooting 23.8 percent (5 of 21) since Game 4. His counterpart, Pacers center Roy Hibbert, is shooting 72.5 percent in his past three games while averaging 23 points per game. Hibbert scored 11.9 points per game during the 2012-13 regular season.
“I have to get back in the gym and work on my game,” Bosh said. “That’s about the only thing that will help me now.”
Bosh has scored in single digits in each of his past three games (seven, seven, five). It’s something that hasn’t happened since his rookie season. On Sunday, Spoelstra took the blame for Bosh’s lack of offense.
“That’s on me,” Spoelstra said. “I’ve got to get him in spots where he can be comfortable and feel comfortable. One of the greatest strengths about all of us is we own it. The players and staff alike have been through situations where we’ve failed.
“Instead of blaming and making it about anything else, let’s just come to a solution and fix it.”
Wade has scored 10 points in each of his past two games. After Saturday’s loss, he seemed to shift some of the responsibility on James, saying, “We’ve got to try to help each other out in this locker room and not leave it up to the individual to self-will it.
“We’ve got to do a good job of making sure me and Chris have our opportunities to succeed throughout the game.”
There is tension. There is pressure. There is nothing quite like a Game 7.
“The best thing about this opportunity is right here we worked all season long to get home-court advantage,” James said. “If we ever had an opportunity, or we put ourselves in position where we weren’t taking care of business on the road, we always have one more to fall back on at home.
“This is the position we’re in.”