Greg Cote: Miami Heat understands spot on postseason stage

05/07/2014 12:00 AM

05/18/2014 10:39 PM

The Heat’s regular season began a little more than six months ago. It didn’t matter. The first round of the playoffs that began more than two weeks ago — that hardly mattered to Miami, either. And here is what else didn’t matter in the least, as it turned out:

Brooklyn’s 4-0 record against the Heat this season.

Miami took that, crumpled it like a wad of paper Tuesday night and tossed it in the wastebasket.

(It was a swish).

The Heat’s 107-86 victory over the Nets in the downtown bayside arena explained the difference between the regular season and the playoffs for anyone who wasn’t sure.

Brooklyn coach Jason Kidd explained it, too.

“They understand this stage,” he said of the Heat. “You’re talking about the world champs.”

Miami and especially coach Erik Spoelstra like to say this two-time defending NBA champion team was built for the postseason, and this was pretty tangible and impressive fresh evidence in Game 1 of this second-round playoff series.

“They were the aggressors,” Kidd said. “They kept attacking.”

Said LeBron James, afterward: “We understand what this time of year is all about.”

Dwyane Wade put it plain: “Regular seasons don’t even matter,” he said.

So the Heat — rested and as healthy as it has been all season — kept pouring over Brooklyn, crashing waves over sand castles. They did it with 52 points in the paint, close-in baskets. They did it with a 33-point third quarter that busted open the game as if it were a piñata. They did it by solving Brooklyn’s half-court defense. They did it with five players scoring in double figures led by LeBron’s 22 points and a youthful fountain of 19 from 38-year-old Ray Allen.

Before the game in the Heat locker room the Heat was playing a 2009 Celtics playoff game in which Allen scored 51 points against the Bulls.

“I think Ray was a little juiced up,” said a smiling LeBron.

Miami also got the now-expected master’s touch from Spoelstra in the manipulation of his lineups and rotation. Players such as Udonis Haslem and James Jones already have gone from forgotten to key players at times in this postseason. Tuesday it was Shane Battier’s turn, going from hardly playing to starting role in a successful defensive maneuver against Brooklyn’s perimeter threats.

The Heat might have been rusty after a week-plus layoff since the first-round series ended.

“Having eight days off without a game, I feared the rhythm,” as LeBron put it.

But it was all rhythm, no rust. They shot 58 percent.

NBA history was dauntingly against Miami in this series, and it wasn’t a small sample.

This is the 26th time teams have met in the playoffs with one team 4-0 over the other during the season, and the team that was 4-0 is 25-0 in the playoff series.

“We’ve got to crack that code,” Dwyane Wade said.

The Nets’ Kevin Garnett called it “gasoline on the fire” for Miami.

One win doesn’t mean the Heat will buck that historical trend, no. But one win like this one is a pretty fair indicator that the code has been cracked.

Tuesday is when everything started mattering in the Heat’s bid for a three-peat, and Miami embraced the occasion. Owned it.

The disappointing, erratic regular season recedes to insignificance now. It was an elongated walk-through all along; we knew where the road was leading.

Disappearing, too, is the perfunctory boredom of the first-round playoff sweep of Charlotte, a conclusion so foregone that neither doubt nor drama gave life to the series.

Now, Brooklyn, is when the playoffs start for the Heat, for real, and if Tuesday night made it look easy, suffice to say nobody in either locker room expects it to stay that way.

Despite the ease of Game 1, all of what we have embraced as a community on this four-year odyssey of the Heat’s Big 3 era begins rushing back with this series. The gut-churning, breath-holding, emotion-draining, sleep-wrecking ride has resumed. That you-can’t-talk-about-anything-else-at-work-in-the-morning feeling — and you don’t even need the water cooler.

It is shades of delightful agony or torturous joy or a back and forth on both, depending on whether Miami (team and city, city and team) has won or lost.

Welcome back, edge of seat.

It didn’t get to that point Tuesday. But, oh, it will. You know it.

Drama is waiting. The only question, now, is whether we’ll still see much of that in this series, or be made to wait.

Part of the emotion and attraction of this series — beyond that 4-0 season record that hinted of a huge challenge for Miami — was the presence of former Celtics Paul Pierce and Garnett on the Nets. But Pierce scored a meager eight points Tuesday, and Garnett for the first time in his playoff career scored zero. The aging Garnett should be nicknamed Boiled Egg at this point; he’s good for about three minutes, then you need to take him out.

This is the fifth year that Pierce and James have met in the postseason. Bitter rivals at times, they shared a warm moment before the game as LeBron approached his old rival.

“I said, ‘It’s only right,’” James said of the two meeting yet again. “Like a family reunion.”

The Nets will need a lot more from Pierce to challenge Miami in this series.

Because it isn’t the regular season anymore, Brooklyn.

The Heat led by only three after a low-scoring first half,and Spoelstra credited a Nets defense that wants to slow Miami’s fast break and on-the-run points.

“They have way of flattening you out,” Spoelstra had said.

The thing is, LeBron and the Heat have a way of flattening you — period.

About Greg Cote

Greg Cote


Greg Cote has been a Miami Herald sports columnist since 1995 and also writes the Random Evidence blog and NFL predictions along with his notorious sidekick the Upset Bird. He has covered Hurricanes football (1984-88), the Dolphins (1990-91) and major events including Super Bowls, NBA Finals, World Series, Stanley Cup, Olympics and World Cup.

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