OK, it’s good now. It got good here Saturday night. This Heat-Nets second-round NBA playoff series turned interesting fast. And so did a Miami postseason that had been boring in its absence of drama and challenge — before all of that changed with a bad loss and bad blood that turned a bad series good.
The Heat traveled to Brooklyn as the league’s last unbeaten playoff team after an opening-round sweep of Charlotte and then a 2-0 lead on the Nets by a combined 33-point margin. Excitement was missing. Well, welcome back, old friend.
If you like to feel this time of year in the pit of your stomach as well as the top of your lungs, if you think a dash of anxiety is not always a bad thing, and if you have missed the roller-coaster in all of this, well, the playoffs officially began for you on Saturday night in a 104-90 Heat loss in a Brooklyn arena howling with new life.
I’m not suggesting the Heat is in real peril here. Not yet. Too soon. They’re still up 2-1 and even if they lost again Monday to square the series, the home-court edge and the favorite’s role would remain Miami’s. And I doubt they’ll lose two in a row. But, man, this Heat postseason needed some life, some doubt, and Game 3 delivered.
“Now it gets interesting,” Dwyane Wade had said before the game. “This is when the playoffs get fun.”
That was doubly true after the result. It wasn’t just Brooklyn asserting itself. It was that a physical series and some old rivalries erupted in the fourth quarter as the Heat’s Ray Allen and Nets’ Alan Anderson locked arms and swung elbows, and each drew a technical foul in what soon grew to a mini-melee involving several players. Both coaches trotted onto the court. Even the Heat’s security chief/bodyguard deployed, just in case.
Not much came of that brouhaha besides the double technicals, but that and the Heat loss marked a palpable escalation in the series — a needed crackle of electricity.
Miami can be beaten by a team in the Eastern Conference.
“To sum it up, they outplayed us,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra summed it up.
This first tinge of vulnerability to this Heat postseason might not be soothing to a Miami fan dreaming of a three-peat by their two-time defending champions. But it’s sort of a revelation and a welcome bulletin for anybody who fancies a smidgen of intrigue or doubt with their basketball.
Maybe this is what the Heat needed because any inclination to coast was knocked out of it.
The preamble to the game was odd. The pregame locker rooms of both teams were a bit surreal in that talk of the NFL was ricocheting around.
The St. Louis Rams in the NFL Draft had just made Michael Sam the league’s first openly gay player as TV cameras in his home captured a celebratory kiss with his significant other. That, of course, made Nets reserve Jason Collins — the NBA’s first openly gay player — a lot more popular with the media than the typical player who rarely plays.
“We’re just normal people trying to help our teams,” Collins said.
Down the hallway, James said, “I think it’s great” Sam was drafted, but his mind was more on Johnny Manziel, whom LeBron has befriended and counseled. James hoped Manziel would go to his favorite team, the Cowboys, but if not his hometown Browns were his second pick.
James’ management company represents Manziel, and LeBron boarded the team flight to New York on Friday wearing a Browns Manziel jersey, even though they had not yet gone on sale anywhere.
“I got a good connection at Nike and they took care of me,” James explained.
Once the game started, though, it was a reality check for Miami as the Nets owned the third quarter … and the three-point arc in front of an audience that included musical royalty Jay-Z and Beyonce as well as Jerry Seinfeld.
On Saturday, the Heat played sloppy perimeter defense as Brooklyn bombed in 15 of 25 three-point shots while the Heat were making only 8 of 24 from downtown. There’s your difference.
LeBron led Miami with 28 points but 16 of those came in a scorching first quarter, after which James and the Heat at times almost seemed content to let this one slide.
Some 90 minutes before tipoff here Saturday, the Heat’s most essential player was supine on a padded trainer’s table being kneaded, stretched and massaged in the Brooklyn arena’s cramped visitors locker room. LeBron was reading all the while, so add multitasking to his talents.
The book: The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, by John C. Maxwell.
For Miami, the one most irrefutable law of leadership, or at least of leading victories, might be titled, “Continue to Be LeBron James,” by LeBron James.
Sometimes, though, even that is not enough. And it wasn’t Saturday.
On Saturday, they needed another irrefutable Heat law, the one about making three-point shots, but that law and that element of Miami’s attack were broken.
The night was a duel of desperation and dagger.
The Heat held the dagger and meant to plunge it into Brooklyn’s heart, with a 3-0 series lead no NBA team has ever overcome in a playoff series.
Up here, they sell Nets T-shirts that declare simply in block letters:
WE ARE BROOKLYN.
Another Heat win for a 3-0 lead and a more accurate new slogan would have been:
WE ARE BROKEN.
Instead, Brooklyn held the desperation, as well as the home court, and the three-point touch.
That was enough in Saturday’s game.
And it was enough to take what had been a perfunctory, too-tranquil postseason and set it to simmering.