As with every situation in Year Four of the Big 3 Era, the Heat can look at Wednesday’s Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final in Indiana and nod that it has been here before. Funny enough, the Pacers can say the same.
But the Heat can feel good about it.
The Heat is up 3-1, one victory from a fourth consecutive Eastern Conference championship. The Heat has looked more dominant each game this series and after getting to three wins in a playoff series, can claim a 13-3 record in the next game during the last four playoff years.
With or without backup center Chris Andersen or venerated shooting guard Ray Allen, both of whom made the trip and are questionable for Wednesday night, the Heat knows how to finish a job.
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In answering a question about the Heat’s ability to end the movie, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra seemed to make a throwaway reference to the team’s 2011 NBA Finals loss. The Heat led 2-1 then blew a fourth quarter lead in losing Game 4, 86-83.
“Part of that is perspective, understanding how hard it is to beat a team,” Spoelstra said. “[Learning] how hard it is, through experience, to get to that last game and how competitive it usually is. Usually, you learn things through experience. Our team has gained some maturity over the years.”
Heat guard-forward-omniplayer LeBron James said after Monday’s 102-90 Game 4 rout that winning Game 5 would, “take a better game than we had tonight. It's that simple. You have to get better every game. Their back is against the wall, but we have to go in with that mind-set that our back is against the wall, too.”
“We don't want to come back with a Game 6,” James said. “We love our fans, obviously. We love being in Miami, but we want to try to close it out. But we're going to have to work for it. It's not going to be easy, not against this team. It's the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference, and they're there for a reason.”
Indiana pushed hard for it, spurred by the recent past.
Two of the Heat’s three closeout game losses prevented only a sweep and extended each series by just one game. The fourth loss: Game 6 of last year’s Eastern Conference final, at Indiana, 91-77. The Heat ended that series the next game, too, inviting the guests from Indiana in long enough to rush them out the door 99-76.
Indiana wanted the chance this season to do that to the Heat. Instead, so far, this plays out like a rerun of the 2011 Eastern Conference final — No. 2 seed Heat loses Game 1 to No. 1 seed Chicago, then wins the next four.
“I want to focus on trying to get to our best game,” Spoelstra said. “Not about closing them out, not about moving on, no about any of that. Just compartmentalize and can we push forward to have our best game of the series?”
The Heat did that in Game 4 and did so without production from Andersen or Allen, big contributors in Games 2 and 3, respectively. A collision with Dwyane Wade in the first half of Game 3 caused a contusion that, once the in-game adrenaline and movement stopped, kept Andersen out of Game 4.
“He’s the human bruise,” Spoelstra said while Andersen was in the weight room Tuesday. “He’s got a lot of different things going on all over his body, but he’s been able to play through all of that. He’s a tough guy, we all know that. He plays through pain. But you have to understand the difference between pain and injury. And if you have no mobility in your thigh because of a contusion, you can’t play even though you think you might be able to.”
Allen hurt his hip and thigh during Game 4. He received treatment Tuesday.
Indiana stared at a shockingly early playoff end twice against Atlanta in the first round. The Pacers turned that into a dramatic series victory with wins in games 6 and 7.
Only a neophyte NBA follower needs to be reminded the only thing the Hawks and Heat have in common is the capital “H.”
“Any time you have an opportunity to close out against a very good team, we want to take care of business and do that,” Heat big man Chris Bosh said. “For us, I think we get the feel, and we can sense a really important opportunity.”