Another team in town, the one chasing an NFL playoff berth, looked to inspiration from the eloquent profundity of Heat president Pat Riley the other day before ending a seven-game series losing streak to the New England Patriots.
It was as if the Heat took their own leader’s advice Wednesday night against the Indiana Pacers here.
“Every now and then, somewhere, someplace, sometime, you are going to have to plant your feet, stand firm and make a point about who you are and what you believe in,” went the Riley quote handed to Dolphins players before what they called their “statement” victory three days earlier.
Don’t call Wednesday night the same kind of statement situation.
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The Heat have earned the right to be above such talk.
In the NBA, challengers seek validation in the regular season. It’s the wanna-be’s who want to be heard in December.
Champions? They wait until the playoffs. Their statements comes in June.
Make no mistake, though.
Miami wanted this one, this 97-94 triumph forged dramatically by a late comeback.
After last week’s Pacers win in Indianapolis, and with a growing if premature national consensus that the Pacers have overtaken Miami in the East, yes: Miami wanted this.
LeBron James wanted it enough that he played despite a sore left ankle that likely would have seen him sit out against any other opponent. “I couldn’t not play in this game,” he said.
Dwyane Wade wanted it enough that he scored a season-high 32 points, looking like his old self. No, like his young self. He had nine points in the telling fourth quarter.
“This game was important because we don’t like to lose at home,” he said, “and we don’t like to lose to [the same] team multiple times.”
Especially when you see that same team as the towering obstacle to your returning to the NBA Finals for a fourth consecutive time for a shot at a three-peat.
Miami trailed until tying it on a Chris Bosh three-pointer with 1:30 to play and then taking the lead for good on a Ray Allen three with 59.5 seconds to play. The Heat had been only 3 for 19 on threes before those consecutive, essential huge ones. I believe the sporting word for that is “clutch.”
Did the Heat catch a break Wednesday with refrigerator-sized Pacers center Roy Hibbert sitting out with foul trouble and limited to 23 minutes? Yes. (Hibbert picked up his fifth foul in the middle of the third quarter. That he was still in the game with four suggests the food poisoning that almost kept the Pacers’ Frank Vogel from coaching might have fogged the man’s judgment). But Hibbert was on the court when Miami worked its late magic and reminded that aggressive defense is this team’s fundamental strength.
Heat emotions caught fire when a miscommunication on the court caused a Miami turnover. During a timeout there was what coach Erik Spoelstra sanitized as “explosive conversation.” It was as if the two-time champions, facing a second loss to Indiana in eight days, planted their feet like Riley said, stood firm, said, “Enough.’’
“Lot of emotion in this game,” Spoelstra said. “That’s been our nature. I’d prefer to see that nature more often. It sparked more communication with everyone. More life.” Noting the intensity and drama ratcheting the evening to a near-playoff atmosphere, Spoelstra said, “We’d like to play every game like this.”
That’s impossible across 82 games for a team built for the Finals.
But Wednesday night served a welcome reminder that the Heat can summon the intensity when needed, both offensively — the Big 3 combined for 71 points — and defensively, with an effort that held Indiana to 18 points in the final quarter.
The real statement between these two rivals likely won’t come for another five months or so, deep into the playoffs, but these four regular-season meetings now tied 1-1 will set the framework.
Miami at 0-2 in this series would have been the same team, but the conversation would have been different Thursday. Now, instead, it’s as if the Earth has clicked back onto it axis.
The Heat played like who and what they are Wednesday, just when they needed to.
The home team struck a blow to Indiana’s “it-team” status and reminded the forgetful who the champions are.