I think I have the Miami Heat figured out. It’s been a secret, calculated master-plan all along, all geared to Game 7 on Sunday in Toronto … and beyond.
They have fooled you with the recent small-ball, as in Friday night’s must-win, Goran Dragic-led 103-91 home victory here in Game 6 that tied this playoff series 3-3 and kept a season alive.
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Now? Imagine it, if you will:
During pregame warmups on Sunday, unannounced, Hassan Whiteside exits the tunnel in full uniform and dramatically takes the court, knee discreetly wrapped and augmented by a slight yet heroic limp – echoes of the Knicks’ Willis Reed in the 1970 NBA Finals.
But that isn’t all.
Moments later, Chris Bosh, also in full uniform, takes the court, too, brandishing a pill bottle of the Xarelto blood thinners he endorses, and a smile.
Surprise and voila! The depleted Miami Heat are back to full strength just when it counts most!
Stunned Raptors fans are taken aback, and quaking, their “We The North” slogan turning to “We In Trouble.” Somewhere in or around Cleveland, LeBron James, who’d been anticipating an Eastern finals waltz, feels the sudden onset of indigestion.
And now we interrupt this dream sequence with a return to the real world.
Bosh remains out the entire postseason due to abundant caution, of course. And Whiteside remains out for the foreseeable future, which at this point could very well mean until next season.
“Still the same,” Spoelstra said before Friday’s game, of Whiteside. “A lot of therapy and rest right now.”
The frustration for Heat fans must be that Bosh and Whiteside both could be playing. Not should be, necessarily, but could be.
I mean, Bosh has gone on social media all but begging to play. A personal doctor has cleared him of his blood-clots threat.
Whiteside’s knee injury is a fairly mild sprain that is considered a “pain tolerance” issue. In other words, if he had that “warrior” mentality this franchise so covets – the mindset that has elevated Udonis Haslem to near-mythic status in the 305 – Whiteside might have been back on the court by now. This is not to accuse him of malingering. We cannot know the pain within his knee or the limitations caused. (As Don Shula used to say when asked the status of say, a cornerback’s groin injury: “I’m not his groin.”).
So, here in Spoelstra’s real world, Miami proved again Friday it can adapt, and invent, and scramble, and make it work. There is a don’t-quit adaptability in this that is pretty admirable.
A team missing its best and highest paid player in Bosh. A team missing the player it plans to spend big to keep in Whiteside. A team with a forward playing through a wrist injury in Luol Deng.
This team is within one game of the Eastern conference finals.
Again Sunday, Miami will confront its next challenge undersized and underdogs, in search of the first Game 7 road victory in franchise history. This will be the 10th Game 7 in club history but only the second on the road, the other a 91-78 loss in Atlanta that ended the 2009 season in the playoffs’ first round.
That night, Joe Johnson’s six 3-point shots carried the Hawks. His older version now plays for Miami, of course, though bringing a decidedly colder hand into this Game 7.
Miami survived in Game 6 on the tailwind of the home court and mostly on Dragic’s big night, with a 14-point second quarter sparking a 30-point performance. For once Dwyane Wade (22points) got sufficient help to not make it all on him.
The difference Friday?
“Well, Dragic,” answered Wade. “We needed somebody to step up, and Goran did.”
Dragic’s explanation: “I was aggressive. I don’t want to go home to Europe [yet].”
Said Spoelsdtra: “All stars will be all stars this time of year” — referring to both of his guards.
But can this cobbled-together small lineup do it again Sunday in the biggest home game in Toronto franchise history? And then perhaps continue to beat the odds in the conference finals against LeBron’s rested and heavily favored Cavs?
A mending Whiteside wasn’t even on the bench for Friday’s game. Bosh was natty in an olive green shirt and light jacket. Haslem and Amar’e Stoudmire never touched the court. Josh McRoberts played limited minutes. Miami basically played the game with only guards and small forwards.
“It’s a whatever-it-takes mentality,” as Spoelstra put it.
It will take as much, or even more, Sunday in Toronto.
The odds are still that Miami likely played its final home game of the season on Friday.
But if so, the Heat left their fans cheering.
If so, the Heat is not going out meekly, or without a fight.