MIAMI — LeBron James didn’t hesitate. He didn’t massage his answer. Asked after a workout Monday whether he and Dwyane Wade could continue to serve up the otherworldly excellence they offered in the third quarter of Sunday’s series-salvaging defeat of the Indiana Pacers, he said . . . well, heck no.
“It’s not realistic,” he said. “I mean, you gotta make shots. . . . All great players, if they could do it every night, they would do it every night. . . . It’s not realistic.”
That could be an unnerving realization for the Miami Heat as it enters Game 5 of its Eastern Conference semifinal series Tuesday with the series split, 2-2. As shockingly good as James and Wade looked in combining for 70 points in the 101-93 victory in Indianapolis — including a breathtaking stretch of 38 straight for Miami over some 24 minutes — neither player expects to exert that sort of dual dominance all the way to the NBA Finals.
Just a few nights before in Game 3, in fact, Wade went ice cold and scored just five points in Miami’s 94-75 defeat. Can James, who scored 40 Sunday, and Wade, who had 30, go two-on-five against the Pacers to close out the best-of-seven series?
If either falters again, who, exactly, will step up?
“We’re not looking at our reserves as they have to score 50 points for us,” Miami Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra said. “But each night, usually somebody has to emerge for us and make a couple . . . we don’t have to make ’em all; we just have to make some timely ones.”
When the Heat lost Chris Bosh, a cornerstone of Miami’s Big Three, in Game 1 to an abdominal injury, there was concern, but perhaps misplaced. Miami, clearly, isn’t hurting for star power in Bosh’s absence. But from a scoring standpoint, the Heat’s supporting cast has been largely invisible as Indiana has put on clinics in ball distribution.
Precisely no one has stepped up as a reliable go-to guy in Bosh’s absence. It wasn’t a problem Sunday, when Wade and James played perhaps their best game as teammates since joining forces in the summer of 2010, but it sure hurt in defeats last Tuesday and Thursday. In Game 3, Miami fell hopelessly behind as its three-point attempts repeatedly clanked off the rim (the Heat converted just 4 of 20).
In a 78-75 defeat in Game 2, James and Wade combined for 52 points, and no one else scored more than five. Forward Udonis Haslem offered up a critical 14 points Sunday, including eight in the fourth quarter, and point guard Mario Chalmers put up a surprising 25 in Game 3 as Wade disappeared, but there have been no other notable performances.
James might render the worrying moot. Since securing his third most valuable player award just more than a week ago, he’s only enhanced the luster of his season. In this series, he’s averaging 30.5 points and 12.3 rebounds, totals that are even more impressive considering the Heat is averaging just 86.5 points.
It was James’s determination that brought Wade out of his one-game funk. Wade began Sunday’s game with a scoreless first quarter, but finished the first half with a dunk off a feed from James on a backdoor play. That seemed to jump-start the tide-turning third period, when both scored 14 points as Miami outscored Indiana, 30-16. Wade went 6 for 6 during the period. James hit four of seven and six of eight free throws.
“Obviously, you can’t do that every night,” Wade said. “Right now, obviously with Chris out, the bulk of the offense goes to me and LeBron. Other guys, when opportunities come, we want them to be ready for it, and to shoot it with confidence and to understand we need timely baskets.”
It’s one thing to say it and another to do it. Spoelstra spent much of the season’s second half experimenting with lineups and rotations, clearly challenged by the team’s personnel weaknesses at point guard and center, and also negotiating injuries to players such as Miller, who missed time because of an ankle strain.
Bosh’s departure provided a disruption to a rotation that never really got settled.
“We’re trying to figure ourselves out on the fly with Chris out,” Spoelstra said. “It’s changed the dynamic of our team.”
Still, Haslem noted, Miami builds its victories from more than just pure points.
“It’s a physical series,” said Haslem, who still sported a bloodshot right eye and six stitches from a stray elbow Sunday. “Nobody’s shooting a great percentage offensively. We cracked 100 in the last game, besides that there hasn’t been a great deal of scoring in this series.”
Plenty of teams — in fact, many of the all-time great teams — have won titles with two men bearing most of the scoring load. In all cases, however, a supporting cast offered meaningful support.
Miami seems to be trying to get past Indiana on a wing and just two players.
“We have to chip in,” Haslem said. “It’s important. . . . You got to step in and shoot the ball with confidence.”
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