Why The Heat Won: Evaluating The 5 Keys

With over a minute to go in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, a smile stretched across Lebron James’ face. A smile we rarely ever see from Lebron James. Was it relief? Was it just sheer joy? It doesn’t really matter. We can debate all we want. We can criticise him all we want. We can question whether he has the ‘clutch’ gene. But ultimately, Lebron James was clutch for 23 games, for over 900 minutes, in some of the most high press circumstances we have seen a superstar placed under, during this current generation.

Now Lebron James has a ring. The pressure SHOULD ease slightly. The criticism SHOULD cease to exist. Sure, we will still get the haters, but that’s just part of the world we now live in. Lebron James proved he has what it takes to be a champion, and after two years, it’s time to forget about ‘The Decision’, it’s time to forget about “not 1, not 2, not 3…” (even though that is looking a distinct possibility now), and it is time to embrace Lebron James.

So Why did the Heat win? Let’s evaluate the 5 keys that I made reference to a week ago.

Russell Westbrook’s Decision Making

This was a prominent feature during the remaining three games of the series, prominently… a problem. Yes we are sometimes unfair to Russell. In Game 4, he had his best game ever, scoring 43 points, but we will remember it for the unnecessary foul with 10 seconds left in the game, because that is the world we live in now. Much like Lebron for a time, Can we not accept Russell Westbrook for who he is? He is going to give you fantastic production, probably put up 25+ a night, but you can also expect him to make one incredibly irrational decision. Lebron James for a while was percieved to not possess a ‘clutch gene’. So if that was the case, why couldn’t we accept him as the guy that consistently dominated for 46 minutes, and put that team in a position to succeed? Why must a guy have a flawless game, or hit the game-winner to somehow validate his legacy?

But ultimately, this was a deciding factor. Yes the Thunder may have still lost if Russell hadn’t made those poor decisions, but we can never be sure. This part of Russell Westbrook’s game has been far too prevalent for far too long, and if Russell wants to take the next step, it needs to be addressed. Maybe, it’s just because he’s young. Maybe, just like the Thunder, they need one more year.

Advantage: Heat

Dwayne Wade’s Continued Production

What had become abundantly clear by the time the NBA Finals had come around, was that this was now Lebron James’ team. Whether or not Dwayne Wade believed it, he admirably played the sidekick, and he did a pretty good job of it. What is sometimes overlooked by the Heat, is their ability to play team ball. But with ALL of the Big 3 making big contributions, that was particularly evident in the finals. There were questions about whether or not Wade and Lebron on the same team would be a good ‘fit’ but when you see these two driving to the basket, kicking it out to the perimiter, running the pick and roll, it is a joy to watch, and is virtually unstoppable.

And that would be impossible if it were not for Dwayne Wade’s  continued production after his admittedly poor play-off run.  Dwayne Wade is an essential part of this team. And whilst he may not be ‘the guy’ anymore. he still finds a way to make contributions. He still gets his fair share of the ball, driving to the basket on a consistent basis. But it’s the hustle plays that are sometimes overlooked. Now more than ever, he is chasing down loose balls, crashing the boards and producing blocked shots, as he knows that he doesn’t need to be the guy that puts up 40 points anymore. And that is crucial, because now with a team possessing an identity, with the quality of players like the Heat have, it really is a scary to consider what the next stage of the evolution process is for this team. Whatever it is, it can’t be anything good for the other 29 teams in the NBA.

Advantage: Heat

Battle of The Coaches

And what was previously mentioned also links in to the role Erik Spoelstra played in the Heat’s Championship success. He had been more criticised than any other coach in the league. Can he make adjustments? Why hasn’t he perfected the rotation yet? Why is it this team still lacks an identity? These were all frequently asked by people questioning Spoelstra’s coaching ability. But with one series, all of those questions were put to rest. He made all of the right adjustments; playing small ball whenever necessary and giving Lebron a much-needed rest whenever it looked necessary are just two of the examples. The fact of the matter is, Spoelstra made fantastic adjustments at opportune moments.

With the return of Chris Bosh, the second question was also answered. Spoelstra finally found a way to utilise Chris Bosh at the center position, and with his superior athleticism at the position, and his ability to spread the floor, everything else fell into place. Now Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and even Mario Chalmers could drive to the basket at will, whilst also obtaining the ability to kick it out to the perimeter to players like Shane Battier or even Chris Bosh to hit open 3’s. And with that, Spoelstra manged to perfect his 8-man rotation.

This all enabled the Heat, to establish an identity on offense. Pick and roll, drive to the basket, kick the ball out to the perimeter, ball movement. That is the process behind the Heat’s offense. And in most of those categories, the Heat were far superior to the Thunder. The pick and roll between Lebron and Wade was unstoppable. Wade, Lebron and Chalmers driving to the basket with Bosh’s ability to spread the floor, was unstoppable. The Heat’s 3 point shooting, was unstoppable. And the ball movement.. oh the ball movement. Is it ok to label the Heat the best passing team in the league? I would guess so.

And with all the positives that Spoelstra’s coaching had brought to the Heat, I almost completely forgot about Scott Brooks. I am not going to be too critical as it became abundatly clear by the end of Game 4, that the Thunder just weren’t ready yet. But at times he did make costly decisions, with the most evident being when he chose to rest both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook when up by 10 at the end of the third quarter… That lead soon evaporated. But this was ultimately a very well-coached series. A series in which everything clicked into place for Erik Spoelstra and the Miami Heat.

Advantage: Heat

Battle Of The Role Players

This one is fairly self-explanatory. The heat established a game plan that was virtually unstoppable, and it allowed the Heat’s role players to thrive. Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers and (In game 5) Mike Miller all caught fire, whilst James Harden went cold turkey. A major question going into the Finals, was how the Heat were going to compete with a team with far-superior depth. Ultimately, by the end of the series, we were questioning where the points were going to come from the Thunder. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook both clearly had great statistical series, but so did Wade and Lebron. It would come down to who’s role players could produce the remainder of those points. Unfortunately for the Thunder when you start a game with 3 defence-first players, there is always going to be a lack of scoring options. It just so happens that during this series, those flaws were highlighted by a Heat Bench that exploded.

Lebron James vs Kevin Durant

The marquee match-up of the series. The two best players in the world, playing the same position, competing in a finals series that most of us thought would be decided by the outcome of this match-up.  And Lebron James decided, that the outcome would favour the Heat. Sure, Kevin Durant put up his 30 points a night but he ultimately just didn’t do enough. For a guy with his length, why isn’t he rebounding more? Why isn’t he contributing more on defence? Yes he’s still very young, and has plenty of time to mature, and develop his game. Lebron after all, only just figured everything out and he is 27. Kevin Durant will get his time, if the Heat let him.

Advantage: Heat

5 keys, all of which were dominated by the Heat, and all of which would be necessary components in the Heat’s eventual success. As much as this series will be remembered as the series where Lebron ‘figured it out’, the Heat needed every single component to secure victory. The role players, Dwayne Wade, Erik Spoelstra AND Lebron James were all needed for the Heat to secure that ring. Because where would Lebron and Wade be if they kicked the ball  out to perimeter players who couldn’t shoot? And what would those role players do, if their two superstars didn’t rip apart a defence by driving to the basket, obtaining open looks on the perimeter in the process?

The decision was two years ago, it is time to move on. Because this TEAM is everything you could hope for. This is a TEAM who enjoy playing team ball. A TEAM with an unselfish Star who enjoys playing team ball. A TEAM with 12 players, and one very talented coach, who pride themselves, on team ball. Lets embrace the Heat, because I have a feeling they might be around for a while.