MIAMI - There had been questions about the Heat’s play at the end of games. There had been questions about three-time NBA MVP LeBron James being clutch, and about Erik Spoelstra’s coaching. After Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals Saturday night, there were no more questions.
For the Heat players and coaches, though, they had no questions.
“That’s somebody else’s truth,’’ Spoelstra said. “We have a very confident group. We’ve said this all year long. And that’s why we didn’t panic, in either one of these last two series when we got behind. We thought we did enough things to put ourselves in position to win these games.
“Coming down in the stretch of fourth quarters, you could possibly have said that about our basketball team last year. Not this year. No. We’re gaining confidence at the end of games. I think everybody feels comfortable where they are and what their role is down the stretch, and that’s defensively. But we’ve made great strides offensively in close games.’’
In Saturday night’s clinching 101-88 victory over the Celtics at AmericanAirlines Arena, the Heat pushed themselves defensively after halftime. They turned it up, forcing the pressure on the Celtics, and Boston crumbled. As point guard Mario Chalmers saw it, the Heat was thinking too much in the first half, trying to play a perfect game.
And in the second half, the half in which the Heat are supposed to fail to gut out wins, Miami turned things around.
“It showed that we’re going to fight,’’ Chalmers said. “We kept going. They executed their plays to perfection. They got almost everything they wanted. We had to tighten up our defense. Once we did that, everything started going our way.’’
And how did they do that?
“Everybody just had to take a challenge, more one-on-one challenges than thinking about helping,’’ Chalmers said. “We were worried about helping too much, instead of everybody manning up and playing defense.’’
They had gotten to the fourth quarter with the score tied and, in the huddle, the message was to take a deep breath. And to play defense.
“What we needed to do is we needed to lock down defensively,’’ Dwyane Wade said. “And we needed to rebound the ball and get out in transition, and not see a set defense. And we were able to do that to open the game up, get better opportunities to score and attack the rim.’’
And to win.
A big thank you?
Asked what he would say to all the people who didn’t believe Miami could win after losing Game 5, Wade said, “Thank you. Thank you. Appreciate it.’’ . . . Even though Wade struggled again in the first half of the game, Spoelstra said Wade’s effort in Game 7 was “a great example of his fortitude.’’ Wade had 23 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists. He missed both of his 3-point attempts and committed a team-high four turnovers. “You have to find different ways to help your team win. And while everybody else is only looking at that last line in the box score, Dwyane, he’s a winner,’’ Spoelstra said. “He’s a versatile player. And he has an incredible will to win. So he’s going to do something. If the ball isn’t going in, he’s going to make defensive plays. He’s going to make other players better.’’