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34 posts from June 2012

June 12, 2012

Our plea to ABC as NBA Finals start; Steve Ross talks Dolphins

We'll post the Wednesday buzz column and NBA Finals Game 1 reaction/postscripts later tonight. But first...

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Perspective and fairness.

That’s all we ask for from ABC’s studio crew in these Finals.

If the Heat loses a game, don’t say the Heat lacks will to win – as Magic Johnson said after Game 5 of the Celtics series last week. Don’t say LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are too close friends to win a championship, as Magic said this spring.

Don’t say the Heat cannot be trusted, or that the players are front-runners, or that the players point fingers, as Jon Barry said last week. Barry also has insisted that the Heat’s stars don’t make each other better, which can easily be disputed, especially when  Wade and James are combining on those electrifying plays in transition.

The ABC studio crew has generated plenty of spirited dialogue in their first year without a natural host, but our issue is this: There’s too much sky-is-falling over-reaction to every loss, too much of a desire to prematurely condemn and dismiss the Heat and the blueprint. Too much reaching for explanations that are intellectually lazy (such Magic’s will to win argument) or without basis.

It’s surprising coming from Magic, because he also makes a lot of sound points in between the occasional head-scratching ones. Heat owner Micky Arison told 790 The Ticket that he had to mute the volume on his friend Magic last week.

If the Heat loses this series, it will not be because of will to win, or finger-pointing, or any dramatic flaws in the Heat’s master plan. Let’s hope the ABC studio crew realizes that and doesn’t bury the Heat before, you know, the series is actually over.  


ABC’s Jeff Van Gundy, who will call the games with Mike Breen, said though he understands why Cleveland fans “harbor resentment” toward LeBron James, “other than that, I don’t understand any other fan” resenting him.

“If the biggest mistake he made in his life is how he announced he is exercising his free agency decision and the celebration that ensured because of it, I really don’t get why that has provoked such bitterness and animosity, particularly one that has lasted this long. The way he goes about his business is the model for how you want to play the game.”

### Fox’ hiring of Mike Pereira for NFL telecasts has clearly started a trend. This week, ABC added former NBA referee Steve Javie, who will be on call in the studio or at his Philadelphia home for every Finals game to answer any questions that arise.

Javie, who retired after last season because of knee problems, was never a Heat favorite. Pat Riley once said that Javie turned him during a game, a decade ago, and said: “It’s giving us absolute delight to watch you and your team die.” Javie reportedly was fined $1000.

“We thought we would make our viewers a little smarter if we had an official there,” ESPN executive producer Mark Gross said. 

### Even though Oklahoma City is a small market, this is the matchup ABC would have preferred if it couldn’t get the Lakers instead of the Thunder.

“We were thrilled with Eastern Conference finals and even more thrilled with the Finals,” Gross said. “Having the Heat and Thunder with the star power – you can’t ask for anything more.”

As Van Gundy cracked: “I’m confident with Mike Breen, LeBron James and Kevin Durant, the ratings will soar.”

Last year, about one-third of all Miami-Fort Lauderdale homes with TV sets (33.7) watched each Heat-Mavericks Finals game, on average. The Heat’s high local rating so far was the 25.0 for Game 7 of Heat-Thunder.

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For highlights of Dolphins owner Steve Ross' most extended public remarks of the offseason, please click on the last post.


June 11, 2012

Monday night report: OchoCinco signs; Steve Ross addresses many issues; Fins, Heat notes

This post is updated with news that Chad OchoCinco has signed with the Dolphins, plus several Monday evening comments from owner Stephen Ross. For that, scroll below to the Dolphins' section of the post.


### Erik Spoelstra was non-committal about whether Chris Bosh will start, saying he has until Tuesday evening to decide. "I think he can handle more minutes. I'll have to see. he had to come out a couple times because of wind" Saturday night.

### Spoelstra dismissed the idea of using last year's Finals loss to Dallas as motivation. "I don't think we need more motivation."

### On being the underdog in this series, Chris Bosh said: "I think it's great. We were the favorite last year." Said Dwyane Wade: "When a team has homecourt advantage, they're normally the favorite."

### Bosh said his abdominal injury "is always going to be with me until the season ends, but it can be overlooked."

### Wade, on Russell Westbrook: "I think he's the most athletic guy in the NBA."

### Wade, on LeBron James playing in his third Finals: "I'm sure he will try to seize it a little bit better than he did the first two times."

### Wade, on the James/Kevin Durant matchup: "It's going to make him focus more, bring out the best in both of them.''

### With the team's second consecutive Finals appearance, Wade said, "We're just more comfortable in the Finals at this point. We'll never forget losing the Finals but that can't be the only motivation."

### Durant, on James: "He can score at will. He's strong. he can shoot it. But it's got to be a team effort."



### Chad OchoCinco has signed a one-year contract with the Dolphins. We'll have a longer story up shortly on the web site.

Before that news broke, Ross said the Dolphins are looking for upgrades at receiver and said OchoCinco was being considered.

Reggie Bush advocates the Dolphins signing him, saying: “I definitely think he can help.”

OchoCinco, Brian Hartline and Davone Bess likely will be Miami's top three receivers.

### Ross, on doing HBO's Hard Knocks: "I told him [Joe Philbin] it's your first year as a head coach and you have a lot to absorb and deal with. I said we could do it next year or the next year. He said, 'I want to do it now.' That really surprised me. He said he wants people to know what our brand is all about. He said these are not going to be the Dolphins we have seen the last eight seasons.

"The fact he has the confidence to do that made me feel we made the right decision here. I didn't think any coach would want to take that on the first year. He was insistent."

### Ross said his philosophy is to hire the right people and not micromanage. He said "the one thing I never really liked" since buying the team was the Dolphins' fight song. " He will use that song and Jimmy Buffett's song at home games...As you know, I didn't make the decision to hire the former coach."

### Ross said he's "optimistic" he can "bring Super Bowl 50 to Miami" in 2016. He said he likely will unveil plans later this summer to upgrade Sun Life Stadium - something the NFL wants - but gave no indication how it would be financed, which is the major roadblock. "I'm looking to really upgrade the stadium."

While Ross said he definitely wants "an enclosed stadium," his plan for Sun Life does not include a dome because he asserted "nobody in Florida wants to be in an air-conditioned dome." The Marlins and many people would obviously disagree, at least in September and early October. But Ross is considering add a canopy to cover fans during rain. But it would not cover the field. 

### Ross said "he's not looking forward to all 1 p.m. games" because he wants more prime time games. But the NFL deemed the Dolphins worthy of only the league minimum one prime-time game (at Buffalo).

### Dolphins CEO Mike Dee said there will be "a big celebration" of the 40th anniversary of the undefeated 1972 team with "an announcement forthcoming shortly." Despite reports that season ticket sales were in the 30,000 range pre-draft, Dee insists tickets are selling very well. Miami sold more than 61,000 just five years ago. 

### Ross said Ryan Tannehill is "a great athlete, fantastic kid, has all the makings of becoming a franchise quarterback. They've complemented him with a good offensive tackle who's an unbelievable athlete [Jonathan Martin]. Lamar Miller was an unbelievable steal in the fourth round. We had him rated so much higher. We were surprised he was there - probably because of the shoulder operation. Having a chance to speak to [UM coach] Al Golden and understanding what he's all about."

### Philbin continues to be unhappy about the number of drops on offense – not just by receivers, but running backs and tight ends. “Little bit concerned about that,” he said. “We have to catch more consistently at every position on offense.”

On Monday, there were two drops by receiver Chris Hogan, two by tight end Les Brown (uncharacteristic for him), and inexcusable ones by Daniel Thomas and Marlon Moore.

And Philbin said overall offensively, there’s “still too much thinking” instead of instinctive play.

### David Garrard had the first snaps Monday, and he and Matt Moore again got a lot of their work with the starters. Ryan Tannehill worked mostly with younger players in 11 on 11 drills, but got the last three 11 on 11 plays of practice (with many first teamers) and completed all three passes – including a dart to Marlon Moore for a touchdown on the final play.

Philbin said: "We want to give each quarterback a chance to work with each group, so we're being totally fair."

 ### Philbin said Garrard “throws the ball really well. His command of the offense is good.” Garrard probably has been the best of the three in the three sessions open to reporters that Garrard participated in, but the difference is negligible. Tannehill has suffered a lot of drops that weren’t remotely his fault.

“We all want to be the guy,” Tannehill said Monday.

### Artis Hicks, who spent early stages of offseason practices at right tackle, was the first team right guard. “His best spot is on the right side,” Philbin said. “Whether it’s tackle or guard is to be determined.”

### Lydon Murtha was the first team right tackle. Jonathan Martin, Miami's second round pick, joined the team following the conclusion of classes at Stanford and worked on the second team, alongside right guard John Jerry. “It looked like his first day, but that’s part of the process,” Philbin said of Martin.

### With Richard Marshall injured, Jonathan Wade and Nolan Carroll got the majority of work as the third and fourth corners. Philbin was complimentary of Wade.

### With Brian Hartline sidelined by a calf strain, Legedu Naanee and Roberto Wallace were the best of the receivers. Wallace made a terrific leaping catch of a Garrard pass. There was also a Clyde Gates sighting – he made a couple of catches.

### Sean Smith made the most eye-catching defensive play of the day – knocking away a pass to Wallace. Jonathan Freeney had a would-be sack of Tannehill.

### Former CFL fullback Jerome Messam, off knee surgery, was back working with the running backs.


June 10, 2012

Heat Game 7 reaction/postscripts and Sunday buzz column (Dolphins, Marlins, Canes)

We'll get to Sunday's buzz column in a moment.

First, 10 post-game snippets from Game 7 of Heat-Celtics:

### Keyon Dooling articulately captured what the league thinks of LeBron James. "He is great for our game," Dooling said. "He IS our game. We need to uplift him instead of trying to tear him down. He is the most unselfish superstar I have ever seen. He rebounds the ball, assists and empowers his friends from his community. He is a model citizen. He should not have a stain on his reputation. I hope that it stops."

### Dwyane Wade, who finished with 23 points, six rebounds and six assists and dealt generally with frequent double teams, said afterward, "No matter what everyone on the outside says about me, I'm a winner, I'm a team player."

### James spoke about the value of having Chris Bosh come off the bench but stopped short of saying that should be his role in the Finals. Bosh's and Udonis Haslem's size and rebounding will be needed in tandem a lot against Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins.

James said Bosh coming off the bench the past three games has been "great for us. We haven't had the firepower off the bench since we got here."

### Wade said everyone sat in the huddle and breathed deeply before the Heat unleashed a 28-15 fourth quarter barrage. As James put it: "We were saying to each other, 'It's time.'"

### Bosh has had an incredible six weeks - the birth of a child, the adbominal injury that sidelined him for nine games, and Saturday's splendid Game 7, when he had 19 points and eight rebounds. Bosh said it has been the craziest six weeks of his life.

"I think about those things every day," he said. "What's I've experienced, what I've seen. These situations don't come every day. Game 7, Eastern Conference Finals, I've been thinking about things like this since I was a kid. I just wanted to seize the moment. The way I could do it is by being relaxed, being myself and do what I do."

### James and Celtics coach Doc Rivers hugged after the game, and "he told me he's very proud of the team," Rivers said. "And I basically told them to go do it. Proud of him. I think he gets too much heat."

### The Heat's series victory marked just the 27th time in 165 instances that the team that lost Game 5 of 2-2 series went on to win the series (16.4 percent).

### James set a Heat record for most points in a postseason series with 235. Wade held the old mark, with 208 in the six-game NBA Finals victory against Dallas in 2006. What's more, he has scored at least 25 points in 10 consecutive postseason games. Most impressive: James has averaged 34.6 points in his Game 7s in his career, more than Michael Jordan's 33.7. James, Wade and Bosh scored the Heat's last 31 points, including all in a 20-6 run to end the game.

### The Heat and Thunder split two games this season -- OK City winning 103-87 at home March 25 behind 28 points from Kevin Durant, and the Heat winning 98-93 on April 4 behind James' 34.

### The last word to Shane Battier, on making the NBA Finals for the first time: "It is an amazing feeling. I told my teammates it felt like I have been wandering the NBA wilderness for the last 10 years. Going to the FInals is something you are not sure you will ever attain. It is almost a surreal feeling."

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Here's the SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN, which - for print-edition newspaper deadine purposes - is mostly Dolphins, Canes and Marlins talk:

When the Dolphins were considering former Green Bay offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, general manager Jeff Ireland gave thought to this point that he verbalized later: “When you watch the Packers, you see there’s development in every phase of the offense. That’s what we need. It’s a developmental league. If you’re not moving forward in the development of players, we’re not going where we need to be.”

So Philbin and his Dolphins offensive staff have been charged with extracting more from the young players, including three that Ireland coveted in last year’s draft and are key to his vision for the offense: Daniel Thomas, Clyde Gates and Charles Clay. Thomas and Gates exited their rookie seasons with more questions than answers.

Thomas managed just a 3.5 per carry average – 59th among 67 qualifying backs - and now faces competition from Lamar Miller for playing time behind Reggie Bush.

“I can’t worry about who they’re drafting,” Thomas said of Miller. “I know I’ve gotten better. The injuries affected me a lot last year. They messed my mind up. I lost the confidence I had. I didn’t have the same burst I had earlier” when he ran for 107 and 95 yards in his first two games. (He ran for just 379 in the 11 others.)

Thomas said his 3.5 average (including 2.9 in the fourth quarter) is unacceptable and “very disappointing,” adding, “I think I can average 5.0 a carry in this league.”

Also troubling: his 1.9 yards-per-carry average after contact – fifth-worst among NFL backs. That’s one reason he added seven pounds, to 235. “I wanted to get stronger because I lost some of the leg drive I had early on. I was stopped on first contact and that’s not me.”

Thomas, who averaged 5.2 per carry in two years at Kansas State, is encouraged because “our offense is doing a lot more zone running, and we ran well last year when we zoned. That’s something I did in college a lot.”

Thomas was the fifth back drafted (62nd overall) after Mark Ingram (3.9 average), Shane Vereen (just 57 yards) and Ryan Williams and Mikel Leshoure (both injured reserve). What’s worrisome is the sixth back taken - Dallas’ DeMarco Murray, nine spots after Thomas – was far better than Thomas (897 yards, 5.5 average). And Thomas’ per-carry average trailed that of the seventh back (Stevan Ridley at 5.1), the ninth (Roy Helu, 4.2) and 10th (Kendall Hunter, 4.2), though all had fewer carries.

The Dolphins drafted Gates 111th and hoped he would produce immediately, like his close friend and fellow Abilene-Christian alum Johnny Knox did when the Bears drafted him 140th in 2009. But Gates played only 155 snaps, was targeted 10 times and caught two passes for 19 yards. “The only thing I was discouraged about,” Ireland said, “was not getting him more opportunities. He has a great future.”

Gates, who has a 4.3 speed, said last year “was confusing” but that the game has started “to slow down for me” mentally. But it’s not happening for Gates as fast as some of the other receivers; Philbin said he needs work on making route adjustments based on defensive coverages.

If he doesn’t improve in that area – vital in the West Coast offense – it’s difficult to envision him beating out front-runner Legedu Naanee for the No. 3 job or even winning the No. 4 job. Gates has bigger goals than that: "I want to be an every-down receiver.''

Clay, who split his 405 snaps last year between tight end, H-back and fullback, said this offense “suits me well” partly because it exploits mismatches, such as Clay on a slower linebacker.

“We love his versatility,” Philbin said after watching tape of the sixth-rounder’s rookie season (16 receptions, 233 yards, three touchdowns). “If you can keep him in the game and line him up as a tight end, [then] line him up next to the tight end, and [then] line him up as a receiver, you’re helping yourself offensively.” At times, the Dolphins will use Anthony Fasano, Clay and rookie Michael Egnew together.


### Some Dolphins players have been especially impressed by David Garrard in offseason sessions – he’s polished, practices well (Matt Moore isn’t considered a great practice player) and has skills well suited for the West Coast offense. Don’t dismiss his chances in this competition, though there’s also a chance he doesn’t make the team if Moore or Ryan Tannehill wins the job. That’s because Miami must pay him at least $3.35 million if he sticks.

### Though ESPNCleveland reported last week that Tannehill’s maturity “as a quarterback and field leader were so lacking, that he turned [the Browns] off in interviews,” the Dolphins felt the opposite, believing highly in his leadership. We would trust Miami’s evaluation more, because of Mike Sherman’s familiarity with him.... Please see my story elsewhere on the sports home page for more on the Dolphins' plans to work out free agent receiver Chad OchoCinco.

### UM baseball coach Jim Morris (under contract through 2015) and his staff – which is out recruiting - are under the impression they are returning next season, but athletic director Shawn Eichorst refuses to say anything about Morris’ status.

### A high-level UM official said the school hasn’t been given an updated timetable by the NCAA but will not be surprised if it doesn’t receive its punishment until after National Signing Day in February. The UM official was disgusted by minor violations found in the basketball program, such as providing transportation (including flights) to players’ family members: “That should never happen.”

Missouri and ex-UM coach Frank Haith has said privately he had no idea his assistant coaches were providing those benefits and has told the NCAA that UM never paid basketball players.

### One Marlins official bemoaned how difficult it is to win when three or four of nine regulars are hitting so ineptly; besides the pitcher, John Buck, Logan Morrison and part-time starter Chris Coghlan are all hitting between .164 and .216.

The Marlins, who view Brett Hayes as a backup, are frustrated with Buck’s offense and defense, and if they can find an upgrade this winter, they could swallow the last year of his deal, worth $6 million. Problem is, it’s difficult to trade for quality catching and they have no minor league option ready or close. Kyle Skipworth, the sixth pick of the 2008 draft, is hitting .213 at Double A Jacksonville.

### Here’s what will doom the Marlins if it doesn’t change: They entered Saturday 5 for their last 51 with runners in scoring position and .219 overall in that situation – 27th in baseball and well below the .250 MLB average. Hanley Ramirez is at .194 with runners on base - worst among third basemen who have nearly as many at-bats.

June 09, 2012

Dolphins to audition OchoCinco; mixed news for Sid Rosenberg; a brothers Van Gundy pairing?

Here's our weekly media column below. For my three stories previewing Heat-Celtics Game 7 - and all of Friday's Heat news - please click on the last three posts. (The stories are also available elsewhere on the sports home page.)


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We'll have alonger  story posted next to this blog shortly, but the Dolphins plan to audition Chad Ochocinco next week, according to a source close to him. Miami is considering adding a veteran receiver and Ochocinco badly wants to play here.


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Sports media news and views:

###  Sid Rosenberg’s attempts to get back on local radio sooner rather than later hit a roadblock this week, entirely because his former employer wants to place a muzzle on him.

The good news for Sid: He’s getting a job at WMEN-640, and he will be on the air from 6 to 10 a.m. weekdays beginning Aug. 13.

The bad news: He won’t be on local radio in June or July – which had been the hope of his new employer.

Even though WQAM fired Rosenberg in April after a DUI arrest, the station still had an enforceable non-compete clause that will prevent Rosenberg from taking another job until the second week of August.

WMEN and WQAM have been negotiating for weeks with the goal of waiving the non-compete clause and allowing Rosenberg to begin his new gig immediately.

But WMEN station manager Steve Lapa said Friday that one stipulation doomed the negotiations: WQAM’s insistence on a non-disparagement clause, meaning that WMEN had to agree in writing that Rosenberg would say nothing negative about WQAM or any of its employees.

“Sid was not ready to sign off on that,” Lapa said. “With that clause, they want to control things they can’t control. We were saying, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ Last time I checked, the Constitution covered that. I feel bad we couldn’t work it out. We met their financial requirements.”

Rosenberg – who says he has battled drug and gambling addictions and problems with alcohol – tweeted earlier this week, “60 days in one Fellowship today, and seven months in the other on Saturday. None of it has been easy and lots of “stuff” has happened along the way. But TODAY I am on my way back to being me. Thanks for the love and support. God bless.”

And then, on the other end of the spectrum, was this tweet from Rosenberg: “I love living in South Florida. I love working in South Florida. But Heat fans are the biggest [expletives] I’ve ever dealt with in my 15 years in this business… On the other hand, I like Dolphins fans. I find them to be knowledgeable and long-standing.”

Lapa said Marc Eisenberg and Chris Perkins will handle the morning show until Rosenberg takes over.

### If I’m ESPN management, one of the first calls I make in the next few weeks is to former Magic and Heat coach Stan Van Gundy, with an offer to work alongside brother Jeff Van Gundy and Mike Breen on the ESPN/ABC lead announcing team.

If Stan speaks as candidly as he does at his news conferences – and there’s no reason to believe he would not – a Brothers Van Gundy broadcast team would generate some of the meatiest and liveliest exchanges and some of most intelligent, incisive analysis in network TV sports.

“I am interested in TV, coaching, teaching or whatever comes next,” Stan said in a text message Thursday. ESPN declined to discuss the possibility, but Jeff would welcome a TV partnership with his brother, who was fired by the Orlando Magic last month.

“I think he would be great at it,” Jeff said. “Stan is extremely smart, insightful and does everything with a tremendous amount of candor. Working with him would be fine because I don’t get to see him that much because he’s always busy with his job and we don’t live in the same city. And he would probably verbally assault me like he has for my whole life if we ever did it together.”

The sensible approach would be letting Stan do some ESPN games as the sole analyst – games not worked by his brother or Hubie Brown – but pairing the Van Gundys on Sunday afternoon ABC games, marquee ESPN games and most playoff telecasts.

“I think he has many options,” Jeff said. “You have to go through the process of grieving the job loss and not rushing into something.”

### Jeff Van Gundy said “the hardest adjustment” to TV is “I never realized how sensitive players were. You might say 99 percent good things and if you say one thing that you would like to see have been done differently, they get quite angry.”

He said there was one game during these playoffs in which a player (whom he declined to name) “made a basket and jogged down court. He didn’t look directly at me, but I knew he was looking towards me and screamed something out I couldn’t share with you for print. I was amazed.”

### The chances of Jon Weiner and Marc Hochman hosting 790 The Ticket’s morning show long-term have increased somewhat, but a final decision has not been made and the sides are still sorting through challenges of the two juggling that show with Dan Le Batard’s program. Even if he does mornings long-term, Weiner wants to stay on Le Batard’s show five days a week.

### Jason Taylor, officially hired by ESPN as a studio analyst on assorted programs, said TV was the natural progression because "I know the game. I'm still close enough to the game." (More on JT in weeks to come here.)

### Heat TV announcer Eric Reid has been on press row calling all the Heat-Celtics games into a tape recorder, broadcasting to an audience of, well, nobody. The reason? The Heat wants to use Reid’s call of big plays (instead of the network announcers) on postseason videos and offseason highlights shows. “I enjoy being involved in whatever way I can,” he said. Reid and the Heat have been doing this since 2005.

### No surprise here: Some of the ABC/ESPN Heat studio commentary has been way too reactionary and cliché-driven, including Magic Johnson saying after Game 5 that the Heat “doesn’t have a will to win.” C’mon, Magic – can’t you come up with something more substantive that that? And Magic sure changed his tune after Game 6.

Then there was Jon Barry asserting after Game 5: “They’re front-runners. They point fingers at each other when things don’t go well.” And where’s the evidence of that, beyond Dwyane Wade yelling at Erik Spoelstra in the Indiana series? No players have taken shots at each other.

### A caution to the Dolphins: Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, whose team participated in HBO’s Hard Knocks two years ago, told a Cincinnati radio station that “it’s really a 24-7 deal. No matter what you do, there’s a camera there.”

### Fox, in the midst of eight consecutive weeks of prime time baseball, will air Marlins-Rays games in Florida each of the next two Saturdays, with Dick Stockton and Rays announcer Brian Anderson calling this weekend’s telecast. That’s bad news for transplanted New Yorkers, because that means Yankees-Mets will not be televised here Saturday.

Incidentally, get used to seeing Saturday night sports on Fox. The network has decided to challenge ABC’s Saturday night college football package with a lineup featuring prime time Pacific 12 and Big 12 football, plus baseball playoff games.


June 08, 2012

Rivers expresses reluctance to change approach on James; three Game 7 preview stories

On this post, and the previous two, you will find my three stories previewing Game 7 of Heat-Celtics Saturday. This one focuses on what the Celtics say they need to do differently; the previous two are mostly from the Heat perspective:


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      Despite LeBron James’ epic performance, despite their offensive shortcomings Thursday, despite being crushed on the boards by 20 over the past two games, the Boston Celtics and their collection of stars are not particularly susceptible to self-doubt.

      And so the Celtics, 10-9 against the Heat the past two seasons, say they will enter Game 7 with the confidence expected of a team whose nucleus won a championship together in 2008.

      “We’ve been the underdog all year long,” said forward Paul Pierce, who shot 4 of 18 in Game 6. “We’re going into Game 7 the underdog. We’re right where we want to be. This is as hard as it gets. And I think we are prepared for it.”

      Said center Kevin Garnett: “There are a lot of confident guys in here, a lot of guys who have been through game sevens. A lot of experienced guys. We’re going to lean on that. There’s a bunch of fighters in this locker-room.”

      Though James torched the Celtics in Game 6, coach Doc Rivers said he is not inclined to change their defensive approach at the start of the game.

      “We’re always prepared to do different things, but we don’t feel like we need to,” he said. “If somebody is going off, we’re ready to make a change if we have to…. We can’t assume he’s not going to score 45 again.”

      Rivers said if the Heat wins the series, “that Game 6, you’ll always remember. If we win, Game 6 will be just another great game.”

      Rivers said other than “Tiger Woods the last two or three years, no athlete is under the scrutiny LeBron is under.” He said he “doesn’t know what else he can do” to silence critics. “He’s one of the most powerful players to ever play the game. Maybe it isn’t enough. I don’t know.”

      Celtics players were irked they did not do more to impede James. “He was comfortable all night,” said Rajon Rondo, who had 21 points and 10 assists but also seven turnovers. “We didn’t get into his airspace. I have to do a better job as far as taking care of the ball, getting into my sets. I have to make it harder for him. It was too easy.”

      The problem defending the Heat, Rivers said, is this: “In the playoffs, as good as your stuff is, the guy that can create his own shots makes it very difficult. Even when the set breaks down, you can always throw it to LeBron or Dwyane Wade and they can get a shot.”

      Kevin Garnett was limited to 12 points Thursday (6 for 14 shooting), and Rivers said, “We have to do a better job of getting Kevin the ball in the right spots. They threw him out of his rhythm and we threw him out of his rhythm.”

      The winner of Game 7 will fly to Oklahoma City on Sunday, with Game 1 of the Finals on Tuesday. Rivers said Thursday his team “is not just going to pack for Sunday. They’re going to bring suits for Tuesday and Thursday.”

      Rivers said Friday he intended no message when he said that: “What else am I going to tell them? We have to pack.”

      The Celtics are 5-1 after losses in these playoffs, with its only back-to-back defeats coming in the first two games of this series. Against Atlanta and Philadelphia, the Celtics followed their five losses with wins by an average margin of 10.6 points.

      “We got in the locker-room after the game [Thursday], and everyone talked about being better,” guard Ray Allen said. “There was a great sense of disappointment among everybody. Anger. But I know my guys will be ready next game.”

### Please check out my last two posts for more Friday afternoon news and previews of Game 7.

Heat Game 7 preview

      And so now it comes to this.

      One game.

      One game for the Heat to keep alive hopes of hoisting a championship trophy in late June.

      One game to continue shaping their legacies.

      One game to help validate this Big Three blueprint.

      Game 7.

      There’s nothing more exhilarating and excruciating in sports.

      “That,” Udonis Haslem said, “is what you dream about. It will be the toughest battle we’ve had all playoffs.”

      LeBron James lifted his team, and this city, on his shoulders Thursday, delivering numbers (45 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists) achieved by only one other player in postseason history: Wilt Chamberlain.

      But can he deliver another magnificent, mesmerizing performance against Boston on Saturday, this time on his home court?

      “I don’t know,” he said. “I’ll continue to play at a high level, like I’ve done the whole postseason… I will not regret Game 7. I will go in with the mindset I’ve had the whole season.”

      James has averaged more points in elimination games (31.4) than any player in NBA history – one-tenth of a point more than Michael Jordan. James is 3-6 in elimination games – Jordan was 6-7 – but James will be buttressed Saturday by a supporting cast stronger than any he had in Cleveland.

      “He’s committed to do whatever it takes, and it might be another effort like that,” coach Erik Spoelstra said Friday. “It might not be needed to be that great. Whatever he is asked, he’ll do. He’s a brilliant basketball player.”

      The Celtics have directed more of their double teams at Dwyane Wade than James in this series. Asked Friday if the Celtics will change their defensive approach on James, coach Doc Rivers said, “We’re not going to do much. We have to do what we’re supposed to do better first. If we have to make changes, we will.”

      The problem is James can inflict damage in many different ways. “It’s a joy to watch,” Wade said.

     James excelled in isolations Thursday, shooting 8 for 14 and scoring 20 points after producing just 24 points on 9 for 30 shooting on isolations in the first five games.

      He converted all four of his shots in the basket area.

      And James hit all seven of his shots on post-ups and drew a foul another time. James, who was fourth in the league in points per possession on post-ups this season, was 6 for 16 posting up in the first five games.

      “I was aggressive from the opening tip,” James said. “It’s a great feeling, when you feel like everything you’re putting up is going in.”

      Teammates weren’t surprised. “You all see that look he had on his face?” Mario Chalmers said. “He had that look on his face since [Wednesday] night at dinner. We knew he was going to come out ready to play. That’s why he’s the MVP. I call it his ugly look.”

      The other two pieces of the Big Three contributed in different ways Thursday. But more will be expected Saturday, especially in Wade’s case after a 6 for 17 shooting night and another subpar first half (1 for 6).

      With Chris Bosh, the numbers were modest (seven points, six rebounds in 28 minutes), but his impact was not.

      Consider that Miami shot 53.3 percent (24 for 45) with Bosh in the game and 41.9 percent (13 for 31) with Bosh on the bench. Kevin Garnett is unlikely to leave Bosh unguarded on the perimeter – as he would, say Joel Anthony – to offer help on James or Wade. The upshot is easier, less contested shots for others.

      “We’re a different team when Chris is on the court,” Spoelstra said. “You have to guard him. Great shooter from outside, great passer. We’ve said for two years he’s our most important player. He’s the guy that makes it all work.”

      Spoelstra used two natural power rotation players in tandem less than eight minutes in games one through five. But he paired Bosh and Haslem together for 12 minutes in Game 6, and the Heat outscored the Celtics 35-19 during that time.

      A case could be made to start Bosh and Haslem together in Game 7 – the Heat started the playoffs 5-1 with that lineup before Bosh’s injury – but Spoelstra might stick with Shane Battier and bring Bosh off the bench. Spoelstra was typically non-committal about that Friday.

      For all of Wade’s offensive struggles in the first half of this series, he put his imprint on Game 6 with eight rebounds, four assists, three steals and sturdy defense on Rajon Rondo. Unlike past games, the Heat opened with Wade guarding Rondo, and Mario Chalmers on Ray Allen.

      Rondo shot 2 for 7 and scored six points with Wade guarding him, 6 for 7 against everybody else.

      Even so, Wade must be more efficient offensively Saturday. “Certain shots hopefully I’ll make that I missed [in Game 6],” he said. “If not, I’ll still make an impact on the game. I’m not a one-dimensional player.”

      Game 7, Wade said, “is going to be a knockout after knockout after knockout after knockout game. Hopefully, we’re standing at the end.”

      Said Spoelstra: “I don’t think this group gets too high, too low, too jittery. If anything, the big lights, the moments like this are the ones these guys froth at the mouth for.”



      When/where: 8:30 p.m., AmericanAirlines Arena

      TV/radio: ESPN; WAXY 790; WQBA 1140 (Spanish)

      The series: Tied 3-3

      The game: Erik Spoelstra wouldn’t say his starting lineup, but even if he sticks with Shane Battier, except plenty of Chris Bosh, whose minutes will continue to increase after 14 and 28 in his first two games back. The Celtics could try to double team LeBron James more than they have, but Doc Rivers suggested he would change his approach only if James is hot early.

Friday afternoon Heat-Celtics notes; Heat's strategic moves pay off

LeBron James was reason one through 100 why the Heat won Thursday, but strategic moves also paid dividends in Game 6.

Instead of fronting Kevin Garnett, the Heat played him more from behind, with more frequent double teams. That mostly eliminated the easy lobs that tormented the Heat the previous three games.

“We just tried to give him a lot of different looks,” Udonis Haslem said.

It also helped that the Heat had two natural power rotation players on the floor – in this case, Chris Bosh and Haslem – for 12 minutes, more than during the first five games combined. “When we play with size, we’re more physical,” coach Erik Spoelstra said.

Garnett also was off on his jump shot, shooting 1 for 6 outside the paint.

In another change, Spoelstra had Dwyane Wade defend Rajon Rondo at the start of both halves, instead of Mario Chalmers. Not only did Rondo shoot 2 for 7 and score just six points when Wade was defending him, but he didn’t get to the basket against Wade, who gave him a cushion on jump shots.

According to ESPN’s Stats and Information department, Rondo’s seven shots against Wade were 13.6 feet away from the basket, on average, with none inside of five feet.

Rondo was 6 for 7 against other Heat defenders (15 points), but his average shot distance was 4.6 feet on those attempts.

Spoelstra on Friday was reluctant to discuss the defensive changes on Garnett and Rondo, saying only, “Whatever it takes. This series is changing. There are adjustments on both sides. That doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the way it will go [Saturday night]. We’ll have to read the game. Rondo will be very aggressive. Rio had a tougher assignment of chasing Ray Allen to our help all night.”

Meanwhile, ESPN’s Magic Johnson said after Game 6, “Spoelstra did something great. He got both of his superstars on the move. LeBron never took two straight shots the same.”


Even though the players were off Friday, Spoelstra noted Bosh came to AmericanAirlines Arena for a workout.

“That says a lot about him – that he knows he needs to continue to fight to gain his rhythm and get closer to the form he was playing at the end of the year, which was his best basketball,” Spoelstra said. “We don’t need him to play at that level to win. He gave us excellent minutes at both ends.”

Bosh said playing through any lingering effects of his abdominal strain “is all in the mind. No matter how I feel, I give my minutes. Play as hard as I can, just worry about everything after the game.”

### Bosh admitted: “Before, we didn’t have the same urgency we did [in Game 6]. If we gave that effort every time we step on the court, we’re going to be a tough team to beat.”

### The Heat did not openly celebrate Thursday’s win because, as Shane Battier put it, “If we’re jumping around like a bunch of frat boys, then we’re not doing any service to our team for Game 7.”

### The 8.2 major-market rating for Thursday’s game was the highest for an NBA playoff game on cable, with records dating to 2003. Game 4 of this series now ranks second on the all-time cable list.

In Miami-Fort Lauderdale, 22 percent of homes with TV sets were tuned in – well below South Florida’s 33.7 average rating for the NBA Finals last season. But The Finals games were on ABC; these games are on ESPN, which is not available in 6.4 percent of South Florida homes.

### Asked about Western Conference champion Oklahoma City, Spoelstra said, “With all due respect, next question.”

### The home team is 88-22 all time in seventh games of NBA playoff series. “We fought and earned the right to have this on our home court,” Spoelstra said. But “we don’t assume that will take care of everything.”




June 07, 2012

Postgame reaction from Heat-Celtics Game 6

Postgame reaction from Thursday’s season-saving Heat Game 6 win in Boston:

### LeBron James became the first player with 45 points, 15 rebounds and 5 assists in a playoff game since Wilt Chamberlain in 1964. Nobody else in NBA history has done that in a playoff game.

James' postgame thoughts: "I'm happy we were able to put together a complete game for the first time this series. This was a gut check for us.. I was happy I was able to make some plays offensively and defensively. You just try to keep the pedal down. I felt like I was aggressive from the opening tip. I've felt like that a few times in this postseason. It's a great feeling, when you feel like everything you're putting up is going in.

"I wasn't going to feel sorry for myself tonight. I didn't need any extra motivation in this game. I just went to my habits I built since I started playing this game. If two or three guys come to me, I'm very good at math. [That means] somebody is open."

Can he do it again in a Game 7? "I don't know. I'll continue to play at a high level, like I've done the whole postseason.... I will not regret Game 7. I will go in with the mindset I've had the whole season."

### Heat coach Erik Spoelstra: “It was a tremendous response. Nobody likes getting dirt thrown on your face before you’re not even dead. This is a very stubborn, tough-minded group. We’ve been through a lot….

“LeBron was absolutely fearless tonight, and it was contagious. The way he approached the last 48 hours, and not only LeBron, but everybody else. He came out with an attack mentality. He is arguably the most skilled player in the league.

“I told LeBron yesterday it would be at least 46 minutes [he would play]. He was ready and willing, said, ‘Whatever you need, coach.’ What fuels him is this moment. The moment will define you.”

### Spoelstra, on Dwyane Wade: “He had a big chore defensively, was disrupting a lot of things. He couldn’t get the ball to drop down, but he was getting cleaner looks than he had been early in the series.”

### Wade: "Tonight was probably our biggest win together for this team, a defining moment for this team."

Wade said this was the best he has ever seen James: "LeBron did it all tonight. He was locked in like I've never seen him before. We just gave him the ball and got out of the way. When he has it going that way, you want to keep feeding him. He's MVP and he's showcasing it on a nightly basis. It's a joy to watch. We have to help him a lot more.

"I tried to wait for my opportunity. I had a couple shots early that I missed that I normally make. My job early on was to try to make it tough on Rondo, so we didn't have to pull as many triggers. When it was called upon me to make a couple baskets, I was able to do it."

### Wade, looking ahead to Saturday night: "[Game 7] is going to be a knockout after knockout after knockout game. Hopefully, we're standing at the end. Certain shots hopefully I'll make that I missed tonight. If not, I'll still make an impact on the game. I'm not a one-dimensional player." 

### Mario Chalmers, on James: "He talked in shootaround how he wanted to lead us."

### Celtics coach Doc Rivers: "It was a matter of too much LeBron. He was absolutely sensational. Set the tone for their whole team. I didn't think we played him with a lot of force. He made great shots, but we can play better defense.... Our guys should take that very personal.... Now I hope you guys will stop talking about LeBron doesn't play [well] in big games. That's dead."

### More Rivers, on his team's dreadful showing: "We never established what we wanted to offensively. They played with more force. We missed a lot of open shots. It was fool's gold. It wasn't the shots we wanted, even if they were open. Give them credit [but] it was a lot of us. We didn't play like us. Each guy wanted to win the game for us. I didn't like the way we played offensively. All night, they were into our airspace and we allowed it. The ball just stuck most of the game. Paul Pierce will bounce back. He's a big-game player....

"The good news is we get to do it again. The bad news is we have to do it on the road. We're comfortable on the road. We're just going to have to play a hell of a game.... Did you hear our crowd the last three minutes of the game [cheering for the Celtics]? What other crowd in the NBA does that?"

Rivers said his players were still feeling confident about their chances in Game 7: "They're not just going to pack for Sunday. They're going to bring suits for Tuesday and Thursday [for the NBA Finals]." 

### Celtics guard Ray Allen: "We got in the locker-room after the game, and everyone talked about being better. There was a great sense of disappointment among everybody. Anger. But I know my guys will be ready next game."           

June 06, 2012

Barkley makes appeal to LeBron; Heat bashing intensifies; Spo explains questionable moves

Here's what some of the pundits were saying Wednesday about the Heat: 

### TNT’s Charles Barkley, who predicted the Heat will win the next two to take the series, delivered this message on national television Wednesday night: “LeBron James, I love watching you play. It’s time you do your thing. I’ve been telling people - they don’t believe me; they’re living in the past - it’s your team. You are the best basketball player in the world. It’s time for you to say, ‘Hey guys. Get on my back. We’re going to win Game 6. We’re going to win Game 7.’ Don’t defer to anybody. You are the best. Quit listening to all this [garbage] you hear from all these reporters. You are the man.”

### TNT’s Kenny Smith then cracked: “Is this some public service announcement? Forget about LeBron. When I look at the Heat, everyone says they’re choking. No, they are not choking. This is not choking basketball. They don’t have enough diversity in their offense. When Shaq and I said the Celtics would win in six games, there is a reason for that. What I see from the Celtics is diverse offensive and defensive schemes. LeBron and Dwyane Wade play great, but they don’t need each other. They play off of Chris Bosh better than they play off of each other.”

### ESPN’s Magic Johnson, reaching into his cliché bag, said: “My problem with Miami is they don’t have a will to win. Boston is stronger mentally, executes better and has Doc Rivers. He confused the Heat by switching defenses.”

### Shaq, on the Heat’s supporting cast: “Those other guys on Miami - you’all do know you get a paycheck, right? Feel free not to back up to the window with a blindfold on.”

### ESPN’s Jon Barry, on the Heat: “They’re front-runners. They point fingers at each other when things don’t go well. LeBron and Dwyane don’t complement one another.”

### ESPN’s Chris Broussard has been hammering Erik Spoelstra, including this rant on a Boston radio station Wednesday: “I don’t feel they’re well-coached. This team needs somebody with the credibility to kick them in the butt and make them perform and make them play with intensity – a Pat Riley, Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich, somebody of that ilk. Spoelstra is just in over his head. He never should have been put in charge of this situation. How about running a play like the Celtics do? Doc Rivers is coaching circles around Spoelstra just like Rick Carlisle did last year in the Finals.”


Joel Anthony goes from starting Game 4 to not playing in Game 5. Chris Bosh plays 10 productive first-half minutes, then just four the rest of the night. James Jones, out of the rotation for much of the season, logs more than eight minutes in the Heat’s most important fourth quarter of the year.

With some of his surprising lineup decisions, coach Erik Spoelstra has provided talking points for second-guessers.

Start with Bosh, who had nine points and six rebounds in his first game back from an abdominal strain. Asked Wednesday why Bosh did not play in the fourth quarter, Spoelstra said, “I didn’t think it would necessarily be fair to him to throw him in with three minutes to go.”

Pressed Thursday about why that was even an issue, Spoelstra said, “Those are decisions you have to make as a coach, and after the fact, those can always be second-guessed. But we’re treading in new waters, and he had been out quite a while.”

Bosh said Thursday “I feel like I had more to give” but added, “We had the right guys in at the right time. I can’t win everything in my first game back. Hopefully, I’ll be able to contribute a little more.”

Bosh, who said the fan ovation “made me feel special,” closed with nine points and seven rebounds, but the Heat was outscored by 12 with Bosh on the floor – the worst plus/minus of any Heat player in Game 5.

Spoelstra said Bosh will play more in Game 6 but would not say if he would start and added, “I don’t know how many minutes Chris will actually be able to play. It will be based more on how he feels.”

The Heat is 7-2 with Bosh and Udonis Haslem starting together (including 5-1 in the playoffs), and Spoelstra said that pairing “could happen. That’s an option to go back to some things we were doing before.” But Bosh, asked about that lineup, said, “I don’t think it’s the right time to tinker with things a lot.”

Spoelstra has used mostly a small lineup in this series, but said he wouldn’t be opposed to using two power rotation players together. That would lessen the need for Shane Battier to play power forward.

Bosh said he’s 99 percent healthy, and though he felt some soreness after Game 5, it was “nothing major. My timing is off a little. I made some mistakes. For the most part, I was trying to stay alert, be in the right spots. I will improve for Game 6 and make sure I don’t give up some points like I did. I had stamina. I’m fortunate to get one game under my belt before an elimination game.”

Celtics coach Doc Rivers said he was “very surprised how good Bosh looked.”

As for Anthony not playing, Spoelstra said only, “That’s the way the game played out.” Anthony has been the most effective of the Heat’s centers defending Kevin Garnett, limiting him to 44 percent shooting. Garnett is shooting 50 percent with Anthony off the floor.

The fact Jones played 16 minutes, compared to Mike Miller’s 10, was surprising, considering Miller was ahead of Jones in the rotation when healthy this season. Miller is shooting 44.4 percent in the series (12 for 27), Jones 35.7 percent (5 for 14)

Spoelstra said Jones played the first eight minutes of the fourth quarter – rare for him – to get Battier more rest. And also, “he was giving us some good spacing, was able to take Ray Allen.”


Ronny Turiaf missed Game 5 with a strained right groin and is questionable for Game 6 but seems unlikely to play regardless. 

### Spoelstra was asked about pundits saying he has been outcoached by Doc Rivers. “My focus isn’t on individual coaching matchups,” Spoelstra responded. It’s about preparing my team… Doc’s a championship coach.”

James, asked the same question, said: “We’re got a lot of respect for Spo and all the confidence he’s going to help us win.”

### Rivers dismissed the notion that the Heat faces more pressure in this series: “Our sense of urgency might at times be greater than theirs. If not greater, then the same. They’re put under pressure because of the urgency to get it right with this group. We’re put under pressure because our window is closing.”

### For my story previewing Thursday's Game 6 - with more Heat reaction from Thursday - click on our last post.

What the Heat was saying Wednesday, plus Game 6 preview

The championship-or-bust season sits on the precipice of disaster now, one loss from a summer of discontent and an avalanche of searing criticism.

Lose Game 6 Thursday in Boston, and Year Two of the Big Three era is done, and this franchise faces every question it wants to avoid: Why were its stars outperformed in the clutch? Should the Big Three be broken up? Should a coaching change be considered?

Win in Boston – where Miami has won just once in eight games the past two seasons, and once in its past 16 overall - and the Heat gets a 48-hour reprieve, until a series-deciding Game 7 on Saturday.

“There’s added pressure, but I think it will be a great thing for us,” Chris Bosh said Wednesday. “You really rise to the occasion when the pressure is there. Hopefully, this will be one of these moments where we look back and say, ‘Remember, we were down 3-2 going into Boston?’

“People on the outside think it’s easy. It’s the most difficult thing you have to do as a professional. We’re finding that out now. We’re going into one of the toughest places in the world.”

Though this Heat group lost its only previous playoff elimination game (against Dallas in the NBA Finals), Dwyane Wade said, “We normally respond really well to desperation. I never thought we would be in this situation. We have to play as close to perfection as possible.”

LeBron James, averaging 31.8 points and 10.0 rebounds in the series, is 2-9 in playoff games in Boston (1-3 as a member of the Heat) since the Celtics put together their Big Three in 2007.

“I know how much pain this team has given me over the years,” James said. “It’s only right we go up there in an elimination game. I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself to come through.”

Through five games, the Heat still hasn’t solved vexing problems. Among them:

### The Celtics are disrupting the Heat’s offense by switching defensive schemes. Miami scored 16 points in 13 possessions against the zone Wednesday (a good ratio), but the double teams and the mixing of coverages – combined with errant Heat shooting – have led to several exasperating droughts.

Not only has Miami averaged 90.7 points and shot 43.5 percent in the past three games – compared to 98.5 and 46.9 in the regular season – but of the past 12 quarters, the Heat has scored between 14 and 21 points in eight of them, plus two points in the Game 4 overtime.

“They’re a good defensive team,” Wade said. “We’re not going to say we just missed shots.”

And this should not be understated: During the regular season, the Heat shot 290 more free throws than Boston, with Miami eighth in the league in attempts and Boston 27th. But the Celtics have taken more the past three games (73 to 69). And Miami is shooting 66.9 percent from the foul line, well below its 77.5 season mark.

Also, Miami has been over-reliant on three-pointers, making 18 of 62 the past three games and shooting them at a 29.2 percent clip in the series, down seven points from the regular season.

### Inability to control Rajon Rondo (20.6 points, 11.0 assists in this series) or Kevin Garnett (21.6 points, 10.8 rebounds). Even on a night when Rondo shot 3 for 15, he created havoc with 13 assists, seven of which resulted in dunks or layups.

Since Game 3, the Celtics have carved out passing angles to get Garnett the ball at the rim, often against an undersized defender.

Perhaps 6-11 Bosh, who played 14 minutes in his first game back, can make a difference in Game 6. Coach Erik Spoelstra said Bosh “will be able to handle a bigger load” Thursday but was non-committal about starting him.

### Clutch play. In the final five minutes of the fourth quarter (plus overtime) in games with a margin of five or less, the Celtics are 10 for 21 in the past two games, the Heat 7 of 24.

And over the entire playoffs, the Celtics are shooting 50 percent in that scenario (48 for 96), compared with 36.5 percent for the Heat (23 for 63).

And consider: While Paul Pierce is shooting 63.2 percent (12 for 19) and Rondo 51.6 (16 for 31) in those clutch minutes, James is at 31.6 percent (6 for 19) and Wade 40 percent (8 for 20).

### Wade’s poor first halves, a constant the past four games. Wade scored seven points in the first 4:22 of Game 5 but didn’t score again before halftime, closing the half 3 for 9. During the series, Wade is 11 for 40 in the first half, for 29 points - compared with 81 points after halftime, including 20 in Game 5.

### Inconsistent work from Miami’s role players. Aside from Udonis Haslem (31 rebounds the past two games), the ensemble’s play has been typically erratic.

“At this point, it’s not about schemes [or] play-calling,” Wade said. “It’s about mano-a-mano and see who comes out and wants it the most.”