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May 23, 2012
Playoff Prospectus
Witnessing Greatness

by Dan Feldman

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at Miami 115, Indiana 83 (Miami leads, 3-2)
Pace: 88.3
Offensive Ratings: Miami 135.0, Indiana 90.9

Not enough of this series has been spent discussing how great LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are.

That likely won't change anytime soon, as flagrant fouls have overshadowed a second straight dominant performance by LeBron and Wade. Rather than celebrating Miami's 32-point win--its largest since a 33-point win in Game 1 against the Knicks, a team nowhere near as good as the Pacers--Dexter Pittman and Udonis Haslem have stolen the spotlight.

Pittman was called for a flagrant foul in the final seconds for a forearm shiver to the neck of Lance Stephenson, who made a choke gesture to LeBron in Game 3. Haslem also hacked Tyler Hansbrough in the head with both arms--potentially in response to a much tamer flagrant foul committed by Hansbrough on Wade moments earlier.

Neither was a basketball play, which is unfortunate, because the basketball played was excellent.

Until Sunday, the question had been, how can the Heat survive without Chris Bosh? Now, if Miami advances to the point Bosh returns--and it appears increasingly likely--the question will become, How will Bosh integrate with LeBron and Wade?

Chris Bosh is a fine player, maybe even underrated considering he plays with two of the NBA's best. But--what was obvious until Miami stumbled a bit with him out--Bosh is the team's third-best and third-most-important player. Games 4 and 5 of this series have reminded us of LeBron's and Wade's greatness.

In Game 6, LeBron (30 points on 12-of-19 shooting, 10 rebounds and eight assists) and Wade (28 points on 10-of-17 shooting) pushed each other. Whether it was off turnovers or long rebounds, both got the ball into transition, where they converted easy baskets. LeBron made 6-of-6 shots within the restricted area, and Wade shot 7-of-10 in the paint.

Miami outscored Indiana in the paint, 46-26, and in transition, 22-2. Those LeBron-and-Wade-fueled numbers alone would have been enough to beat the Pacers. But unlike Game 3, when LeBron and Wade dominated but Indiana stayed close, they had a sidekick.

The thinking goes that, with time to use its annual salary-cap exceptions, Miami just needs a couple years to raise its payroll and put viable support that fits around the Big Three. But that process has already begun, and it started with Shane Battier taking the mid-level exception in December.

Not only did Battier make all the little plays he's know for--deflecting a pass here, knocking a ball loose there--he scored 13 points, his most since March 2 and third-highest total with the Heat. It took Battier fewer than seven minutes Tuesday to score nine points, all on three-pointers assisted by LeBron (as was Battier's final three-pointer), and best the eight points he had scored in the first five games combined.

Entering the game, Battier had shot 2-of-12 on three-pointers (16.7 percent) in the series, a problem the Heat shared. Miami shot 10-of-54 (18.5 percent) in Game 1 through Game 5. But thanks in part to James Jones--2-of-3 Tuesday after an 0-of-7 start to the series--the Heat made 9-of-16 three-pointers (56.3).

Really, Miami's entire offense elevated. The Heat shot 61.4 percent--the highest in a playoff game since the Orlando Magic shot 62.5 percent in Game 3 of the 2009 Finals.

On the other hand, Indiana's offense was atrocious, but this game was less about the Pacers and more about what Miami did to them. The Heat forced Indiana into too many bad shots late in the shot clock, and the Pacers didn't make enough of their good shots. Indiana finished with a field-goal percentage of 33.7.

It didn't help that Danny Granger (the team's best offensive option Tuesday) and David West (usually more dependable when not facing Battier's best defense on him of the series) left the game early with injuries. Their availability in Game 6 will be crucial.

Also keep an eye on whether Haslem's flagrant-one is upgraded to a flagrant-two and causes him to miss a game—which I bet that will happen. Pittman is even more likely to face suspension, though he won't affect the rest of the series, anyway.

But as LeBron and Wade have shown in the last two games, they don't need much help for Miami to win--though, it's certainly much easier when they get it.

Dan Feldman is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Dan by clicking here or click here to see Dan's other articles.

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