Can Wade and the Heat flip the switch?
April, 10, 2012
By Brian Windhorst
AP Photo/Charles Krupa
Miami seems to show more intensity without Wade. Finding the same spark with him hasn't been easy.
MIAMI – Next up on the Miami Heat’s redemption homestand: the Boston Celtics.
After a week of misery on the road that had them getting outclassed by the Oklahoma City Thunder and then the Celtics on back-to-back weekends, the Heat have attempted to restore some of their dignity during the last week at home.
They got the Thunder back with a high-energy victory in Miami last week. Wednesday night it’s a chance to have some sort of comeback after the Heat were humbled in a 19-point loss in Boston, where they managed a measly 72 points on April Fool’s Day.
“It pissed us off really,” Chris Bosh said of that Celtics loss. “Sometimes you need a thumping to put things in perspective.”
While that sort of sounds like the Henry Hill character from Goodfellas – “everybody takes a beating sometime” – what happened in Boston and Oklahoma City and the Heat’s collective reaction to it has been a theme to this season.
The Heat sure sound like they’ve got some motivation to avenge that Celtics beating – “We’re looking forward to playing them again, they pretty much did whatever they wanted to us in Boston,” LeBron James said – and it begs a question.
Being that the Celtics are one of the most respected teams in the league, why did the Heat approach that game in Boston with so little intensity? Why did it take such a loss to fire them up, apparently the same way it happened against the Thunder after a lackluster effort on Oklahoma served to fire them up 10 days later?
The answer can be seen in another phenomenon of the season. After beating the Detroit Pistons Sunday night, the Heat are now 10-1 this season playing without Dwyane Wade. In that blowout win, the Heat played what looked like their most defensive energy in several weeks while both James and Bosh came out much more aggressive than usual as they combined to score 48 points just basically just three quarters.
How can it be explained that the Heat appear to approach a game against the Pistons with more focus than the game a week earlier in Boston, where they looked both flat and lethargic on a stage when you would expect the exact opposite? Allow Bosh to break it down with some honesty.
“The urgency does go up a long more when we don’t have Dwyane in there,” Bosh said.
“Our challenge all year has been to play that same way with him on the court and that’s really the last frontier for us. If we bring that same sense of urgency when he’s out there I think that’ll be good for us. We’ve done it in spurts but we haven’t done it consistently. In order to win a title I think that’s the level we’re going to have to play at.”
For whatever reason, the Heat have become a team that does not play with the same intensity on a regular basis. In fairness, no team does. That’s why even the best teams year after year usually lose at least a fourth of their games. But normally teams get up for certain opponents and even in those eventual losses go down with more pride.
The Heat have had their moments, but the second half of the season has been defined by not just inconsistent play but inconsistent aggression. It’s better known as the “flip the switch” mentality that has been something talented teams have battled for years at all levels. Some of those teams have proven than can indeed flip the switch enough to win championships. For others it’s a bad habit that costs them a title.
“We all have an extra gear we go to when one of our guns is out,” James said. “We’ve been able to step up when we need to.”
Wade, however, will be back for the Celtics. So which James will be ready for the Celtics? The one that had no assists and managed just two free throws in the loss in Boston or the one who scored 41 points and got to the foul line 13 times two days afterward when Wade skipped a game against the Philadelphia 76ers?
Over the last few weeks as they have amped up for the playoffs and taken over the Atlantic Division lead, the Celtics’ defense has tightened and they have leapt in the rankings. They now lead the NBA in defensive field goal percentage and defensive efficiency. Smothering the Heat was perhaps their finest defensive outing of the season.
Not to mention that Rajon Rondo is on a historic run of 17 straight games with 10 assists or more, putting the teeth back in Boston’s offense. He put up a triple double against the Heat in the last meeting.
With all that going on the Celtics promise to be a challenging opponent again. This time, though, it sounds like the Heat plan to flip the switch and join the fight.
“We’re going to come out and do a much better job,” Bosh said. “We’re trying to fix everything and get back to the level we were playing at.”