Miami Heat: Why We Flipped and Flopped To Their Championship

Jun 20, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; A meeting between old-school and new-school? NBA great Bill Russell presents the MVP trophy to LeBron James after the Miami Heat defeated the San Antonio Spurs in game seven in the 2013 NBA Finals 95-88. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

LeBron James called it even more difficult than last year’s run that went through the Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder.

“This team is amazing,” he said. “And the vision that I had when I decided to come here is all coming true.”

The Miami Heat have won the NBA Championship, and almost as importantly, participated in one the greatest single series in sports history. It took a physical and exhausting seven-game Eastern Conference Finals series against the Indiana Pacers. It took one of the most perfectly played NBA Finals in the history of the Association.

Dwyane Wade said “This was the hardest series we ever had to play.”

Exhausting it was for the Heat. Clearly exhausting it was for the Spurs. And exhausting it was for everyone that watched.

And during a championship run that seems like it lasted a bazillion years, viewers waffled back and forth between whether or not this Heat team had what it took to win it.

After trading games with the Pacers and Spurs, talking heads and diehard fans traded opinions with themselves. We thought: “This team needs a true big man to stop Roy Hibbert.” We thought: “Dwyane Wade is done. LeBron needs a new number two.” We thought: “Small ball won’t work.” We thought: “LeBron can’t carry this team.”

We thought wrong. And that vision LeBron had? Well, he was right.

Fundamental vs. Unconventional

But why do we flip-flop more often than Ricky Williams deciding between Orange Juice and Orange Kush? Because the Heat are unconventional. Because they flipped everything we knew about basketball and flopped to great defense (That’s unfair. Their blitz-and-help defense is the best in the NBA, but they mastered the art of flopping.).

More so than any other great team, this Miami Heat team forced us to scratch our collective head more than Miss Utah does whenever she speaks.

Speaking of head scratching, the team’s only effective true center is, well, Birdman; a finesse power forward is forced to play center; ex-shooting guards are transformed into stretch fours; two wing players, that thrive in the post, are the main scorers; and Mario Chalmers.

A basketball team should look more like the San Antonio Spurs, right? Power forward Tim Duncan plays great technical basketball and is best in the post. Small forward Kawhi Leonard can rebound, defend well and shoot from the perimeter. Shooting guards Danny Green and Manu Ginobli are scorers first. The offense runs through point guard Tony Parker, who can slash and float and pass and lead the team.

So when the Spurs lose, no one doubts them. The Spurs lose because they don’t shoot or execute well in a game. That’s how we approach most games by most teams.

Yes, it’s partly because they’re not the Hollywood Heat. They’re the San Antonio Spurs, who are sometimes harder to talk about than abortion. But it’s also because the Spurs are “fundamental.” The Heat, on the contrary, are “unconventional.”

Bosh Paradox (Or ParaBosh)

Jun 20, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; San Antonio Spurs power forward Tim Duncan (21) looks to drive against Miami Heat center Chris Bosh (1) during the third quarter of game seven in the 2013 NBA Finals at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

But when the Heat lose? Trade Chris Bosh. It always seems to fall on Bosh’s shoulders. Why? Because he is a small forward, playing in the body of a power forward, playing in the position of a center.

And it works! He scored zero points in Game 7, but he defended Tim Duncan and the deadly San Antonio pick-and-roll well enough to allow the Heat to cover up the Spurs’ perimeter shooters. It worked during a 27-game win streak. It worked enough to win two titles.

Bosh can score from just about anywhere on the floor, and that versatility creates spacing that allows James and Wade to get to their spots. You’ve heard this a million times, but it is a system carefully crafted by Erik Spoelstra and LeBron James over the course of three seasons, and will undoubtedly go through more tweaking this summer.

Now, then, why would the Heat trade Bosh? They probably won’t be making any phone calls, but other teams might — and probably will. The Heat will not move Bosh in a lateral move. If the Heat move Bosh, it will be to improve the team, a deal won’t be focused on draft picks or role players. The Heat will have to get an offer they can’t refuse, and that will convince LeBron to keep his talents in South Beach in 2014.

My educated guess is Bosh and his seemingly unending road of jokes at his expense remains in Miami.

Long Live Small Ball

The Heat were this close to losing everything, and possibly blowing it up, ditching three years of craft and work for the conventional.

But when Spoelstra met with then-Oregon head coach Chip Kelly in 2011, I believe what he learned was, just like Kelly’s spread, everyone in play is a threat to score. I don’t have information proving this is true, but it’s my hypothesis. And that, I believe, is the mission statement behind the small-ball system of the Heat.

That crafting, tweaking, moving, stressing, flipping and flopping was all validated with Thursday’s defeat of the San Antonio Spurs — with the Heat’s second NBA Championship. And so, small ball, and the Miami Heat, lives on.

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