He might have been the dinner guest at Chris Bosh’s house the night before Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, but it was Dwyane Wade who served up a plateful of perspective to his host.
Bosh, who scored just five points in Game 6 against the Pacers, needed some encouragement. Wade, going through his own struggles, probably needed a pep talk himself, but the eve before the biggest game of the postseason was no time for a collective pity party.
“Chris, it didn’t matter if you scored 30 points a game up until this point,” Wade said that night. “If you get in Game 7 and score two points and we lose, you’ll feel just as bad or worse than you feel now. So it’s all about Game 7, man. It’s all about this moment. Let’s do whatever we can, do what we’ve got to do until things turn around for us.”
Bosh responded. So did Wade. And now a new banner is being fashioned for the rafters of AmericanAirlines Arena.
Conference championships are nice, but rings are the only things that matter in Miami. Simply put, for the Heat to defeat the Spurs in The Finals, and repeat as NBA champions, Wade and Bosh will have to rejoin the triumvirate alongside LeBron James. The Big 3 was put together to make history, and it is going to take a historic effort to knock off a San Antonio team that has gone 12-2 in the playoffs, rolled through the Western Conference finals in four games and has had nine days to rest and prepare. Wade’s knee is a constant bother and Bosh’s ankle, which he sprained against the Pacers, still isn’t right, but the confidence had better be back.
“I thought [Bosh’s] mind-set of being aggressive was a change to hopefully bring into this series, and my mind-set as well,” Wade said. “So hopefully there was a turning point. If not, doing whatever we can to make sure we’re part of the team and helping our teammates to win this championship that we’re trying to get.”
Wade is averaging 14.1 points per game in the playoffs and Bosh’s average stands at 12.3. Both are career postseason lows. And while Wade and Bosh limped through the Eastern Conference finals, the Spurs were busy dissecting film on what Indiana did so well to limit two-thirds of the Heat’s core. Of course, that’s no secret. The Pacers closed the talent gap with physical play and a big front line.
The Finals will be the height of competition in professional basketball but don’t expect it to get nasty like the Eastern Conference finals. The Finals Media Day at AmericanAirlines Arena on Wednesday was a love fest. Both teams displayed a level of respect for their opponents that bordered on fandom.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he “can’t help” but still refer to Heat president Pat Riley as “Coach Riley,” and explained why he called Riley on the phone back in 2010 to congratulate him on signing James, Wade and Bosh.
“I guess he’s Executive Coach Riley and all that, slash whatever,” Popovich said. “But he’s been a competitor obviously his whole career since he was a player in college and beyond. He put together a team fairly, within the rules, that is a monster. So why wouldn’t he get credit for that? Why wouldn’t you congratulate him for that?”
Sometimes combative and sometimes comedian, Popovich is always entertaining during his news conferences, and he didn’t disappoint at Media Day. How have the Spurs been able to remain competitive with an older core of stars in an ever-changing NBA? Popovich said Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker aren’t jerks.
“I think that it’s a real simple answer. Nobody really likes it. They want me to say something different. It’s a total function of who those three guys are,” Popovich said. “What if they were jerks? What if they were selfish? What if one of them was, you know, unintelligent? If, if, if.
“But the way it works out, all three of them are highly intelligent. They all have great character. They appreciate their teammates’ success. They feel responsible to each other.”
As for matchups in the series, Popovich and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said the NBA’s championship round is no time to begin experimenting. They will stick what got them here, which for the Heat is an attacking offense geared toward getting to the free-throw line and creating open shots from the three-point line. The Spurs’ game is similar but runs through Parker, the point guard, who averaged 24.5 points and 9.5 assists in the Western Conference finals.
The Heat might tinker with its adjustments for Game 1, but don’t expect any major differences in the team’s approach for the Spurs compared to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals. From the Heat’s perspective, what worked in Game 7 — aggressiveness inside the paint — will work against any opponent.
“What we do know is how we’re going to play,” James said. “We’re going to play our game. We’re going to share the ball. We’re going to attack, try to get to the free-throw line. And with that attack, myself, Wade, Bosh are the key ingredients to that attack.”
James was 15 of 16 from the free-throw line in Game 7 and Wade was 7 of 7. Overall, the Heat attempted 18 more free throws than the Pacers in the final game of the series. In addition to the free throws, James made a point to get his teammates involved early, something he likely will do in Game 1 against San Antonio. James’ teammates had 11 attempts before he took his first shot in Game 7 against Indiana. Bosh had eight shots in the first quarter and Wade was focal point from the opening tip.
Getting the ball to Bosh and Wade early in Game 1 will be a priority, but James said adjustments would evolve as the series progresses. Bosh struggled against the Pacers’ relentless defense, but that might not be the case against the Spurs.
“Every team we play causes different problems from Milwaukee to Chicago to Indiana and now San Antonio,” James said. “So we don’t actually know until the series begins.”
Whatever the Spurs’ defense throws at the Heat, James said pressure would not be a problem after trips to The Finals in 2011 and 2012.
“These guys have been to The Finals,” James said. “D-Wade has two rings. [Bosh] has one. We’ve been in this position before. They know how to play.”
And if they somehow forget, another dinner party or two might not be a bad idea.