MIAMI -- The Miami Heat are absolutely terrifying closing out games.
That's something my colleague Matt Moore said Tuesday night as the Heat steamrolled past the Mavericks in the final five minutes of Game 1.
But that's also something no one on this planet was saying four months ago. At that time, it was about how Miami couldn't close. It was all about how they were something like 2-17 on shots with the game within a possession in the final minute. It was all about their sub-par record in games decided by six or less.
Now look at them. Closing games like they're Mariano Rivera. Amazing how talented people committed to their craft and willing to work hard can, you know, improve and stuff.
They've found an incredible rhythm and a superior confidence in what they're doing. All five players walk to the same beat in those crunch time minutes. LeBron has sort of elevated himself to the closer role for the Heat, handling the ball and finishing out games. But still there's nothing about who should be taking the shots or who should be controlling the offense. It's just about getting it done.
And lately, man have they been getting it done.
Twelve-point deficit in Chicago? No problem. Five-point game with four minutes left? Let's double it. In February, all anyone could talk about is what a disaster this was in terms of finishing games. The Heat didn't know where to go with the ball, they didn't know roles. Now, they're figuring it out.
And it makes them terrifying.
Here's the thing though: Why are the Heat being praised for this seemingly selfless deferral to one another? It's simple: Because it's working. The times back in February where LeBron was hoisting shots while Dwyane Wade stood idly by, the outrage of not letting Wade close was overwhelming. But it's clicking now, it's producing results. And so instantly it becomes the model when in reality, nothing was ever that different.
A lot though is stemming from a more visible willingness by Wade to step aside. He's not intent on being The Closer anymore. He just wants to be part of a team that closes. Which is what it takes to win. Which is what is most important.
"Obviously myself, Chris and LeBron are going to be the focal point of the offense at the end," he said. "You can see guys getting more comfortable in their roles. Normally I was the guy here in Miami that at the end of games I always had the ball in my hand. So it took me time to get comfortable with that and get comfortable saying 'all right, LeBron, you take it.' And that's part of wanting to win and wanting to do whatever it takes to win. That's another part of putting pride and ego aside, figuring out what's best for the team."
The Heat, for all the criticism aimed at them all year, have absolutely sacrificed. They aren't selfish. It's about winning by whatever means necessary. There isn't any talk among them about who should take this shot or that shot. No talk about the box score and that LeBron took nine more shots than Wade. It's about winning. No alpha dog battles. That team said they were going to sacrifice and do whatever it took to win. Well, they're three wins away now and it looks like their plan is working.
That didn't come overnight though. That came through a lot of hard work. And a lot of failure. Here, it's better if LeBron says it.
"It comes from failure throughout the season," he said. "Having games where we felt like we could or should have won and we just didn't execute ... Once we figured out how we were going to do it together for the better of the team, we started to close games out, figure things out, figure out certain sets that would work for us in late-game situations."
Said Erik Spoelstra: "It took time. I think the more time you're in these experiences, and we have been in a lot of close games, particularly in the playoffs, the more confident the guys get."
Spoelstra's quote reminds me of a quote from Thunder general manager Sam Presti's the other day. Improvement isn't a result of time elapsed, but it’s actually what’s been accumulated, what’s been experienced within that time. The Heat experienced a crapton of stuff this season. It was a crash course in playing together and figuring out what works and what doesn't. And really, considering the circumstances, I'd say they've done a pretty remarkable job.
They're closing games with impressive style. Now, it's about closing a series. They've got a leg up on the Mavericks 1-0. As goes anything with the Heat, one time of failure and all this goodwill flies out the door. One time of not closing and finishing poorly and everyone is ready to write and talk about their problems.
But right now, they're terrifying. And that's the truth.