MIAMI -- When Pat Riley became the head coach of the Miami Heat in 1995 he wanted to instill a defensive identity within the franchise.
Sixteen years later with Riley serving as team president and his disciple Erik Spoelstra on the sidelines, the Heat have maintained their defensive identity.
And it's their focus on the defensive end of the court, not their alley-oops and highlight-reel plays on offense, that will carry them in the playoffs.
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"We have a staple here in Miami since I've been here and before I got here they always preached defense," Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. "It's a philosophy. It's every man to help their brothers out. The defense is all about being on a string and even when we wasn't as good offensively as a lot of teams, even the last couple of years were one of the top defensive teams in the league.
"Our defense always gave us a chance to win. So now add talent to that on the offensive end and then defensively, good defenders to our scheme. It took a little while for it to come together because everyone had to get used to what we were doing and I think we are one of the best defensive teams in the league."
The Heat, which finished sixth in the league in scoring defense and second in field goal percentage allowed, made an emphatic statement Monday with a 94-73 win over the Philadelphia 76ers to lead 2-0 in the first round best-of-7 series.
"We've had good defensive performances, but I'd have to say that I think today was so far our best of the season," Heat forward Chris Bosh said.
Philly struggled throughout the night as the Heat kept the clamps on the Sixers, holding them to 34 percent shooting -- 26 percent in the first half, which was a Heat franchise-playoff record. The 73 points were the seventh-lowest total by a Heat opponent in postseason history.
"We were just in tune from the start," Heat forward LeBron James said. "We knew we had to come out from the start defensively. Last game they missed their first two shots and then went for 17 straight points so we knew we had to be in tune with the gameplan right from the jump and we did a great job of holding them well below their season averages."
There were a number of key defensive plays in the game, but none impacted the crowd as much as when Joel Anthony blocked back-to-back shots by Thaddeus Young, resulting in a breakout by Wade with Mario Chalmers flanked out to his left, James to his right. Wade threw a no-look pass to Chalmers who lofted an alley-oop to James, who slammed down a thunderous one-handed dunk over Jrue Holiday.
The sellout crowd of 20,204 erupted as the dunk gave Miami a 37-23 lead in the second quarter.
"To be able to block that shot, everybody is already excited for that and to come back on the other end for Mario to hit LeBron for that lob, the arena really just exploded," Anthony said. "To have that type of energy is just so big for our team, our fans have been great."
Anthony, who averaged just two points a game during the season, has proved to be a key piece of the puzzle for the Heat as his role has been focused on the defensive end of the court. The fans have recognized his efforts, which included scoring four points, grabbing six rebounds, and blocking three shots off the bench, by chanting "M-V-P" when he shoots free throws.
"I didn't have to do a double-take," said Bosh of Anthony's praise. "He is awesome. We know he is a good player. I think this is good for his confidence really."
"He's done a great job with his role," James said. "He's a presence at the rim that we needed. Anytime guys are coming down in the paint it makes them change their shot or a different shot, maybe going from a straight layup to a floater. I can hear them out there saying, 'where's he coming from' and things like that. His athleticism, his quickness off the ground, and just his determination to not allow a layup or allow anything to happen on the defensive end really helps our defense."
When James, a two-time all-league defender, and Bosh decided to join forces with Wade in Miami, they knew that defense was synonymous with the Miami Heat and vice versa.
In describing Miami's defensive philosophy, James compared it to his childhood days when riding a bicycle.
"It's just like a bike chain on a pedal bike," James said. "If one of the chains just get off a little bit off the bike chain then it snaps. Now you can't ride it anymore. It all works together."
"Being on a string" is a phrase that Spoelstra preaches to his team, which describes the responsibilities of rotating on defense to keep their opponents from getting an open look. Wade, who has earned all-league defensive team honors three times, has had the Heat's defensive philosophy enforced to him since he was drafted by the Heat back in 2003.
"It's a whole team thing," Wade said. "We never look at someone and say, 'individually you got hit for 30 tonight'. It's always we need to do a better job as a team to make sure them guys don't go off for big nights."
Alonzo Mourning was the face of the franchise while Riley built its defensive identity. Tim Hardaway, P.J. Brown, Dan Majerle, Bruce Bowen, Brian Grant, Eddie Jones, Udonis Haslem, Gary Payton, James Posey, and Wade ensued as strong defenders. Now, James, Bosh, and Anthony are following suit.
Miami will take the day off on Tuesday and will be looking to take a commanding 3-0 lead on Thursday in Philadelphia.
"Speed kills in this league," Spoelstra said. "So you have to keep on putting your foot on the pedal and keep putting the pressure on."
It begins with defense. It started with Riley.