|After a rough Game 3, Dwyane Wade bounces back to score 30 points in Game 4. (US Presswire)|
INDIANAPOLIS -- You wonder why LeBron James and Dwyane Wade don't do this every game. Or at least every playoff game, like the one a few days ago. I'm not talking about the points or rebounds or assists they had Sunday, so don't be like Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and confuse -- or avoid -- the issue.
I'm talking about the very thing Spoelstra was talking about after the Heat's 101-93 victory against the Pacers in Game 4. Spoelstra talked about the "force" and the "will" shown by his best two players, who happen to be this playoff series' best two players.
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James had 40 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists. Wade had 30 points, nine rebounds and six assists. In one stretch of sublime basketball spanning late in the second quarter to midway through the fourth, James and Wade scored 49 of Miami's 51 points.
Read that again.
Over a stretch of nearly half this game, Wade and James scored 49 of their team's 51 points. In that same stretch, the Pacers scored 43 points. For half the game, Wade and James were damn near playing the Pacers by themselves. And they were winning.
They were ridiculously good, but they were ridiculously good because they wanted to be ridiculously good -- unlike in Game 3, when Wade didn't give a crap. James played better than Wade in Game 3, but he didn't play like he played Sunday, attacking the rim, waving teammates out of the way so he and Wade could go two-on-five and win this thing by themselves.
I'm talking about force. I'm talking about will. The same things Spoelstra was talking about when he said of Wade and James, "They were tremendous tonight with their force and their will."
After Spoelstra said that, I asked him a question that went something like this: "You mentioned the 'force' and 'will' LeBron and Wade played with today. Why don't we see that more often?"
Spoelstra answered my question with one of his own:
"Did you play this game?"
Not in the NBA, no. Neither did Spoelstra. But he did go to college, and he is a smart guy, which means he's intellectually quick enough to duck my question about the desire of his best two players -- specifically Wade, who was listless and apathetic in Game 3 -- and turn the spotlight back on the media. Which is fine. Heat fans will love Spoelstra's response, the way he stuck it to me, and I don't really mind it. He gave me a story, didn't he? As if LeBron and Wade didn't give me one, give all of us one, with their dominant show of force and will.
Again, this wasn't about making baskets. Shots come and go. They fall, or they don't. But effort is a choice -- "force" is a choice, "will" is a choice -- and when LeBron and Wade choose to bring it, they're unstoppable.
LeBron is a force of nature unlike any the NBA has ever seen. Wade isn't in that ballpark, but he's one of the most athletic, explosive guards in the NBA. When they're attacking the rim in tandem, they're creating for each other layups and dunks and shots that do fall every time. And when those shots are falling, the other shots are falling, too -- heat-check shots like the 3-pointer Wade chucked in the third quarter after he fell down, salvaged the possession by trickling the ball to James, then got the ball back 25 feet from the basket and just, you know, chucked it. Because he was feeling it, after all those dunks and layups.
The first dunk came late in the first half, the Pacers leading 50-43. To that point, Game 4 "almost felt like Game 3 again," James said. But as Wade cut from the corner to the rim, James hit him with a bounce pass and Wade dunked it. A few seconds later they were in the locker room, and Wade was thanking James.
"I told him at halftime, I needed that," Wade said. "Getting that dunk, seeing that ball go through, was big for me."
Crazy big. After missing 17 of 20 shots dating to Game 3, Wade heated up late in the second quarter of Game 4, hitting eight of his next nine shots. There was a step-back 3-pointer, the dunk, a post-up jumper, another dunk. Then came the 3-pointer after he slipped, and a floater, and now a 10-point Pacers lead was an 82-79 edge for the Heat, and Wade was feeling unstoppable. He tried to attack the rim, lost control of the ball and saw it bounce back toward the perimeter. He went back to retrieve it, and then -- ah, the hell with it -- hoisted a contested 17-footer. Because he could. And he made it, because he's that good.
He's that good, that is, when he plays with "force" and "will."
So why doesn't it happen more often? I asked LeBron that. LeBron lowered his face, wouldn't look at me, and muttered something like, "Game 4 is what we're here for."
Later, though, James conceded that he played harder in Game 4 than he had in Game 3, when he never tried to dominate -- and therefore, didn't. James finished Game 3 with 22 points, seven rebounds and three assists. He showed no will, no force, and the Heat were blown out on Thursday. So on Sunday, James said, "They killed us on the glass in Game 3. I felt like I had to be more aggressive."
And it was beautiful. James was soaring over everyone, even 7-foot-2 Pacers center Roy Hibbert, to snatch the defensive rebound, pivot and lead the fastbreak himself. For me, the most memorable image from Game 4 was James crossing midcourt, spotting Wade in the left corner and heading that way. Heat forward Shane Battier also headed in that direction to set a screen, but James waved him away -- angrily, like, "get out of here" -- and then attacked the rim, leading to the sequence that set up Wade for his confidence-building dunk.
It was force. It was will. It was missing in Game 3. I asked Spoelstra why, and after he played the "you never played" card, he actually tried to answer.
"That's an aggressive, physical team," he said of the Pacers. "You have to do a lot of different things. It's not as if [Wade and James] can attack and get through them like tissue paper. It's not easy."
It sure looked that way for much of Sunday. Maybe that's the hardest part of being LeBron James and Dwyane Wade -- they're so good, when they play with "force" and "will," that they make it look easy.
Why don't they make it look easy more often? Seems like a decent question to me, but then, I played as many minutes in the NBA as Erik Spoelstra. And I've won as many NBA titles.