The Miami Heat erased a late deficit and got a couple of key defensive stops to pull off a 96-94 win at AmericanAirlines Arena and eliminate the Brooklyn Nets 4-1 in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Heat advance to the Conference Finals to take on the winner of the Pacers-Wizards series.
• LeBron closed, Wade stepped up early. The goal for Miami was clear: beat Brooklyn and earn an extended rest period before taking on either the Pacers or the Wizards in the Eastern Conference Finals. It seemed simple enough. LeBron James almost singlehandedly took down Brooklyn in Game 4 Monday, scoring 49 points in a performance for the ages. When it came to delivering the knockout blow, the assumption was that James would come through again.
LeBron was nowhere near as dominant in Game 5 as he was in Game 4, but he stepped up in crunch time and got enough help to help Miami end the series and advance into the third round. James scored 29 points, grabbed nine rebounds, dished out seven assists and made some key defensive plays down the stretch to help Miami rip off a 12-0 run and erase a nine-point deficit. It was another terrific performance in a long line of them for James.
For as good as James was, though, Dwyane Wade's contributions were similarly impressive. The Nets made things difficult for James in the paint in the first half, and Wade proved a reliable source of offense for Miami. He stressed Brooklyn's defense by attacking the basket and scored 20 points before the break, more than any other player. Wade finished with 28 (on 10-of-18 shooting) in 37 minutes – both postseason highs.
One of the biggest questions surrounding Miami all season was whether Wade, with his declining athleticism and health issues, would hold up in the postseason. He’s not the Wade of eight years ago, and he certainly can’t be relied upon to score 28 points every game this postseason. But Wade's value to this team is remains undeniable.
• Don't overlook Joe Johnson's big night. Joe Johnson is a quality scorer, but his critics routinely point out that he's one of the most overpaid players in the NBA. It may be a fair critique, but on Wednesday, ISO Joe, as they like to call him, was simply brilliant.
With his team facing elimination, Johnson erupted for 34 points on 15-of-23 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds. Twenty-four of his points came during the second half, including seven during an important stretch of the fourth quarter to push the Nets’ lead to eight with less than five minutes remaining.
Johnson burned Miami’s defense on the perimeter and inside. He powered into the lane for layups and stepped back to knock down jump shots. He silenced the crowd and stared down Miami’s bench. He drained tough shot after tough shot. Miami threw different defenders at Johnson and it didn’t seem to matter.
Johnson was so locked in at one point, it was frustrating to see Nets' possessions end with someone else taking a shot. Even James was having trouble guarding him.But it wasn’t all rosy for the Nets' star.
With under two minutes remaining and the Nets leading by three, Johnson was blocked by James, who on the ensuing possession drew a foul and knocked down both free throws to cut Brooklyn’s lead to one. Johnson buried a three late to keep the Nets in it after Ray Allen’s trey gave Miami a two-point lead (more on that below), but James bested him again on the Nets’ final possession.
The referees seemed to miss a foul on James that would have sent Paul Pierce to the line for two free throws, but the Nets kept possession, and Johnson tried to dribble into the paint as the clock wound down. The buzzer sounded after James, with some help from Allen, stripped the ball. James celebrated by hopping on the scorer’s table and triumphantly pounding his chest.
• Ray Allen's big shot. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Ray Allen drills a big shot late in a playoff game. You remember this play from Game 6 of last year’s Finals. No one will write a lengthy magazine feature about Allen’s trey from the left corner in the final minute of Game 5 Wednesday night, but it definitely deserves your attention.
As James dribbled toward the three-point arc, Mario Chalmers flashed to the top of the key. Chalmers rose for a jump shot, and Shaun Livingston ran out and raised his left arm to contest, at which point Chalmers swung the ball to Allen, who was standing out on the left wing, ready to catch and fire.
The pass was slightly off the mark, forcing Allen to slide to his left and move his right foot behind the three-point arc. Johnson rotated over to challenge, his right arm raised high in the air, Allen squared his feet, leapt and fired. The shot fell through the hoop with 32 seconds remaining and gave Miami its first lead since the first half.