Appreciating Miami Heat's win streak
Chicago halts Miami’s win streak at 27
Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade (R) shoots over Chicago Bulls defenders Luol Deng (9) and Carlos Boozer (C) during the first half of their NBA basketball game in Chicago, Illinois March 28, 2013. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes
It’s over. After more than two months, the Miami Heat’s winning streak is finally over after a 101-97 win by the shorthanded Chicago Bulls. A run that began on February 3 in Toronto came to a crashing halt on March 27 in Chicago against a team without three of their projected starters heading into this season.
There would be no second-half rallies, no overpowering jams, no last second shots to bail Coach Erik Spoelstra’s team out of the hole they dug themselves in this time around.
The 33-game win streak that the 1972 Los Angeles Lakers posted on their way to a World Championship remains safe. But how important was “The Streak” for the defending NBA Champions and the league itself?
Led by LeBron
Any story revolving around the Heat inevitably talks about their best player, three-time regular season Most Valuable Player and reigning Finals MVP LeBron James.
As if the 2012 Finals wasn’t enough to cement his status as the best player in the game today, James effectively made the streak a showcase of his various talents on the court. For those 27 magical games, LeBron averaged 27 points, eight assists, eight rebounds, and 58% shooting from the field. That’s a near triple-double at a fantastic shooting percentage for 27 straight wins. No small feat by any stretch of the imagination.
It has become undisputable for even the most ardent of LeBron-haters (me among them), that James runs this Heat team, and Dwyane Wade has become his sidekick. The same Dwyane Wade who did the heavy lifting when Miami won the championship in 2006 and got an inordinate amount of calls from referees, effectively lobbied for James and Chris Bosh to leave Cleveland and Toronto respectively to come to South Beach. He then ceded leadership of his team when the force of nature that was James imprinted his skill set on the entire state of Florida.
This year, Wade missed some games during this streak to rest some nagging injuries yet the Heat kept rolling along as they rode on James’ coattails.
Too often during this winning streak, credit has been given to James, Wade and the rest of the Miami roster, and the credit is well-deserved. Yet to completely remove Erik Spoelstra from the winning equation is a disservice to the coach. After all, it was Spoelstra who recognized that in James, he had a unique talent that’s basically been unheard of in NBA history: a 6-foot-9, 285-pound monster who can run the point, rebound with other big men, and finish the fastbreak like a runaway freight train.
By switching to “position-less” basketball and not playing “traditional” big men, “Coach Spo” has been able to maximize James’ talents and subsequently James has gotten the best out of his teammates.
As impressive as this run has been for the Heat, the rest of the league didn’t really see them as unbeatable. Miami trailed at halftime in nine of those 27 games. They even trailed entering the fourth quarter in six of them.
Perhaps the most glaring examples of Miami’s ability to come back from a large deficit was when they trailed the rival Boston Celtics by 17 points in their match-up, or when they trailed James’ own former team in Cleveland by 27. Yet both times, the Heat found ways to prevail.
It took 28 points from Luol Deng, as well as 21 points and 17 rebounds from Carlos Boozer, to lift the undermanned Bulls to an emotional win over the Heat in the United Center.
Already without injured Derrick Rose, Chicago entered this contest without Rip Hamilton and All-Star center Joakim Noah to boot. To say that the Bulls were a heavy underdog heading into this match with the streaking defending champions would be an understatement, but Coach Tom Thibodeau’s gritty crew took the fight to Miami in more ways than one.
Playing with a physicality and aggression that the Heat has hardly encountered all season, Chicago relished the playoff atmosphere that was palpable in the United Center. After all, this was “the house that Jordan built,” and the Bulls would be damned if they didn’t have something to say about Miami encroaching on the 1996 team’s status as one of the best of all time.
Without the trio of Rose, Hamilton, and especially Noah, the Bulls weren’t able to pound the ball inside to exploit the one big weakness in the Heat’s game. Players as small as Kirk Hinrich and as large as Taj Gibson played James physically, and the reigning MVP surprisingly succumbed and was called for a flagrant foul on former Cavs teammate Carlos Boozer late in the game.
Even as the clock slowly ran down and the reality of the second-longest streak in NBA history neared its end, Spoelstra, James and the rest of the Miami organization took in the magnitude of what they had just accomplished in spite of the loss.
"We understand, probably more so later on in our careers, the significance of that. And then that was it," Spoelstra said. "We took that moment to acknowledge it, to acknowledge each other, that experience, but it was never about the streak. We have a bigger goal, but also right now, it's about 'Are we getting better?' "
This will all be water under the bridge, of course, if the Miami Heat don’t end up winning the NBA title this year.
That was the case when the Houston Rockets won an improbably 22 straight as even though Yao Ming was injured halfway through the streak, forcing Chuck Hayes, Carl Landry, and the fossil that was known as Dikembe Mutombo to carry the load in the paint. That unheralded Rockets crew is largely forgotten because, as was the case for every team featuring Tracy McGrady, they were swept out of the first round of the playoffs.
It is highly unlikely that Miami will suffer the same fate, but with the target on their backs shining even brighter than it ever has before, every single team in the league wants their shot at taking out the champions.
Shane Battier has had the unbelievably good fortune of being part of that Rockets 22-game streak, the recently concluded 27-game Heat streak, and an even lengthier 32-game win streak while playing for Duke University.
Yet at the end of the day, this team of black and red-clad players from Miami will be judged for one thing more than their streak: they’ll be judged on whether or not they can repeat as NBA Champions.