By: Jeremy Marks-Peltz
Normally, Erik Spoelstra is one of LeBron James’ biggest defenders. LeBron's coach is almost always the first in line to bow to King James prodigal talents, and castigate those who question LeBron's antics in the final minute of games.
But based on the final minute of Sunday’s 89-87 loss to the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, it seemed like Spoelstra was actually fueling many of LeBron’s critics. At the very least, he picked two curious times to keep the world’s best player away from the basketball.
The less talked about, but more shocking instance, came on the defensive end. Up by 3 with 40 seconds left, the Knicks put Carmelo Anthony in an obvious isolation situation. For some reason, the Heat’s counter was not LeBron, but Shane Battier matching up with ‘Melo. To his credit, Battier forced Anthony into a terrible, contested three, only to watch ‘Melo get bailed out by a questionable foul call.
That said, Battier is more clever than lockdown when it comes to defense at this stage of his career, not to mention Battier has has been abused by Anthony all series. It made no sense NOT to put your All-Defensive First Teamer out there, especially if everyone watching knew exactly what Carmelo Anthony would do there. Hint: Carmelo doesn’t pass unless he has to. This wasn’t a “has to” situation.
Flash forward to the final possession, where Spoelstra called Dwyane Wade’s number. Before we go any further, let me explain my theory on who should be the Heat’s closer: They shouldn’t have one. Whoever has the hot hand, or the best matchup, or has the best chance to, at bare minimum, earn a trip to the foul line, should be the designated “closer” for that possession.
Using my “closer” criteria, the arrow should have landed on LeBron James in Game 4. He scored the Heat’s last six points, three on a clutch triple, and three more on a highlight reel, twisting “and one”. LeBron was going up against Carmelo, whose defensive skills max out at “average” when he’s most engaged. LeBron was 7-8 from the stripe, as opposed to Wade’s 4-11 performance. Not only that, but James is the Heat’s best ball handler. All that would have led me to believe the ball should’ve been in James’ hands, even if it was simply in a creating/facilitating role.
Instead, D-Wade got the rock, accelerated into the mid-post area, and then, appropriately, fumbled the ball. All before settling for a horrible turnaround three point buzzer-beater attempt that clanged off the front rim.
The good news, from a Heat fan perspective, is that Spo’s curious decisions shouldn’t carry any more consequences beyond extending the “LeBron Is/Isn’t Clutch” narrative. The Heat, just like Game 4 of their first round series last year, looked beyond sluggish from start to finish, missing 11 free throws, turning the ball over 14 times, and getting nothing from those not named James, Wade, or Bosh.
The Knicks, conversely, got a vintage 41-point performance from Anthony, the type of game that led some pundits to be conned into thinking this would be a seven-game series. The odds of back-to-back 40-plus point performances from ‘Melo are pretty slim. And even with an inspirational 20-point, 10 rebound effort from Amar’e Stoudamire, its clear Stoudamire can do little-to-nothing with his lacerated left hand. Adding to New York’s problems? Baron Davis’ gruesome knee injury, and the laughable possibility of 30-35 minutes of Mike Bibby in Game 5.
I like the Heat’s chances in closing this series out at home on Wednesday. The shame is, if not for some curious coaching decisions in the final minute, this series could already have been in the books.
Return to: Miami Heat Blog