When it came down to winning the game –and sending home the Brooklyn Nets — the Miami Heat got it done with defense.
They head to the Eastern Conference Finals for the fourth straight year because they were able to hunker down defensively in the game’s most crucial moments, including the very last moment, when LeBron James stripped the ball from the Brooklyn guard as he was making a foray toward the basket, pressuring the Nets’ Joe Johnson into a turnover that preserved a 96-94 Game 5 win in Miami.
And so, the Heat awaits the winner of the Washington Wizards-Indiana Pacers series, which Indy leads 3-2 going into tonight’s Game 6 in D.C. Meanwhile, Brooklyn, with its $180-million payroll, is done.
”For us, it was just about getting stops,” guard Dwyane Wade, who had 28 points, said. ”We knew offensively that we needed to execute, but we knew we weren’t going to win the game unless we got some stops.”
The defensive play by James was redemption for him – he missed a key late free throw and was torched in the second half by Johnson, who had 34 points.
Miami won the series 4-1, but James said it was a challenge. ”It’s always been like that for us,” James said. ”It’s never easy. It’s never easy for us.”
Reserve hard Ray Allen delivered two huge plays in the final seconds, including the game-winning jump shot from the right baseline with 32 seconds left to complete a comeback from eight points down with less than five minutes to go.
”When we met the first day for prep we said the No. 1 key, overwhelmingly the No. 1 key in this series, was great mental stability,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. ”That’s what it was down the stretch … incredible focus.”
Allen disrupted Joe Johnson’s dribble on the game’s final play, James then swatted the bouncing ball out of everyone’s reach, time expired – and the Heat advanced.
”Give the Heat credit,” Nets coach Jason Kidd said. ”They were attacking there in the fourth quarter. We were attacking. Both teams were attacking. They made plays, they made shots and we didn’t.”
It’s the sixth trip to the East title series in the last 10 seasons for Miami, which is bidding for a fourth straight trip to the NBA Finals – something only the Lakers and Celtics franchises have accomplished.