You know how it is those first few months after you’ve brought that Grizzly bear cub home from the family vacation to Yellowstone.
Sure, he knocks over some of the furniture, raids the pantry to eat all of the Doritos and smashes the plasma TV. But mostly he’s fun and he’s cuddly and simply entertaining to watch. Then one day he’s suddenly growling at you over the breakfast table.
That seems to be where the Heat are now. After a long regular season of learning how to grow into their bodies, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are now standing on their hind legs showing the world their fangs. They are no longer just a loose confederation that is getting by on raw talent and just enough points to pile up wins. They have become a dominant team that is imposing its will.
Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post does an excellent job explaining how Miami has been assembling the parts all through the playoffs and put it together at just the right time for The Finals.
Series after series, game after game, we’re starting to hear the same things from beaten opponents — quality opponents, those unaccustomed to failure and frustration.
“Took us out of a lot of the things we normally do,” Mavericks forward Shawn Marion said.
That’s one hallmark of a dominant team.
In these playoffs, the Heat throttled the 76ers’ running game, disrupted the Celtics’ celebrated half-court execution and turned league MVP Derrick Rose into a reckless chucker.
Other than for very short stretches, none of those teams resembled those the league had come to know.
And, while no one in the playoffs has proven capable of getting LeBron James off his game, he has turned that trick against pivotal adversaries. His primary covers in the first three rounds –– Andre Iguodala, Paul Pierce and Luol Deng, shot 42, 45 and 42 percent, respectively. In the closing minutes, James has chased around smaller, quicker players such as Jrue Holiday, Rajon Rondo, Rose and now Jason Terry.
“Something we hadn’t prepared for,” said Terry, who was 0-for-3 in the fourth quarter Tuesday. “We’ve seen it, we’ve made our adjustment and we’ll be prepared in Game 2.”
Rose prepared. Didn’t matter.
Another characteristic of a dominant team?
It is certainly no coincidence that the rise of the Heat has coincided with the Big Three growing more comfortable inside their own skins around each other on the court. LeBron becoming a better shooter from the perimeter, which allows him to more often play the role of alpha dog, doesn’t exactly hurt the cause either.
When James last appeared in The Finals with the Cavaliers back in 2007, he shot just 41.6 percent from the field and 28 percent on 3-point attempts through Cleveland’s march through the playoffs. This postseason, his overall field goal percentage is up to 46.8 and he’s hit 40.8 percent from behind the arc. Only 2011 3-point champion James Jones (45.9) has a higher success rate on triples for the Heat, yet it is LeBron who has dialed up long distance most often in the playoffs with 25, including a 4-for-5 showing in Game 1 of The Finals.
This is why you don’t bring wild pets home, kids. What it all means is that, not only are the Mavericks potentially in deep trouble for the rest of the series, but likely the entire NBA for the foreseeable future. Now that they’ve learned to get their heads unstuck from the cookie jar, the Heat are just beginning to wreak havoc.