While “The Big 3″ of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh scored every single one of the Miami Heat’s 28 points in the fourth quarter Saturday night to eliminate the formidable Boston Celtics in Game 7 of one hell of an Eastern Conference Finals, let’s not forget the crucial impact of “The Not As Big 3″: Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem, and Shane Battier, each of whom played 30+ minutes.
Remember Battier’s defense on the sharpshooter Ray Allen, who never stops running, and his four three-pointers, two in the first quarter to cancel out Allen’s own pair of early tres and two in an exhilarating third quarter with six ties, six lead changes, and little room for error. Remember Chalmers’ stellar third-quarter line: six points (including a pretty floater to start the period), three assists (one for a Battier three), two rebounds, one steal. Remember Haslem’s efficient +14 game in which his seven points (on three-of-four shooting) and six rebounds always seemed to come when Miami needed a boost (for example, his nine-foot hook shot off a Battier assist at 9:47 in the third quarter that sparked an 8-0 run to tie the game). Without the contributions of those three, the other three — James, Wade, and Bosh — would not have gone into the fourth quarter with the game tied at 73, the stage set for their highlight-heavy performance.
And what a performance it was in the fourth quarter en route to a 101-88 victory. Bosh’s two threes (one on a Chalmers’ assist). Wade’s 10 points, including a tone-setting dunk at 10:25 and a three-point play with less than three minutes left. James’s punishing slam at 7:58 and 31-foot three-pointer at 5:43 — a shot that effectively ended the Celtics’ season (Doc Rivers called it a “backbreaker”). It was enough to make you believe the Heat, a team that seemed down for the count after its Game 5 loss at home on Tuesday, just might have what it takes to vanquish their next opponent, the Oklahoma City Thunder, and take home the Larry O’Brien trophy.
Of course, OKC has its own Big 3 in scoring champ Kevin Durant, offensive wolverine Russell Westbrook, and Sixth Man of the Year James Harden and its own secondary trio in Serge Ibaka (most blocks in the NBA this season), Kendrick Perkins (least smiles in the NBA this season), and Derek Fisher (five-time NBA champion). OKC also has home-court advantage and one of the most raucous crowds in the NBA. All of which is to say, if you thought the Eastern Conference Finals against beleaguered Boston was brutal, just wait for the bracing energy of the Thunder.
Yes, it is going to be a battle, but, after fending off its Eastern Conference nemesis, this Heat team is ready for the Thunder. As Beached Miami music editor William Alton joked on Twitter, the match-up is a “meteorologist’s dream championship.” With the two best basketball players in the world — LeBron James and Kevin Durant — going up against each other, it’s also a basketball fan’s dream championship. And it starts in Oklahoma City on Tuesday night. Get ready for a good one.