Erik Spoelstra wants his team “to play to our identity.” We know this because he said it into a microphone at least 35 times the last two days.
Turns out he wasn't just talking to himself, though he needed to hear that as much as anyone else.
Spoelstra is the one who, with the weight of Western civilization bearing down on his ballclub, kept babying Chris Bosh.
The Big Three is the Miami Heat's identity. Not one, not two. Three. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Bosh, who Spoelstra finally stuck back in the starting lineup Thursday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
And presto! The NBA Finals are headed to Miami tied 1-1 after the Heat's 100-96 victory in Game 2. And the three players Pat Riley recruited and/or re-recruited in the summer of 2011 reminded Oklahoma City and the world what kind of basketball the Heat is capable of when desperate.
“I think this postseason and everything we've been through has shown that this group has a resourcefulness, a resolve, a resiliency,” said Spoelstra, sounding to locals a bit like Les Miles after the 2004 Bedlam football game.
“We're all a very stubborn group, including this guy.”
You think? Sure, Spoelstra's three Rs were in full display in the Indiana series, when the Heat fell behind 2-1 and everyone wanted his head. But when you keep your $16 million power forward on the bench through two elimination games in the Eastern Conference Finals and the NBA Finals opener, your disposition is stubborn.
And now that Spoelstra's over that, Oklahoma City knows what it's up against. No one said this was going to be easy.
The Heat won this game in the first six minutes. Dwyane Wade, who looked like he needed to spend the day off after Game 1 checking out assisted-living facilities, was back to dunking like it was the summer of 2006. Shane Battier was shooting like he's back at Duke. When he's not jabbing his hand in Kevin Durant's face, Battier is nailing 3-pointers, 9 of 13 through two games.
Miami led 16-2 before LeBron scored his second basket on another one of those sweet left-handed drives. That made it 18-2. It's a testament to Oklahoma City's explosiveness and track record that everyone in the arena believed another comeback was in store.
Well, maybe not everyone. Twice in the first half Thunder game operations folks resorted to Jumbotron crowd-rallying videos normally reserved for fourth quarters.
The gang at “Cheers,” who went off the air before Durant's fifth birthday, did their bar-tapping “We Will Rock You” bit. Then came “Network” and Peter Finch screaming “I want everyone to get up.” That movie is almost as old as Scott Brooks. Time for new material?
The Thunder could use a new opening act. OKC fans' tradition of standing for the first basket lasted three minutes, but their basketball heroes stood around a while longer. Don't blame Russell Westbrook for the stagnant offense. Credit Miami for making it extremely tough to dribble, pass or shoot. Especially shoot.
Oklahoma City missed 11 of its first 13 shots and 12 of 16.
Of course, Durant swooped in late again, five fouls and all, and hit seven straight shots at one stretch. Even more impressive were two big steals in the lane to extend the game.
But the breaks went Miami's way down the stretch, starting with those three critical bank shots — Battier really needed to call it on that 3-pointer. Wade's running banker going left was big, but LeBron's pullup banker at 1:26 was the biggest. It was his first field goal of the fourth quarter.
Thunder fans may want to cry foul on Durant's potential game-tying 7-footer with 9.9 seconds left. KD missed with LeBron's forearm in his ribs. But neither Brooks nor Durant complained in the postgame news conference, and that's as it should be.
It's bad form to fall behind 18-2 and then claim you got jobbed by the refs. In at least that way, it's nice to see Oklahoma City living up to its identity.
Spoelstra and the Heat certainly reclaimed theirs.