Manso: Why have the Heat gone cold?
MIAMI – "Welcome to the playoffs. The playoffs just started. When a team beats somebody on the road, the playoffs start."
Those were the words from Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra following a demoralizing and disappointing Game 5 loss at home to the Hornets.
It's a line Spoelstra has used many times during past postseasons for Miami, and it's an old cliche that many coaches have used in the past.
But here's the thing. While he's right that this is where the series really gets started, in the Heat's case, it also could very well be where it ends.
Miami is down 3-2 to Charlotte and having to win on the road Friday to just stay alive in the series.
Not exactly the ideal situation.
So what's gone wrong? Well, the list can go on for a while. Heat turnovers, poor officiating and not getting to 50-50 balls in key moments are all part of the formula in the last two losses for Miami. I didn't even mention Game 3 because, like the first two games, that was an anomaly between two evenly matched teams.
To me, the last two games are where the series has really started. After three blowouts, the last two games have been decided by a total of six points.
People always point to coaching in moments like this. Oh, fans from each team will yell and scream that Spoelstra out-coached Steve Clifford in the first two games and Clifford has out-coached Spoelstra in the last two games. Sure. That's the easy way to describe a series.
But the reality is both coaches have made good moves and bad moves. I'm sure each would admit they could have done better in certain games and moments.
What's been the difference between wins for the Hornets and losses for the Heat? In my mind it's simple: execution down the stretch.
Trust me, I do believe officials have been inconsistent in the series, and like Spoelstra and Wade, I do think Wade was fouled on that final possession in Game 5.
But that's not why the Heat lost.
Miami was in position to win both games 4 and 5. They had opportunities to steal a game in Charlotte and win on their home court. But they failed. Miserably. And you can point to the lack of execution and basketball fundamentals in the final minute of each game as to why.
If they had boxed out on a missed shot and secured a defensive rebound they likely win at least one of the games.
If they had moved the ball on offense and found the open man, instead of rushing shots as the shot clock winds down, they likely win Game 5.
What's been surprising to me isn't that a team has had issues executing down the stretch, it's that the team making those key mistakes has been Miami.
These two teams finished the regular season with identical records. The last two games have been about as even as you can get statistically. Yet, the Heat have two losses to show for it and the Hornets are one win away from winning this series.
I picked Miami to win this series because I felt the Heat's experience in big moments like this would be the difference, but no one has stepped up to make that key play, grab that vital rebound or hit that important shot.
Wade has tried, but he can't do this alone. While fans may bemoan the moments late in games where they think he's playing "hero ball" and not setting the offense, the truth is no one around him is doing much to help in those moments.
Maybe it's play calling. Maybe it's the Hornets being in better position on the court. Both are probably true.
But here's the real truth. I believe Game 6 will come down to the final minute and with the Heat in position to win the game.
If they execute the way they did down the stretch of the last two games, they'll have a long offseason wondering what went wrong and how they let a 2-0 series lead just slip away.
The playoffs start now for Miami. Let's just hope they don't end now, as well.
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