FreeDarko's Bethlehem Shoals, a regular contributor to NBA FanHouse and co-author of The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History (visit the FreeDarko store, too!), is keeping a game-by-game diary of the Heat's season — the one you're pretending not to care about.
Result: Heat 123, Suns 96
I went to the circus once. There were three rings, with stuff happening in each of them. It was all very different, too. There was an elephant getting whipped in its scars; some clowns keeping alive their fine Prussian traditions; and maybe a motorcycle speeding around in a giant steel globe. I guess at times, one or two rings stood down, or took a break, to let their co-workers shine. But at least in principle, the selling point was the sheer variety of spectacle.
Ergo, it's usually really fucking stupid when sports teams are referred to as "a circus." By definition, a circus entails diversity, plurality. One crazy wide receiver — or even one superstar summit in South Beach — does not a circus make.
Yesterday was really, truly an exception — one of those pure days of honest-to-god big-top fun for the Miami Heat. We had Chris Bosh going to town on the puny Phoenix Suns, ostensibly clearing his good name; Bosh afterward making an off-hand remark about work and play that threatened to undo any and all goodwill this team has built up; and, nearly lost in the shuffle, a performance by the Heat that looked an awful lot like the Greatest Show that we optimists had been counting on since July.
Bosh went to work, hard, against the Suns. Now, the Suns are a small team almost out of some peculiar local tradition — they like to play small the way Pacific Islanders like to fish. With Robin Lopez out, their size deficiency becomes nearly comical. Factor in the sheer planetary mass/force/gravity of LeBron, and this game was bound to play out like some really fancy bowling when the Heat were on offense. Perhaps all too aware of the media rumblings, or the Basketball Jones's outright howler of a rap parody vid, the Heat (Bosh himself? Riley? Maverick Carter?) got the ball to CB4 early and often and as deep as possible — as if to prove a point then, and over and over again. Bosh finished with 35 points in 30 minutes. Scoff at his six boards, but figure that Bosh might have bumped that into double figures with more time. Hooray. Problem solved.
Thankfully, he slipped up, or just wasn't thinking, in the post-game interview, and set up a false dichotomy between Erik Spoelstra's emphasis on "work" and the players' need to get their Large Professor on. Here's the quote:
He knows he has to meet us halfway. He wants to work, we wanna chill, but we're going to have to work to get everything down, to get our timing down, and to get our chemistry down.
This may have been the most exciting thing to happen to Heat pundits in weeks, since it exposed the real dynamic here: Riley and his underlings know that things like discipline and giving it 110 percent are what win championships. Those new fancy boys in town think this season will be one big party. They came here to make it easy for themselves. They're quitters. Bosh is soft. LeBron porks his mom. Wade is a space homo.
It's all very stimulating, except we're really going overboard with this work/play distinction. I seriously doubt that Bosh was informing the world that, while Coach wants them to practice, they would prefer not to do a fucking thing. What if "work" and "chill" are simply states of mind, not verbs? Presumably, any productive human endeavor requires some balance of careful attention and relaxation. Working without chilling makes Jack a dull boy; chilling without working doesn't get you to the NBA, no matter how tall you are, or how high you can jump.
What a day for Chris Bosh! Most amazingly, though, it managed to overshadow the most sustained show of awesome-ry that this team has put together all season. Sure, establishing Bosh early on was kind of corny, if strategically sound. But there was real chemistry, interplay, and ball movement. It wasn't just on defense where this team seemed to mesh; for once, the Heat weren't a stiff facsimile of what might be. They weren't searching for answers, or resorting to awkward trade-offs. Wade had multiple highlight stunners; James controlled the flow of the game; and Bosh worked inside and outside. Eddie House and Udonis Haslem, especially, didn't seem like mere accessories.
Strangely, though, it was too late for me to get excited. Had they come out firing like this earlier in the season, I might have been able to overlook the fact that this was, after all, against Phoenix — and a gutted Phoenix team, at that. It might also have seemed like less of a fluke, more of a comment on the Heat's identity rather than the Suns' mediocrity. This was what I expected to see when I took this assignment, but as with Bosh's big game, it was hard to feel any kind of exultation.
Maybe Miami, in choosing to proceed slowly, rationally, has more or less thumbed its nose at the circus effect. All together, one for all, message is master — this night was just another game for a team trying to win. Or maybe, as Bosh suggests, they're realizing now that somewhere along the way they lost that spark — that loose, insolent, fuck-you spirit that lies just, but only just, the other side of Coach's prerogative.
Bethlehem Shoals is a founding member of FreeDarko.com and a regular contributor to NBA FanHouse. You can buy The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History and lots of other stuff at the FreeDarko store.