The Miami Heat overcame a seemingly insurmountable lead over the San Antonio Spurs in overtime, and I couldn’t help but think of the Maryland Terrapins throughout the entire contest. True, the Terps have very little in common with the five (or six depending on who you’re asking) Hall of Famers on the court, but there are still plenty of valuable lessons to be had by watching these men duke it out on the court.
- Dez Wells, develop a killer instinct
Sometimes it’s okay to be a real jerk, Dez.
Ask anyone (casual observer or expert analyst) what LeBron James game is lacking, and they’ll all point to one thing: no will to kill. It’s been well-documented how little James smells blood in the water. Warranted or not, there is a definitive perception that James doesn’t relish in being a dream annihilator the same way that Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan enjoy(ed) knocking your Lunchables to the ground. It’s why his teams can blow out an opponent by thirty points, and then lose by twenty the next.
In truth, I think the majority of that is haterade; you don’t routinely get triple-doubles without having some semblance of a clutch gene. Still, there are times on the offensive end where LeBron is simply too passive for my liking, and too trusting in his teammates that it ends up being a detriment to his team. Sometimes you just have to force your friends into diving on the grenade because you know they’ll strike out with the smoker of the group.
Instead of abusing San Antonio throughout the game, it took LeBron until the fourth quarter to summarily dominate the Spurs. A Manu Ginobili elbow to the face was essentially whacking a hornet’s nest, and LeBron ended up scoring 18 points in the fourth quarter and OT after scoring 14 total in the first through third quarters. Sure he was effective before the fourth in other aspects, but was never truly dominant. He could have gotten to the rim all game long, but needed to get punched in the mouth (literally) to start throwing haymakers.
And that’s where Dez Wells can learn a thing or two. Wells has physical tools that few players his size possess; there are only about two or three players who can keep up with his speed and quickness. He can affect the game in a multitude of ways, be it through his passing, his rebounding, his defense, or his stealthiness. Far too often, though, Wells is almost too much of a teammate, and helps out in all the ways but the one Maryland needs most — scoring.
Wells’ playmaking abilities can’t be understated, but sometimes he just needs to heist the offense and do the scoring. Maryland was so streaky at times last year that they needed a guy like Dez Wells to get easy buckets at the line and define the team through his dominance. It shouldn’t take a headband being elbowed off one’s receding hairline (in James case) or a 15-point deficit against a team (in Dez’ case) to initiate offensive gluttony. Instead, it should just happen throughout the game, all the time. Dez has to learn that, and as young as he is, I think he will soon realize he can put defenses through a meat grinder whenever he wants.
- Mental toughness and resiliency
The Heat have been down by 13, they’ve been down by 15, and they’ve been down by 10 at numerous times during these playoffs and have still managed to come back. That’s a direct result of coaching and remaining calm under pressure. It’s a well-known fact that basketball is a game of runs, and huge leads can evaporate within minutes. Games take horrendous bounces that result in losses, just like San Antonio’s game six loss, and Miami was well aware of that fact from start to finish.
The entire Miami Heat team never gave up from start to finish, and being down ten in the fourth quarter meant nothing to them. They committed very few turnovers, and made crucial plays to chip away at a lead, and in the end they came out the victors. They were never complacent, and continually pressed the Spurs until the team broke through.
Maryland lost more than a few games last year that directly resulted from boneheaded errors in the clutch. Against Florida State, leaving one of the most clutch shooters in the game (Michael Snaer) wide open ended up with a big L Then there was the Virginia game, where an overtime period came as a result of missed assignments and mismanagement. There were even the blowout losses, such as the blunders committed against North Carolina during their first bout. All of those games were lost because of youthful mistakes that should have been prevented.
If Maryland had remained calm and focused throughout, they might have stolen a few of those games. But last year Maryland was an emotional team; they fed off the crowd (which is why their home record was pretty great) and didn’t rely on their game plan. The Terps need to avoid being caught up in the moment, and act as a mature team (which should come with experience) when faced with adversity. Doing so could give them another win or two, which would have likely led to a tournament berth last year.
- Tighten it up (bench-wise)
The Miami Heat had six guys who played fifteen minutes or more in game six. The Spurs? A measly seven. When the money was on the line in a huge game, both teams performed a little liposuction on their roster to ensure their best players were on the court at all times. Sure, they could have marched Matt Bonner or Udonis Haslem out there to give their superstars some rest and hope to maintain a lead, but that’s not what happened.
Both teams understood that sacrifices had to be made to put their teams in the best opportunities to win. Your best players have to be physically prepared to endure a bludgeoning of minutes during key games, and relish the prospect of extended playing time. Tim Duncan, even as a graybeard in the NBA, is still more valuable on the court than Boris Diaw or Tiago Splitter, and he knows it and loves it. Same goes with Ray Allen versus Mike Miller. Pops and Spo both acknowledged that fact, and adjusted accordingly.
Mark Turgeon loved his ‘answer for every situation’ rotations last year, and went through more lineup changes than 90% of college basketball teams to adjust to the opponent. He caught some flak for that, and rightly so; in basketball, sometimes you have to stick to your guns even when it’s a pea shooter vs an assault rifle. Consistency gives your team momentum and it allows for roles to be defined throughout the game. Sometimes guys have to develop a rhythm throughout a game, and the end result is a solid performance.
I’m sure that Turgeon promised some players minutes upon committing to Maryland, and it’s definitely alright to play guys when opponents aren’t as tough so your 1-A players can rest. Still, when it comes to tougher opponents and harder games, the Terps need to ride their prize horse until it’s begging to be made into a tub of Elmer’s. That means playing Dez Wells, Nick Faust, Jake Layman, Charles Mitchell, Roddy Peters, Seth Allen, and Shaquille Cleare until they get asthma attacks. These are the guys who give Maryland the best chance to win, and they should continuously be on the court.
You don’t see Duke going too deep into their bench that’s for sure. Same goes for North Carolina. They play their best guys, always, and let their bench chow down on Nordic Oak for the majority of the game.