John Smallwood: Heat's Big Three show up for Game 4 against Boston

Chris Bosh, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade: happy together.
Chris Bosh, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade: happy together. (Associated Press)
Posted: May 11, 2011

THE EXPECTATIONS were not too high, and despite some of their struggles during the regular season, the Miami Heat's "Star Trio" of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh did not fail to live up to them.

Sure, when James and Bosh took their free-agent talents to join Wade in Miami a lot of people said the three All-Stars were going to challenge the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls' regular season record of 72-10.

And when the Heat didn't even finish with the best record in the Eastern Conference, and won just 58 games, way too many people looked at them as failures.

But the truth was the test hadn't even started yet.

James, Wade and Bosh weren't brought together to set regular-season records. The sole purpose of their trinity is to win a championship.

And as our local hockey team can attest, championships aren't won during the regular season.

Honestly, the sole purpose of this regular season for the Heat was for its "Big Three" to figure out what worked and what didn't so that when the second season - the only one that counts - began they would be clicking at a near flawless level.

In Philadelphia, we saw glimpses up close as Miami took out the Sixers in five games in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Still, with the Boston Celtics waiting in the semifinals, the Heat still had to show that reality could match the hype.

The Celtics were the reigning Eastern Conference champions and they had beaten the Heat in three of four regular season matchups. Even after Miami won Games 1 and 2 in South Beach, there was a feeling of, "OK but let's see what they can do in Boston."

The standard cliché at the start of each round of the NBA playoffs is that the series doesn't begin until a team wins a road game. So after the Celtics easily took out Miami, 97-81, in Game 3 in Boston, nothing had been displayed that said the Heat were ready to take it to the next level.

Then Monday night happened.

If James, Wade and Bosh do indeed establish a championship dynasty in Miami, Game 4 of this Eastern Conference semifinal series will be pinpointed as the moment when it began.

This was the first test that truly counted for the Heat. It was a pass/fail exam with clear instructions: Patch up your wounds, regain your composure, go back into the TD Garden and take control of this series from the Celtics.

Miami won, 98-90, in overtime.

James (35 points), Wade (28) and Bosh (20) combined for 83 points against arguably the best defensive team in basketball.

The Heat hold a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series and can close out Boston with a victory tonight in Miami.

"[Tonight] will be our greatest challenge that we've had with this group so far," Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said Monday night. "We'll get their best game on Wednesday.

"We have to be better. If we're real about what we want to do, we have to beat the Boston Celtics at their best."

Until Monday night, there was still a legitimate question as to whether the Heat could do that. In Game 3 in Boston, two of the three had been made to disappear.

Wade scored 23, but James let that lingering skepticism about his makeup in big games rise again as he scored just 15 on 6-for-16 shooting.

Remember, this was the same court on which James had been accused of quitting with the Cleveland Cavaliers last season as they were eliminated by the Celtics in the playoffs.

Bosh was even worse, making just one field goal, pulling just five rebounds, and then conceding afterwards that perhaps his emotions had gotten the better of him.

Game 4 was a huge response from James and Bosh.

I'm not handing over the Larry O'Brien Trophy to the Heat. They need one more game to win in this series and then, should they do that, there are two more series to win.

The beauty of the NBA playoffs is that as soon as one exam is passed, the next one is set to begin.

Frankly, if the Heat fails to close out Boston tonight in Miami, a lot of what has just been said will be reinterpreted.

But the Miami Heat were put together for the playoffs, and, so far, the "Big Three" look ready for them. *

Send email to

smallwj@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

www.philly.com/Smallwood.

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