I’d like to read the mind of Pat Riley, president of the Miami Heat.
Presumably, the coaching legend is in deep thought, searching for the key to unlock mighty combinations or discover new strategies that could temper the overwhelming firepower of The Joker Nikola Jokic, a two-time NBA MVP awardee. The most important question now that confronts Riley is: Where should the search for the proverbial key start?
Riley feels the pain of losing, which is a mark of a coach who truly loves his craft. The Heat suffered a 109-94 Game 3 loss to the Denver Nuggets today, Wednesday, in their home court. The Nuggets evaded getting clobbered twice in a row; their triumph demonstrated not only Michael Malone’s coaching acumen but also the perplexity hounding the Heat.
What is troublesome for the Heat is the way The Joker dominates every game, setting NBA records with his triple-double performance in the Playoffs and the Finals. He literally made mincemeat of varying defensive moves thrown at him. He represents a one-man total domination and destruction of the game.
Riley is worried that the disappointing result of Game 3 is indicating what lies ahead. But he realizes that the Heat still have a chance to avoid the bad portent. He, and Coach Erik Spoelstra, will improve on the method that the Heat displayed versus the Nuggets during their winning run in Game 2.
It was the last remaining card up his sleeve. It carved a smile of hope on his face.
Highly physical defense
In that game, Riley ordained that his squad must play tougher and rougher to dampen the Nuggets’ fighting spirit. He found out that the Nuggets’ tenacity was raw, careless, and lacking a killer instinct. But he aptly rejected the temptation to conclude that the Nuggets could not withstand getting elbowed, banged and bruised. He urged his wards to be aggressive against their rivals, to force the latter to be recipients of the tested and proven Riley magic formula: highly physical defense played with bad intent.
Kurt Rambis can testify that this formula patented by Riley did wonders during the reign of the Showtime Lakers, who demolished even the toughest teams that blocked their championship quests.
Riley clearly knows from his long years of NBA experience that the thin line that separates winning from losing is NOT the players or the coach. It’s highly physical defense, the harbinger of all his championship glory.
At the sides of Game 3, he saw how the Nuggets survived the enemy’s provocation by relying mainly on the depth of their firepower, locked and loaded. It was an arduous task to guard their shooters: Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., KCP, and even The Joker himself. Once you give these assassins some bucolic place to fire their guns, the result is mostly lethal.
But Riley, a multi-recipient of the NBA Coach of the Year award, is not easily impressed or threatened. He is fairly confident that there will be times that these marksmen, including his own, will have an off day, something that even NBA top scorers Stephen Curry and Michael Jordan couldn’t escape. For him, inconsistency attacks everyone, and it’s a scourge when it appears in many do-or-die situations. His calculations were proven correct in Game 2.
In Game 2, it was never a conundrum to Riley, a 4-time NBA champion coach of the fabled Los Angeles Lakers of old and the Lebron James-led Miami Heat on how to launch his effective counters.
Riley knew there is no proven way to stop the scoring rampage of the Nuggets snipers; thus, the reliance on solid and hard enforcement of playing defense must remain strong. He is a stickler for this and does not accept any compromise.
All the games won by the Heat showed their hyperactive management of basketball, such that they would drive for those loose balls, snatch those rebounds, block those seemingly unreachable shots, and steal like stealth. They have been conditioned to protect the ball with their life.
Riley has taught the Nuggets to ditch the loser attitude of complacency and avoid the poison of overconfidence because their enemy could stomp on them at the slightest miscue. He knew that in championship basketball, the games are mostly won by the team that disconnects from the temptation of underestimating an opponent.
Miami basketball has Riley’s fingerprints all over the organization, and Coach Spoelstra is on chipper mode. He is being guided big time by the dapper, passionate bench strategist who wore Armani suits during his coaching career and is referred to by the western media as the Godfather out there.
The Heat must recover from the embarrassment and the harassment that they received during the last time out and quickly find their bearings for Game 4.
Pity the Heat if they will continue to play like a bunch of losers. They must be warned. The NBA Finals is all about tough, rugged, no-nonsense DEFENSE. It is seriously important for the Heat to play with an optimum level of energy and connive to own that elite seal of manhood that will guarantee a thrilling prime-time spectacle that will define who they are.
Not that it’s easy. But look, if the Nuggets are knocking hard on defense to stop the stubborn Heat from progressing, why not give the Nuggets a dose of Riley’s magic formula? Spoelstra must challenge the Heat to play rougher and tougher, just like how Malone wanted his team to be, but a notch higher, faster, stronger.
Riley doesn’t have to look for the proverbial key. It was glaringly present in Game 2. It just needs to be used again. The Miami Heat is still a work in progress, with plenty of chances to realize their dream of becoming NBA champions once more.
Not to confuse things, solid and hard defense was best exemplified by the taunting big man Bill Laimbeer of the champion Detroit Pistons; Wes Unseld, the 6-7 center who lived by collecting caroms for the champion Washington Bullets; and the brave defense mogul Maurice Cheeks.