Miami Heat Need a Rally to Defeat CSKA Moscow
European powerhouse CSKA Moscow rolled into town with a unified team accustomed to playing with one another for years as they collected one trophy after another.
Though building a dynasty like the Russians have done is definitely one thing Pat Riley and his organization want to emulate, the players he chose to sign over the summer had their hands full trying to find a successful formula against them.
Playing their half-court game to perfection in the first half, CSKA Moscow slowed the game down and effectively nullified the superior athleticism of the Heat. Sticking to a pesky zone defense and limiting their turnovers that would have led to easy baskets for the Heat on the open floor clearly threw the locals off their game as they sought a solution to break out and score in bunches, as they had in their two earlier victories against the Detroit Pistons and Oklahoma City Thunder.
Former Duke star and Cavs lottery pick Trajan Langdon had a breakout game with 20 points and 5 rebounds off the bench for CSKA Moscow. But another former Cavs lottery pick, LeBron James, put his new team onto his oversized back and practically willed them to victory with 22 points, 7 assists and 4 rebounds as they rallied back in the second half to win. But in the process of over-exerting himself with a succession of spectacular cuts to the basket and fancy passing to his teammates for easy baskets, he was forced to take himself out of the game with what he later described as minor leg cramps in the fourth quarter.
"I knew it was a cramp right off the bat," James said after the game. "I've had them plenty of times so I knew what it was."
Maybe LeBron wouldn't have had been needed at that point in time of the game if the team had played a better brand of basketball at the outset, but Spoelstra instead chose to give more minutes to his star player in only his second home game as a Heat player. After the second half debacle in San Antonio when James and Chris Bosh only played the first quarter, perhaps the stakes were just a little higher even though it was still an exhibition game that mattered little apart from an extra game of preparation for the games that actually do count.
The Heat certainly didn't help their own cause in the first half with poor shooting, especially from 3-point land where they went 2 for 10, and an inordinate amount of turnovers, many of which were unforced. Starters Mike Miller and Joel Anthony were ineffective while James Jones was given every opportunity to knock down open 3-pointers given to him by an opponent more concerned with packing the paint and closing off any lanes for James to do any damage.
Though the Heat were behind, they nonetheless kept themselves within striking distance at the half and then proceeded to dominate the third quarter behind James' 11 points and Bosh's 9 points as they outscored CSKA Moscow 32 to 20. The Heat only committed one turnover in the quarter after racking up 11 in the first half while forcing their opponents into nine in those 12 minutes.
The Heat are loaded at the top with talent but CSKA Moscow nonetheless controlled large parts of the game with crisp ball movement, effective defense and a methodical game plan designed to let the game come to them without forcing difficult shots. While Dwyane Wade obviously would have helped matters tremendously, the Heat are still a work in progress with or without him. Pulling out the demanding win at the end may not seem like an important goal during the preseason, but learning how to alter the course of the game in their favor was an invaluable lesson for them to learn regardless.