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Heat show their grit, greatness

By Jim Brighters, NBA Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It's easy to forget how truly great the Miami Heat are.

It's weird to lose sight of brilliance, despite the fact the Heat have been to three straight NBA Finals, which is every single year this current unit has been intact.

Most are blinded by their hatred for a team that bought its superstars within the legalities of the NBA salary cap. Others just take for granted that the Heat are very good.

Even if you acknowledge the Heat's greatness, a word not often associated with the Heat is "tough."

But the Heat may be the toughest, most resilient group in a long time.

Rewind back to last year in the Eastern Conference Finals when the Boston Celtics took a 3-2 series lead with Game 6 in Boston. Miami won that game by 19 points.

They fell down to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Finals. They fell down to the Chicago Bulls in the second round this year. They fell down to the San Antonio Spurs in this Finals.

From a strictly basketball perspective, Miami is a bad rebounding team and lacks any interior enforcers, two semi-accurate barometers of toughness.

But toughness isn't measured by how many opposing players you knock down. Toughness is measured in doing everything capable, when your team is down and needs it, to win a game.

That's what the Heat showed on Thursday with a 109-93 drubbing of the home San Antonio Spurs.

"We understood this was a survival game," said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.

By now, you've probably heard the Heat haven't lost back-to-back games in over five months.

What may be more impressive is Miami's playoff record following a loss in this postseason. With the Heat's win in Game 4 on Thursday, Miami is now 6-0 after a setback in the postseason. More amazing, the Heat's average margin of victory in those six games is 20.6 points.

The Heat always know when their backs are against the wall. They freely discuss it and ooze a confidence that borders on bravado. It's a confidence, which is backed up by results.

"We're going against a team championship DNA and championship pedigree on the floor and a must-win. We're going to be ready for it," LeBron James said on Wednesday. "We're going to accept the challenge and see what happens."

James said repeatedly in his off-day presser that "he will be better tomorrow." James scored 15 points on 7-for-21 shooting in Game 3 and, he didn't attempt a single free-throw.

On Thursday, the reigning MVP proved his talk wasn't bluster, but reality. He had 33 points on 15-for-25 shooting, 11 rebounds and four assists.

"I came in the game confident. Before I made a shot, I came in the game confident," said James. "Last game was history."

But James finally got huge contributions for the other two parts of the Big Three.

Dwyane Wade looked like the 2006 version of himself, the one that led the Heat to its first title. He had 32 points, six rebounds, four assists and six steals.

Chris Bosh added 20 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks.

Prior to Thursday's Game 4, the Heat didn't have a 20-point scorer in a single game of the Finals. On Thursday, the Big Three combined for 85 points, 25 rebounds, nine assists, 10 steals, five blocked shots and just two turnovers.

That's the Big Three Miami thought it would have for years, not one that disappeared in the playoffs.

"It was on our shoulders," said James. "When all three of us are clicking at the same time, we're a tough team to beat."

Everyone expected James' Superman persona to be back, or at least an aggressive Batman in Game 4. But he got contributions from two different Robins.

And Wade especially was brilliant. James hit a late 3-pointer for leading scorer honors, but Wade was the one who controlled the game, hit huge buckets and came out strong early. He had 14 in the first half and didn't look like a man with a knee problem.

"I needed a game like this, but my teammates needed a game like this," acknowledged Wade. "It felt good. When you see the ball go through the basket, you get more confident. It felt good to have a performance like this. You're judged by how good you respond."

Spoelstra made a big deal about not talking about the Heat's offensive woes after Game 3. It was all about defense and the Big Three anchored that as well on Thursday.

Miami blocked shots like Dikembe Mutombo swatting cereal boxes for an insurance company check. After 19 Spurs' offensive rebounds on Tuesday, they managed five on Thursday. The Heat forced 19 San Antonio turnovers in Game 4, and when the Heat get out and defend, that opens their transition offense and good luck, Spurs.

Now, the NBA Finals is a best-of-three series with two games in South Beach. If San Antonio is able to win Game 5 at home, and get within one of the title, you can count on Miami to not just tell you they need to win the game, but then go do it.

It's the mark of a championship team.

It's toughness.

It's also greatness.

06/14 00:57:14 ET

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