MIAMI (AP) — Almost lost in the shuffle of Miami’s series-tying win over the Chicago Bulls in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals was the small matter of a long-awaited reunion.
A Florida Gators alumni meeting, if you will.
Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller — the two best players on Florida’s national runner-up team in 2000 — signed with the Heat last summer in large part because they wanted to play together again. And for the first 92 games of Miami’s season, that wish didn’t come true for a single second. Miller broke his thumb in training camp and by the time he recovered, Haslem was sidelined with a ruptured foot ligament.
They were finally on the floor together for a most-unceremonious final 2:14 of Game 1 in Chicago, going through the motions at the end of a blowout loss, neither doing much of anything. But in Game 2, they finally got their moment and hooked up on one of the game’s biggest plays, Miller finding Haslem for a dunk that gave Miami a 73-69 lead with 9:29 remaining.
“It was just like old times,” Haslem said. “I went cutting down the lane, he hit me for a dunk, and it was just like college.”
Not every Gator was thrilled by the scene, of course: Joakim Noah, part of Florida’s national champions in 2006 and 2007, winced when he saw the play from his spot on the Chicago bench.
But the impact Haslem and Miller had on Game 2 — when Miami took home-court advantage away from the Bulls — was clear.
“It only took us, what, 95 games to get to that point?” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It was a surprise for all of us. It reminded me of our training camp that we had up at the Air Force base. It’s really been that long since we had our whole group together. It was encouraging to get those guys out there and they did give us a lift, Mike, U-D and the other guys who came in off the bench.”
Haslem finished with 13 points in his first extended appearance since getting hurt on Nov. 20, and carried Miami’s offense for nearly a 12-minute stretch of the second half. Miller set a postseason career-high with seven rebounds, doing so in only 18 minutes.
“There’s not enough I can say about U-D,” Miller said. “He was a monster.”
Haslem was limited in practice on Friday, though both he and Spoelstra insisted there was no cause for alarm and that it was more of a precaution than anything else. Miller was not with the Heat on Friday because his wife was on the cusp of delivering a baby.
Like Haslem, Miller is expected to be ready to go tonight when the Heat host Game 3 against Chicago at 7:30 on TNT. They’ve talked about trying to win a title and erasing the memory of the NCAA crown that slipped away since July, and every win gets them a step closer to that ultimate goal.
“The stakes are high,” Haslem said. “The other night, that was another deciding factor in me actually stepping back out there on the court. We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel right now. We’ve had a formula that’s worked for us, so we’ve kind of had to stick with that.”