The Warriors were the dominant team of the 2010s, winning three titles and appearing in five straight NBA Finals. But just before they rose to prominence, the Miami Heat's Big Three were the preeminent team of the era.
With the dazzling dominance of Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and the Warriors freshly burned into our memory, it's easy to forget how special LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh's Heatles were. After figuring out the kinks in their first year together, the Heat were a supernova from 2011 through '14. They went 211-85 (including the playoffs), won two titles and recorded a 27-game winning streak which highlighted how unstoppable they were at their peak.
Once Durant arrived in the Bay, the Warriors went 228-78, which included a dominant 16-1 postseason in 2017.
With Wade and Curry discussing the hypothetical matchup between the two superteams, and Bosh giving the Warriors the nod as the better dynasty, we figure now's a good a time as any to dive in.
All this talk of the '96 Bulls and the '17 Warriors is old. The rules and styles of basketball were too different to postulate who would win. The talent disparity from the 90s to the 2010s is too large. Once you get to the third best player on the team the different is stark.
But the Heat handed off the dynasty baton to the Warriors. They played under the same rules, used similar small-ball lineups and had similar superstar cores.
If the Warriors showed up to Chase Center and the Heatles were waiting, who comes out on top in a seven-game series?
A fair fight
James was a force of nature during his final three seasons in South Beach. While not the shooter he became in his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, James had the game in the palm of his hand while with the Heat. He controlled the pace of the game with unquestioned ease, dominating opponents with his strength and athleticism while smothering them on the defensive end.
As impressive as the Heat were, and they were a force to be sure, the Warriors were a force unlike anything the NBA has ever seen led by Durant.
In Durant's first season in the Bay, the Warriors made it their mission to not only defeat their opponents, but to demoralize them. To squeeze the life from their body, pick through the carcass and discard the bones before the halftime act had been concluded. The Warriors were impossible to defend with Durant, the ultimate cheat code, being able to get a bucket and break a defense whenever he chose to do so.
The Warriors were a tsunami of dominance that swept over the league and left it shaken and in need of a massive correction once Durant packed up and left for the Brooklyn Nets.
The only thing that could defeat those Warriors was complacency, injuries and human nature. At full health and fully locked in, the Warriors showed up, turned teams upside down, stole their lunch money and went home without breaking a sweat.
We can get caught up in the glitz and glamor of the 3-point shot. The beauty with which both teams executed their offense. The free-flowing nature of the Warriors' ball-movement offense against the run-away potential of the Heatles' transition game.
And we'll get to that.
But both teams thrived on the defensive end of the floor. Especially when the lights were brightest.
During the last three years of their run, the Heatles allowed an average of 94.8 points per game with a defensive rating of 103.2. During the KD era, the Warriors allowed 107.6 poins per game and had a rating of 107, but we plagued by general boredom after Year 1 together.
At their peak, James and Wade were two of the best on-ball defenders in the NBA. The Heat's aggressive blitzing defense forced teams into turnovers (20.4 per game), which allowed James and Wade to get out in transition and punish opponents. The Heat also had the ability to go small and matchup with the Warriors while having Chris Bosh -- an underrated rim protector -- anchor the defense in the middle.
While all that's true, the Heat's defense was susceptible to breakdowns and was picked apart by a San Antonio Spurs team that relied on ball-movement, 3-point shots and making Wade, Shane Battier, Ray Allen, and Mario Chalmers chase shooters around screens for days.
Even if James is able to contain Durant, the Warriors' offense at its best was good at taking care of the ball and could use the Heat's aggressive defense against them, allowing Curry and Thompson to get loose.
Not to mention, as good of a defender as James was, Durant still could go off. A 23-year old Durant averaged 30.6 points on 54.5 percent shooting in the 2012 Finals against James. This version of Durant was even more deadly.
On the flip side, the Warriors simply would have no answer for James at this point in his career. Even with an unreliable 3-point shot, trying to stop James was like trying to slow down a locomotive with a string tied around the caboose.
Heat vs. Celtics Game 6: LeBron James highlights - 45 points, 15 rebounds (6.8.12) http://t.co/pkizvnsRzo— Mark Gunnels (@MarkAGunnels) June 18, 2013
The Warriors could throw Andre Iguodala, Thompson and Durant at him, but he was unstoppable once he got going. James' ability to bully defenders with his size on the block or blow by them with his speed made him a nightmare matchup.
Wade would have his hands full with Thompson harassing him, but Flash's slashing, mid-range jumper and transition game would be a problem for the Warriors throughout the series.
Steph's trump card
We could debate prime Durant and prime LeBron until we're blue in the face.
But the 1B debate is clear: As good as Wade was, Curry is better. At least, his game is better.
Wade's poor outside shooting would plague the Heat at some point in the series. His slashing, transition game and mid-range jumpers were lethal, but the Warriors would be able, at some point, to force him out on the perimeter where he was a career 29.3 percent shooter.
While Wade, Battier and Norris Cole were solid on-ball defenders, the Spurs shredded them by running Gary Neal, Danny Green and Patty Mills off screens. The Warriors took that formula and injected it with two of the greatest shooters of all-time.
The series would feature a whole lot of this.
Steph in shimmy mode 🔥 pic.twitter.com/SkrcRN2q1K— ESPN (@espn) March 9, 2019
The series very well could hinge on whether or not the Heat are able to beat up and corral the best shooter in NBA history.
Strength in Numbers
It's clear this series would be an absolute shootout.
James and Durant would trade blows in epic fashion, with Wade and Curry manning the gunner seats.
The Warriors would struggle to stop the James freight train and the Heat's aggressive, blitzing defense would give the Dubs fits. But Wade's effectiveness could be minimized as the series drags on, meaning James would need even more help from Bosh, an aging Ray Allen, Battier and Chalmers.
Even if Curry is bottled up or having an off night, Durant can turn to Thompson, who is capable of dropping 20 in the blink of an eye. Draymond Green, Shaun Livingston and Iguodala would provide more help to their stars than what the Heat would get out of Nos. 5-9 on their roster.
The series would head to Chase Center for a decisive Game 7. But in the end, James is outmanned and outgunned, falling to the NBA's Death Star in the true superteam showdown.
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