Haslem back in nick of time
His return from injury lifts Heat
MIAMI — The season began with Udonis Haslem inspiring the Miami Heat with his words. He gave a passionate speech in the locker room nearly seven months ago, talking about how desperately he wanted to win a championship to honor his recently deceased mother.
Now, Haslem’s inspiring the Heat with his play.
Or, perhaps more accurately, simply by playing.
He scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half, and had a pair of dunks — the first was his first basket since Nov. 20 — to begin and end a critical 10-0 run. That was the final margin Wednesday in Miami’s 85-75 win over Chicago Bulls that tied the Eastern Conference finals at a game apiece.
“Huge. Huge,’’ Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. “He was the player of the game. No question about it.’’
Wade said those words on a night where LeBron James fought off a cold for game-highs of 29 points and 10 rebounds, plus scored 9 points in a late 11-2 spurt that sealed the win.
James had the dazzling numbers and spectacular finish, but the clear spark came from one of the two Miami players left from the 2006 championship season.
“It’s kind of hard to be patient when you work so hard to get back,’’ Haslem said. “But I understand, we’ve had a formula that’s been working for us. My teammates have done a tremendous job of getting us to this point. So I just had to be patient.’’
Not any more, he doesn’t.
He’ll be in the rotation Sunday when the Heat host Game 3 in what will be the Miami native’s first home game since getting injured.
“That’s what we’ve been waiting on since November,’’ James said Wednesday, discussing Haslem’s impact. “I’m happy for him. Just putting in the time and the effort, just getting back, getting back to game shape, feeling healthy, feeling confident. He helped change the game for us.’’
In Miami yesterday, Heat executive and former All-Star Alonzo Mourning shook his head and marveled at what saw from Haslem in Chicago.
“U-D is a proven veteran and champion. It was just a matter of him being healthy again,’’ Mourning said. “Now you see that he’s healthy. He’s not really thinking about his body anymore. He’s out there reacting, using his talents. And he had a pretty good impact on the outcome of the game last night.’’
Haslem ruptured the Lisfranc ligament in his left foot Nov. 20 while guarding Zach Randolph in a game at Memphis. He was carried off the court and the fear was that his season was over, since the injury can take up to a year to fully heal.
He wanted to come back in four months, and actually returned for short stints in two previous postseason games, looking very rusty.
On Wednesday, that was anything but the case.
“We really shouldn’t care who’s out there,’’ Bulls guard Derrick Rose said. “We still have to play the same way. But he came [up] huge for them, shooting the ball well, rebounding the ball well. There was too many hustle plays that we didn’t get.’’
When the horn sounded Wednesday, as players filed off the court showing little emotion, Heat owner Micky Arison and Haslem shared a long embrace, the tough-as-nails player resting his head on the shoulder of the man who signs his paychecks.