Going to keep this one relatively short and to the point. But before I get into it, just a quick announcement; It's a Hardwood Life is now on Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/hardwoodlife and can be found on Facebook also, just search "It's a Hardwood Life" and become a fan!
Okay, so I won't waste any time with the obvious stuff about this being a huge upset and the Hornets being hot right now and all that jazz. In a nutshell, this was a clash of team-building philosophy. The Hornets' approach is the classic franchise player model, which I affectionately refer to as the Batman and Robin strategy. Essentially, you take one franchise player - Chris Paul in this case - give him a sidekick - David West - and fill the rest of the roster with role players that play to Batman's strengths. The benefits of this approach are that there is a clear leadership hierarchy, the star player can play to his full capacity and these are especially beneficial in the fourth quarters of close games where Batman traditionally takes over. While the Hornets haven't had huge success just yet, they won 56 games under this model recently and were good for number 2 seed in the West. Other teams using this model have been greatly successful in recent times though; Jordan's Bulls, Hakeem the Dream's Rockets, Shaq's Lakers, Duncan's Spurs and Kobe's Lakers. All of these teams won multiple championships. The Hornets-Heat game highlighted the strengths of the Batman and Robin strategy; they came out firing on all cylinders, knowing they couldn't rely on star-power, and Batman made the right decisions to secure the win when it got close.
Conversely, the Heat performance highlighted the problems with the fantasy team or as I call it, the Avengers approach, where a group of superheroes in their own right come together to fight evil (or win basketball games in this case); they can underestimate their opponents and expect star-power to see them through, the star players can get confused as to when to go full bore, and there was no clear green light given to any particular star which in this case lead to Eddie House taking a contested last shot. I think the best way for me to explain why the Heat approach of taking superstar players just as they are beginning to peak isn't ideal is by drawing comparisons to the Heat's immediate predecessors in Big Three land; the Boston Celtics. While the Heat will probably win a championship sooner or later, the Celtics have actually done it, so we know their way worked. What they did was assemble a trio of franchise players who were no longer capable of bearing the weight of an entire team on their backs. This might seem like a worse decision than what the Heat did, and heck, if Miami go on to win six straight titles then I'll eat these words, but I think the age of the Celtics stars played a big role in their success. There was no question of when to go 100% for these three because it took everything they had left in the tank to compete with younger, more capable franchise players they were up against. There was no question of underestimating opponents for the Boston Three Party because their careers were winding down and they couldn't take anything for granted, it was quite literally now or never. This is the problems facing the Miami Heat; how can two Batman's co-exist in Gotham City? Which one stops the Joker (or should that be Ironman after the Marvel ESPN covers)? While the Heat are going to be a smothering defensive team, the offensive end is going to remain a problem in crunch time unless Lebron takes a back-seat, because let's face it, Wade isn't going to give up his own turf to anybody, even if that anybody just so happens to be the defending two-time MVP.
Personally, I'm of the opinion that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Seeing Chris Paul take a team consisting of overachievers (West, Thornton, Belinelli), and underachievers (Ariza, Okafur) and elevating them beyond the sum of their parts was a special moment because it exceeded expectations. Watching a team with so much talent that the whole is actually less than the sum of its parts isn't going to be fun to watch, because they will either meet expectations or disappoint; when you have the most talented roster on paper in the Association, exceeding expectations isn't really an option.