Everyone had advice for Norris Cole.
Everyone always does.
“Tell ‘em this is what you do!” Mike Miller yelled.
“You stump on the podium!” LeBron James screamed.
And as everyone laughed in the locker room Friday night, he smiled and stayed focused on his task, as he always does, as he has since the Heat drafted him out of Cleveland State in 2011. He put on his polka-dot socks, his cuffed and torn jeans, his sweatshirt, his winter vest and his prescription glasses.
This — after a 104-94 victory over Chicago in which he contributed considerably — would qualify as his post-game podium attire.
After all, no one expected him to be there, not on a team with James and Dwyane Wade.
“I stay prepared,” Cole said, smiling.
That he does.
The clothing choice?
“That speaks for itself,” Cole said, smiling again.
And then, as he left, and asked how he’d done, he received a pat on the back from a Heat official.
He deserved it for everything he did Friday as the Heat took a 2-1 advantage in the series against Chicago. Cole’s performance spoke loudly about how far he’s come in so short a time, suddenly eradicating all the youthful errors of his recent past.
“With experience comes comfort,” Cole said. “I’m seeing situations that I saw last playoffs, that I saw early this season.”
For stretches of this season, it wasn’t clear he would be part of the playoff rotation, after getting yanked in and out last postseason. And here he was, on a night that the Bulls pushed the Heat to the floor and to the edge, playing a major role in the Heat pushing them away, with 18 points on seven shots, including a put-away 3-pointer with 1:48 left.
Strange to say with Wade on his side, but Cole has been the most decisive guard on the Heat roster.
Every time Miami needed a play — a drive, a jumper, a charge taken — the kid with the flat-top stood up.
And Miami needed more plays than usual Friday because, at times, James appeared a bit less than himself.
For much of the game, he got in the paint only when Chicago’s Nazr Mohammed put him there. That occurred in the second quarter, after James dribbled down the left side and the Bulls’ backup center fouled him intentionally 40 feet from the basket.
James spun around, which — intentionally or not — had the effect of slinging Mohammed to the floor. Joey Crawford, the cop on the scene and always eager to intervene, pointed at James and called a technical foul. After James pointed at his own chest in disbelief, and looked left and right with palms up to argue, Mohammed rose to his feet and shoved James with two hands.
James didn’t retaliate, but he couldn’t resist something else for much of the night: the long, out-of-rhythm, on-his-own jumper.
He often settled for that shot in a manner that was unsettling, since it was more reminiscent of what occurred during the Heat’s 2010-11 struggles than during their 2012-13 dominance.
And on the rare times he did attack the basket, it didn’t always go well, as evidenced when 5-foot-9 Nate Robinson swatted his shot.
It is true that James would make one when it most mattered, a 3-pointer with 2:35 remaining to put the Heat ahead by seven.
And it is true that he still ended with 25 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, while shooting an uncharacteristically inefficient 6-for-17.
But, to tell the whole truth, the Heat wouldn’t be ahead in this second-round series if a couple of his teammates hadn’t raised their game to unexpected levels.
One was Chris Bosh, who is compensated and decorated in a manner that should make nice numbers the norm, but he doesn’t always deliver in quite this style.
He’s usually fluid. Friday, he was a force.
That meant not just 20 points, but 19 rebounds, one short of half of Miami’s total. That meant carrying the Heat through a fourth-quarter stretch in which the Bulls still appeared to have the Heat out of sorts.
That meant earning a trip to the podium, not long after an unlikely visitor — a kid named Cole — ceded that stage.