For the second time in three years, an underdog Boston Celtics team has a LeBron James-led squad on the verge of elimination. Falling to the Celtics this time in Game 6 Thursday would be a more significant blow, worse even than falling in the NBA Finals last year to the Dallas Mavericks.
This was supposed to the year James — and James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh — ascended to the championship. And the Miami Heat still might. But having blown a 2-0 series lead with three straight losses, it will take an effort much unlike their Game 5 defeat at home Wednesday to turn things.
In many ways, Tuesday night’s loss crystallized the differences between the two teams – and exposed Miami’s critical flaws. The most notable difference? The Heat lack the offensive creativity. It is not enough to give the ball to James and, to a lesser degree, Wade, and let them make it happen. That works against lesser clubs. Against Boston, it is a formula for stagnation.
The Celtics are cunning enough to not allow James and Wade to get off, and so they have forced the latter into scoring funks that have stunk up the offense. To wit: Boston has been able to overcome deficits of 15, 18, and 24 points in Games 2, 3 and 4, winning two of the three.
Contrast that with the Celtics’ swift ball movement that creates opportunities for many players, even when Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen have subpar shooting nights. Tuesday it was reserve Michael Pietrus contributing 13 points, including three critical three-pointers in the fourth quarter.
“We know what we want to, where we want the ball, have an idea of the plays we should call,” Allen said. “We’ve been together so long, you see us in the huddle at a timeout exchanging ideas.”
The centerpiece of this Celtics run has been the inspired play of future Hall-of-Famer Kevin Garnett, who had 26 points and 11 boards in Game 5. “[KG] is our life,” Boston coach Doc Rivers said. “He does so many things that don’t have numbers attached to it.”
That’s called intangibles, and the Celtics seem to have that decidedly on their side. There is a confidence about Boston, an assuredness that it will make the play needed to win in the game’s hottest moments. On the Miami said, there looks to be indecision and uncertainty, and it manifested itself Tuesday with poor late-game execution.
It also has hurt the Heat that coach Eric Spoelstra at times seems over his head. Tuesday was not a good night for him. He did not adjust to Rivers’ constant defensive switches, his team looked confused with the ball down the stretch and he did not play Bosh in the fourth quarter. “I had a lot more to give,” the forward said.
The Heat must give everything available on Thursday – and that still might not be enough. James is 1-7 in games in Boston. The Celtics are getting healthy and are savvy enough to know they have to perform to win. Elimination awaits James and Co. – again.