Erik Spoelstra’s voice was pleading, his tone desperate, and his team in a big hole. He stood in the locker room addressing his team, after witnessing the 61-46 first-half shellacking. The Celtics had outclassed the Heat in every facet of the game, and Spoelstra was forced to resort to begging. He begged his players to trust their teammates. He begged them to let go of their egos. He told them they would need each other in the second half. Begging, begging, begging, trying somehow, anyhow, to urge his team to a comeback.
The speech worked, kind of. Miami showed some fight after halftime, making Boston’s win a much closer 112-107. The Heat played better and they worked harder. They even gave Boston a (brief and small) scare. But they still didn’t play as a team. They relied on one man, Lebron James, to lead the comeback.
As it has all too often this season, the Heat’s offense resorted to one-on-one play. If there was some sort of synergy between the Three Amigos, I didn’t see it. Tonight was Lebron’s turn, the next game it might be Dwyane Wade’s. The next might even be Chris Bosh’s (Ha!). But the Miami Heat have yet to figure out how to capitalize on all the talent that relocated to South Beach this summer. They have yet to learn how to play as a team.
They need only study tapes of the Boston Celtics. When the Heat called isolation plays and pick-and-rolls, the Celtics swung five touch passes within seconds. When the Heat devolved into a one-man show, the Celtics continued to find the open man. In Boston, in Miami, it doesn’t matter – The Celtics are a team; the Heat just a bunch of individuals. There is plenty of time for the Heat to find chemistry, to gel. But the Celtics already have, for the past three years and some change. And when the Celtics’ five men play as one, and when they limit turnovers, and when they shoot like the ball has magnets for the rim, they are likely to put on a clinic.
The Celtics received contributions from everybody. Ray Allen was like the fire-bullet throwing character from Mario 3. At one point, after yet another three dropped through the nets, he simply smirked at Reggie Miller, as if to say, “Yeah, I’m going to pass your all-time three-point record sometime soon. What’s up?” Paul Pierce took advantage of his opportunities, scoring an efficient and silky smooth 25 points. Rajon Rondo continued to pile up assists like he is playing NBA 2k11. Glen Davis didn’t score well, but attacked the glass to make up for it. And that spin move he had around Haslem? Oh, so pretty. And that tip-in on the fast break? Lucky or not, that was unbelievable. I’m telling you, these guys were beautiful to watch.
Also? We no longer have to qualify Kevin Garnett’s performances with “he looked like his old self.” He IS his old self, or at least something damn close to it. His hands are everywhere. He attacks the glass. He makes a difference on both ends. Every night.
Even Nate Robinson got in on the act. Sure, I wanted to kill him after he entered the game then immediately fouled a jump-shooter and picked up a technical (even if the technical wasn’t earned). But after that? Robinson was great. Game-changing, even. He dished a couple sweet passes. Called upon the tear drop to end a Heat run and keep them at bay. Finished an explosive dervish to the hoop over Joel Anthony. He’s not out of my doghouse just yet, but he started working on it.
And Marquis Daniels? Your stats (2 points, 2 rebounds) say you did almost nothing. But that’s why I watch these games. To see your admirable job on Lebron. The way you cut him off on the baseline and took a charge. The way you denied him an inbounds pass in the full court and forced a time out. You were great, Marquis, and don’t let the box score tell you otherwise.
I could probably go on talking about individual performances all day, but that wasn’t what this win was about. It was about team. It was about five guys helping each other out, getting each other’s backs, making each other better. The Celtics are already a team, the Heat aren’t one yet, and that was the difference in this game.
No matter how great Lebron was, and he was special tonight, he couldn’t mask his team’s deficiencies. The Heat still have miles to travel to attain the level of chemistry the Celtics have now spent 319 games developing.
At one point in the game, the TNT camera focused on Pat Riley taking notes. I only hope he was taking notes on the Celtics. His Heat could certainly use those.