The Boston Celtics are the class of the Eastern Conference, and if you don’t know, now you know.
The teams’ third meeting went very much according to script:
Boston builds a big lead with cohesive play and toughness Miami can’t possibly match. Miami fights its way back into the game on the heels of individual greatness (today — no joke — mostly Bosh), as Boston stops doing the things that built the lead (in this case, energy in transition and a double shot of Rajon Rondo). Boston closes the door shakily, but still, no doubt is left — Boston’s a better team and Miami, at this stage, can’t compare. And grit, man, the Celtics have it in spades.
Mentally, Boston’s in the major leagues and Miami’s still in Double A. After a first half that included a whole lot of Boston missed shots — including one miss which featured Glen Davis rising for a dunk, only to botch a layup when he realized he wasn’t going to reach the rim — the C’s turned the game on its heels in the third period. You can attribute the change to Boston’s toughness, but remember, toughness doesn’t always come in huge packages.
Rajon Rondo is just 6’1″ tall, but that small frame comes equipped with a heart three sizes too large. Do you know how difficult it is to cover someone who’s almost as quick as you, seven inches taller, and outweighs you by 100 pounds? No, you probably don’t. Neither do I. Most human beings never get the chance to prove themselves in a similar situation, because players as genetically mutated as Lebron James don’t normally exist in real life. But the Rondo-James matchup had every reason to be a mismatch of “Shaq In His Prime vs. Shawn Bradley” proportions. Except Rondo (quite handily) got the better of the matchup, then proceeded to dominate the offensive end of the court as well.
Rondo’s “I’ll poke my head into Miami’s huddle a few times, just to piss a few people off” antics will earn a fair share of attention. But those antics were just theatrics. Rondo did his real damage while the ball was in play, annoying Miami the whole game, not just during that time out.
Even without three of their four centers, Boston’s frontcourt did work. Kendrick Perkins tossed some folks around in the paint, and even pitched in 15 points. Kevin Garnett bothered Miami’s offense all day, still finding time to roast unworthy defenders in the post. Glen Davis, despite the missed layup that brought to mind bad memories of my fourth-grade CYO teammates, shot 6-11 on his way to 16 clutch points. James Jones even tried his hand defending Davis at times, which (once I stopped laughing at the absurd mismatch) only highlighted the biggest difference between Boston and Miami. The Celtics can push Miami — and Joel Anthony, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and Chris Bosh, and whoever else Miami throws onto the court — around at will. Like a big brother schooling his younger sibling in the backyard.
No recap of today’s game would be complete without mentioning Von Wafer. Is anybody else beginning to think Marquis Daniels’ injury (in a weird way, and without trying to sound an asshole) will actually help Boston down the road, so long as Daniels can return to health in time for the playoffs? Today, Wafer provided what the C’s initially hoped Nate Robinson would. He made shots. He drove to the hoop. He energetically forced turnovers. He changed the game, in a good way. He’s still going to have his moments of Wafer-ness, like the double dribble that left me dazed and confused, but Wafer continues to look comfortable. On one play, he forced Lebron James into a tough shot, and Lebron missed. Wafer then sprinted the court in transition, ultimately catching a pass for a knockdown, catch-and-shoot three. Cash.
With that one three, Wafer made more field goals than Paul Pierce enjoyed today. Dwyane Wade forgot he had a game this afternoon, but, compared to Pierce, looked like Wilt Chamberlain during his 100-point game. Lebron James made a few post moves that made me tremble in fear, but didn’t have his best outing. Help defense had a lot to do with that, as did Miami missing a lot of open jumpers (which would have resulted in Lebron assists). Boston’s close outs had something to do with Miami’s brick fest, but a few open misses (including Mike Miller’s final attempt) would normally fall.
But there’s a difference between Miami’s supporting cast and Boston’s: Boston’s can make plays, whereas Miami’s just finishes them. Eddie House needs Lebron James or Dwyane Wade to make sure he gets open. So does James Jones. So does Mike Miller. So does Zydrunas Ilgauskas. So does Mario Chalmers. Joel Anthony and Erick Dampier can’t even make a play if they do find themselves wide open. I get mad at Boston’s bench a lot, mostly because it’s been increasingly inconsistent. But some of those guys can make plays, and, on a good day like today, can really energize Boston.
Three strikes and you’re out. Or, in this case, three strikes and you get another opportunity on April 10 and, presumably, another opportunity after that in the playoffs. The Boston Celtics are the Eastern Conference favorites, and now hold the tiebreaker against Miami for homecourt advantage. No matter how many straight games Miami can win against other teams, they’re going to have to learn how to beat Boston.
It all starts with limiting Rajon Rondo, the C’s little engine that could. Easier said than done.
P.S. – In case you were looking to have your great mood officially ruined, Paul Pierce will have an MRI on his left foot tomorrow. He also sprained his wrist yesterday in practice. Fuck.