So much went wrong for the Boston Celtics, beginning with Dwyane Wade’s brilliance and including a laundry list of other items.
Rajon Rondo endured early foul trouble and never found his rhythm, never controlled the game the way Boston needed him to. Paul Pierce was ejected, after losing his cool one time, after being in the wrong place at the wrong time another, after playing the role of chameleon for most of the night and blending into the background at a time the Celtics needed far more. The bench was not magically cured of its shortcomings, nor did Jeff Green suddenly become the player Danny Ainge compared to James Posey, nor did the refs handle the magnitude of the game, nor did the Celtics care to contest James Jones’ wide open three-pointers. And the Heat? They were good. Really, really good.
After the game, Doc Rivers complained that his team made itself easy to defend. His point being that the Celtics didn’t move the ball from side to side or execute the way he drew it up. To illustrate Doc’s point, the Celtics shot only 42.7% from the field, a number that would have been worse if Ray Allen had shot darts directed by the hand of Jesus. Because almost nothing Boston did came easy. Only during brief spans did Boston’s offense look efficient, and even then, Miami came equipped with an answer on the other end. Many times Boston challenged to cut the lead. Every time, the Heat got stops and made a bucket of their own.
It wasn’t that Boston’s defense was bad as a whole. It wasn’t. Wade hit some superstar shots, indeed, but for the most part Boston forced tough jump shots and limited second-chance opportunities. Boston’s defense was actually pretty good. Except, you know, for a number of “let’s just leave James Jones open and pray he misses” snafus.
Suffice it to say, if Jones scores 25 points each night, the Heat will prove difficult to defeat. An easy excuse for Jones’ easy looks would be that Boston spent too much effort helping on Wade and James. But after watching each of Jones’ shot attempts, most of them had nothing to do with allotting too much man-power to the superstars. I could pick many brain farts the Celtics made on Jones today, but I’ll choose the following example of Jeff Green’s nice defense. And when I say “Jeff Green’s nice defense,” I hope you know I’m saying it in the same tone I would use to say “Shaquille O’Neal’s terrific free throw form.”
I picked on Green (mostly because he was the most egregious defender, partially because I wanted to pick on Green), but there were many other culprits: Ray Allen, Delonte West, and, when the Heat went small, even Kevin Garnett. Boston’s defense on Jones was atypically lax, considering that he’s Miami’s primary outside threat. You don’t want James or Wade to hurt you, but the Heat are most dangerous when their role players impact the game.
The Celtics and Heat spent nine months training for this moment, nine months longing for the day when the two teams would meet and the games would mean something truly significant. The series was inevitable, two locomotive trains on the same track, two cars traveling different directions on the same side of the road. By virtue of Chicago’s surprising regular season, the series came a round earlier than expected. But the regular season only served to ferment a mutual dislike, one that began in past postseasons and has grown steadily and exponentially during the past year. Now we can reasonably call the dislike hatred, the escalation of the teams’ differences culminating in Pierce’s ejection and a fierce, mixed martial arts feel to the second half.
The Heat were better today. Much better, even. But ask Paul Pierce: the Celtics, should they be defeated, won’t fall without firing a few rounds of ammunition themselves. These two teams don’t like each other, and they understand what’s at stake. Expect a steel cage match the rest of this series.