|Fast Break: Heat, James LeBlow out Celtics in Game 6||06.07.12 at 11:10 pm ET|
LeBron James submitted perhaps his greatest game as a professional — his most clutch, anyway — amassing 45 points (19-26 FG) to go along with 15 rebounds and five assists, breaking even a raucous Garden crowd’s spirit and sending the Eastern Conference finals back to Miami for a Game 7.
Six minutes before the 98-79 defeat in Game 6 was over, Celtics fans already headed for the exits. Doc Rivers rested Paul Pierce (9 points, 4-18 FG), Kevin Garnett (12 points, 6-14 FG) and Rajon Rondo (21 points, 10 assists, 7 turnovers) for the last half of the fourth quarter, letting them stew on what just happened.
The C’s fans who stayed, though, deserve respect, closing out the final two minutes with a prolonged “Let’s go Celtics” chant that lasted until the final answer, sending a message to the “good job, good effort” Heat fans and Boston’s Big Four for Game 7.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Worst first: Through the first 11:42 of Game 6, James played the Celtics dead even by himself. He scored 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting; the Celtics netted 14 on 7-of-16 from the field. While the C’s offense seemed stagnant for long stretches, James attacked from the opening tip. His effort effectively quieted a deafening Garden crowd and forced the Celtics to play from behind. If not for James, the Heat don’t take a 26-16 lead into the second quarter, as Dwyane Wade started 0-for-4 and finished the first frame scoreless.
Long play the king: Since James started a ridiculous 12-of-14 from the floor, it’s worth discussing further. His emotionless face said it all. If the Heat were going down this time, it wouldn’t be on his shoulders. Playing all 24 minutes of the first half, he scored 30 points, and it would have been more, if not for his 5-of-9 free throw shooting. As the Heat took a 55-42 into the break (on a ridiculous four-point swing of a no-call when Shane Battier mugged Rondo), James owned an 85.7 field goal percentage. The rest of the Heat? Thirty six percent.
Foul mood: With 5:39 remaining in the second quarter, Pierce picked up his third foul, continuing his foul prone ways over the past seven games. Rivers had no choice but to sit his captain until halftime. Pierce had as many turnovers (2) as he had first-half points, and considering James’ performance, it wasn’t his finest effort on either end. Sitting for a long stretch certainly didn’t help his flow. Pierce missed his first three shots out of the break, too. Not to mention a wide-open 3 that would have cut the lead to eight and could have changed the game’s complexion late in the third quarter.
Miami Herald writer and ESPN personality Dan Le Batard joined the Mut & Merloni show Thursday to discuss the Heat’s issues late in games, Miami’s future and Erik Spoelstra. To hear the interview go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.
The Heat have had immense pressure on them since the beginning of last season, but Le Batard said Game 6 is different.
“Game 5 you feel like you’ve still got a cushion. There is no safety net now. Now the safety net is absolutely gone, Le Batard said. “There is no, ‘Hey, maybe America won’t be able to laugh at us. Maybe we can come back in the next game and stop the laughter with one good game.’ This is different kind of pressure from any other kind of pressure.”
Le Batard noted that there are a number of factors contributing to Miami’s issues.
“You have got a lot of things in play that makes this a very difficult game for the Miami Heat and create that doubt,” he said. “One, you don’t know what you’re going to get from one of your All-Stars. Chris Bosh has been hurt. Two, Dwyane Wade has not been himself, he’s a little banged up. He’s the only one with a proven track record. And three, you’ve got LeBron James, who, while he’s been great this postseason and been great this season, the last time he was in this particular spot, lose and you die, lose and your season is over, he’s not been good in those spots. It’s been real hard to have trust [in him].”
Le Batard was uncertain of the Heat’s future, but he offered up an interesting trading piece if the Heat were to break up their Big Three.
“While that’s the noise that surrounds the franchise, Pat Riley prides himself on loyalty, and really that would be an extraordinary cold thing to do,” Le Batard said. “The piece you would trade is the older piece whose has the redundant skill set to LeBron James’. So you’d basically be trading Dwyane Wade, who put this whole thing together. I’m not sure how fair that is to Dwyane Wade when he put the whole thing together and two years after putting it together he’s playing in Golden State. I don’t know whether Pat Riley is capable of that.”
When asked about Spoelstra’s job status if the Heat lose, Le Batard minimized NBA coaches’ effect on games.
Said Le Batard: “I don’t believe that while Boston does have a coaching advantage in this series, I don’t believe a coaching advantage usually matters very much in this sport. … The way I’d ask you guys the question is this: Did Erik Spoelstra outcoach Doc [Rivers] last year in the playoffs? I don’t think he did. I think Boston just lost in five games because [Rajon] Rondo was hurt. And Erik Spoelstra is not afforded the same thing when I say Miami will lose in six or seven because Bosh was hurt.”
|Ian Thomsen on D&C: Dwyane Wade ‘giving up’ on Heat’s system||at 10:41 am ET|
Sports Illustrated NBA writer Ian Thomsen joined Dennis & Callahan on Thursday morning to talk about the Celtics‘ confidence, maligned Heat stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, and his predictions for Game 6. To hear the interview go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.
“I think the Celtics go into this game with a lot more faith, with a lot more confidence than Miami,” Thomsen said.” I think Boston says to themselves, ‘If we play our way, if we do what we want to do, we’re going to win.’ I don’t think Miami goes into this game feeling that way at all. Maybe they feel like they have to do something that isn’t like themselves in order to win. Because everything else they’ve been trying lately has not been working — the last two years it it’s not been working in big games against this team, when [Rajon] Rondo‘s been healthy.”
When Thomsen was asked to predict Game 6, he was confident in the Celtics finishing the series.
“I think it’s going to be a tight, tough game all the way through,” Thomsen said. “In the end, Boston is going to win like they have before. In the end, Rondo is going to make some plays and Miami won’t have anybody that can make those plays.”
Thomsen said the Heat have been unwilling to display their emotions, even after the Game 5 loss.
“They’re just trying to show nothing,” he said. “They look like golfers after they walk off the green and they’ve three-putted or something. That’s how they looked.”
James has been under scrutiny for his and Miami’s fourth-quarter failures dating back to last season, and Thomsen has a theory as to the dismal late-game efforts.
“When he came into the league he was eventually cast as Michael Jordan and he always wanted to be Magic Johnson,” Thomsen said. “By signing with Miami he wanted to be Magic Johnson and he was making that clear. People saw that as a weakness. So now he was accused of being irresponsible or not up to the task. … I think that’s just messing with his head.”
Wade also has had a tough time this series. Thomsen is surprised with Wade’s play.
“He’s feeling pressure to score because Boston’s defense isn’t giving him any position,” Thomsen said. “But he’s also feeling frustration maybe with the plays that are being called, with the coaches. He’s going one-on-one because he doesn’t trust the plays. When I watched the game the other night, that’s what I was thinking, was: He’s giving up, not on the team and not on trying to win, but on the system. That’s where the Celtics have to feel like, ‘Now we’ve got him.’ ”
|Stephen A. Smith on The Big Show: Magic interested in Kevin Garnett?||06.06.12 at 5:56 pm ET|
ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith joined The Big Show Wednesday afternoon to discuss the Celtics‘ big road win Tuesday night in Miami and what the future may hold for both teams. But first, Smith felt he had some owning up to do.
‘You’ve got to give credit where credit’s due. I get so disgusted with people that can’t fess up and own up,’ Smith said. ‘We were wrong, most of us were wrong and I’m at the top of that list. I didn’t think Boston had a shot to win two games this series.’
To hear the interview, go to The Big Show audio on demand page.
Smith said his pre-series prediction of a Miami victory was based on a rash of Celtics injuries and their season-long rebounding woes.
However, ‘Sure enough, because of exceptional coaching by Doc Rivers, and guys that simply have the heart of a champion, [the Celtics] just know how to win. And they have so much heart, so much focus and dedication. They just know how to get it done,’ Smith said.
‘It’s not just that they’re winning, it’s that they’re making it plain that they had no business being an underdog. ‘¦ And the way I look at it, the Miami Heat are incredibly lucky that they still have a game to play and they still have life because they don’t deserve it. They don’t even deserve to be on a respirator right now.’
Asked about possible destinations for Kevin Garnett next season, the well-connected Smith said a couple of candidates for the Magic’s general manager job have told Orlando, ‘What you need to do is break the bank a little bit and sign KG to a two-year deal, even it is for about $20 million.’
Smith also suggested the Lakers were a logical destination for Garnett, if Boston didn’t make a strong enough offer to re-sign him. ‘Me personally, if I’m Kobe Bryant, and I know I’m staying in L.A., I’m making a call to KG,’ Smith said.
|Michael Wilbon on M&M: ‘Miami just doesn’t have what it takes to be a championship team’||at 3:05 pm ET|
Appearing on Mut & Merloni Wednesday afternoon, ESPN analyst Michael Wilbon said if the Heat lose the series, which he expects them to do, they will have to rebuild the team.
“It became apparent literally sometime in Game 3 — more likely in Game 4 — that Miami just doesn’t have what it takes to be a championship team. They don’t have it,” he said. “It doesn’t mean individually they don’t have the talent. ‘¦ But collectively it doesn’t work. And that’s what’s become apparent. And that’s why the Celtics are going to put the Heat out of their misery tomorrow night.”
Added Wilbon: ‘If Miami goes out tomorrow night, and I expect Boston to close them out ‘¦ you have to just sort of deep-six this thing, and you have to start over. You keep LeBron [James] and you figure out what else you’re going to do. And that means changes. It means changes in the coaching office, it means changes in that locker room. You don’t commit to $350 million or whatever it is to get a conference finalist.”
‘No question. No question. It’s almost embarrassing. And that happened last year in the finals as well with [Mavericks coach] Rick Carlisle,” he said.
Wilbon pointed to Spoelstra’s inability to get his players to execute as ultimately dooming Miami’s chances.
‘Spoelstra can’t get done what they need to have done,” he said. “The other night, in [Game] 4, when you got all these situations where Miami can win that game in Boston, people point out, they say, ‘Well, they aren’t running plays.’ Well are they not running plays because Spoelstra didn’t diagram them during the timeout? Of course not. Of course Spoelstra diagrammed a play during the timeout. Are they executing the play? No. So, whose fault is that? Either Spoelstra can’t get them to, or the players — I don’t think they’re defiant, but whatever the case, this goes back to disconnect. ‘¦ There’s a disconnect between what they’re supposed to do and what they actually do — what they’re capable of doing, and what they actually do. Do I seem them suddenly putting it all together tomorrow in Boston? No, I don’t. I don’t see any scenario where that happens.’
In terms of the coaching job Rivers has done this year, Wilbon talked about a conversation he shared with Rivers last offseason that foreshadowed the coach’s regular-season strategy.
‘I remember being with Doc, I think it was during the lockout, and he jokingly said a 66-game season was too long, he needed a 45-game season. And so what Doc then did, even though he was joking when he said it to me, he was crafting what amounted to a 45-game season,” Wilbon said. “He could have made that move with Kevin Garnett games earlier; he didn’t want to. Putting [Garnett] at center and other moves he made, introducing, spoon-feeding Avery Bradley, and how to get him into the lineup, and other changes. He could have done that stuff earlier, but he knew he really needed 45 games because he wasn’t going to risk getting Ray Allen hurt and risk getting Paul Pierce hurt and going into the playoffs without those guys being healthy. And so it was a balancing act. And it’s a great truly great coaching job.’
|Irish Coffee: The Celtics, Heat and the duality of team||at 1:26 pm ET|
There’s a duality of team happening in this series. Not good vs. evil, but heart vs. spinelessness. As Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the Celtics, “They have championship DNA. They have what we’re trying to get.”
The lasting images of Game 5: 1) A blank-faced LeBron James retreating into the tunnel of AmericanAirlines Arena after another devastating postseason defeat as one young Miami fan repeated behind him, “Good job! Good effort!” And 2) A grinning Paul Pierce returning to a timeout huddle, his puffed chest being pounded by teammates after he delivered another playoff victory that forced most Heat fans to funnel for the exits.
Throughout Tuesday night, constant dueling reminders arose of why these Heat are these Heat and these Celtics are these Celtics. Let’s revisit four of them from the C’s pivotal Eastern Conference finals victory.
- LeBron James in a halftime interview with ESPN’s Doris Burke, moments after his Heat coughed up a 13-point lead: “I’m pleased with my individual performance.”
- Paul Pierce overheard in a timeout, shortly after burying the dagger 3 in LeBron’s face with 52 seconds remaining: “I’m cold-blooded.”
Through the first 40 minutes, James made 10-of-21 shots, netted 28 points and grabbed 12 boards. Over the final eight minutes, he finished 1-of-4 from the field, scored just two points and snatched only one rebound.
Conversely, in the first 42 minutes, Pierce tallied 14 points on 5-of-18 shooting while amassing two rebounds and two assists. In the last six minutes of the game, he recorded five points — making his lone shot attempt (the dagger) — to go along with two assists and two boards. One rose to the occasion; the other ran from it.
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|Fast Break: Truth is, Celtics one win from NBA finals||06.05.12 at 11:29 pm ET|
Shooting just 5-of-18 from the field through the first 47:07.1 of Game 5 and his Celtics leading by just one, Paul Pierce pulled up for a trey in Heat superstar LeBron James‘ face with 52.9 seconds remaining, and The Truth’s shot was true, giving the Celtics a four-point lead that resulted in a 94-90 victory.
In a frenzied fourth quarter that featured four lead changes, two ties and countless great plays on both sides, Pierce’s triple was the greatest, effectively giving the Celtics a 3-2 lead over the Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals with Game 6 in Boston on Thursday night.
Somehow, someway, the C’s Big Four of Kevin Garnett (26 points, 11 rebounds), Pierce (19 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists), Rajon Rondo (13 points, 13 assists, 6 rebounds) and Ray Allen (13 points, 7 rebounds) — despite shooting 40.7 percent from the field — outshined the Heat’s Big Three of James (30 points, 13 rebounds), Dwyane Wade (27 points) and the ghost of Chris Bosh (9 points, 14 minutes).
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Third dimension: Over the final six minutes of the third quarter, the Celtics turned a 59-50 deficit into a 65-60 lead entering the fourth. The 15-1 run included buckets from Allen, Pierce, Greg Stiemsma, Garnett, Mickael Pietrus and Keyon Dooling — not to mention great defense by all, holding the Heat without a field goal.
Garnett gets going: After trailing by as much as 13 in the second quarter, the Celtics made a concerted effort to go back to what’s worked throughout these playoffs — getting Garnett involved in the post. His 1-of-7 start from the field was mostly the result of shots off the block, but he took advantage of a legless Bosh, and Rondo fed him for a couple late layups that helped the Celtics cut the Heat lead to 42-40 by the half.
Free Bassing: While Pierce and Rondo started a combined 3-of-18 from the field, the Celtics desperately needed offense elsewhere. Enter Brandon Bass. It wasn’t quite his 27-point masterpiece against the 76ers, but Bass started 4-of-5 from the field for 10 points to go along with three rebounds, two steals and a block by halftime. He didn’t make a big impact in the second half, but he kept the C’s in it early.
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