Thank you for the 2012 NBA Playoffs. Thank you for fighting from the opening jump to the final seconds of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Thank you for keeping us riveted to our seats night in and night out.
I know how easy it would’ve been to check out during these playoffs. No one really ever believed you could win a championship. And when Avery Bradley‘s shoulder injury against the 76ers cost the team its only perimeter defender young enough to hang with the Heat, you could’ve basically thrown in the towel.
But that wouldn’t be the Celtics’ way. It wouldn’t be how Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen have approached their entire careers. It wouldn’t have been “ubuntu.”
This is the NBA Finals that David Stern dreams of at night and pleasures himself to during the day. The Oklahoma City Thunder vs. the Miami Heat. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook vs. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. The league’s best teams pitting its brightest stars against each other on its biggest stage.
The advertising pitch pretty much sells itself. It all starts Tuesday night, and here’s my preview.
Heat Too Multifaceted
Besides both having meteorological collective noun as mascots, the Heat and Thunder have much in common. Both have two elite offensive players, as capable of splitting defenses and dunking as stepping into mid-range jumpers. Both teams’ youth enables fast-paced, transition offense designed to strike before an opposing defense sets. And both teams have role-players capable of big plays when called upon.
Unfortunately for the Thunder, the Heat just have more. When Shane Battier, Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers and apparently even Chris Bosh can all shoot three-pointers, the Heat’s offense becomes nigh-unguardable. And at their best, James and Wade may be the physically strongest players in the game (minus Dwight Howard), which has translated into numerous trips to the foul line (17.0 per playoff game for James and Wade combined, 13.3 for Durant and Westbrook).
James Harden gives the Thunder a little more depth, but not enough to overcome the myriad snipers the Heat can use to eat up leads quickly.
When it comes to predictions, sports reporters need to show conviction to be taken seriously. An “expert” might suggest how both teams could win a game, but ultimately he or she has to pick a team, then stick to it. There’s no room for “maybe.”
Saying “it will be interesting to see” can buy a play-by-play or color commentator time, but that’s quickly become an all-but-meaningless expression. I try my hardest never to use it.
I predicted before the Eastern Conference Finals that the Heat would beat the Celtics in six games. The voice of the analytical, objective observer that lives in the left side of my brain still argues the Heat will win in six, and for the same reasons: the Heat are too fast, too young, too strong and too deep.
But as I watched the Celtics pull out an edge-of-the-couch overtime victory over the Heat in Game 4, I could hear another voice in my head. It didn’t come from the part of my brain that thinks – no, it came from some deeper, rawer, part of my brain. A part that just “feels.”
And everything that voice said started with one word: “Maybe.”
The Boston Celtics threw everything they had at the Miami Heat in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals Wednesday night. They overcame two second-half Heat leads, played their Big 4 for 43-plus minutes each, and even got a career-best 44 points from Rajon Rondo, who played the entire game.
They did all that, and it still wasn’t enough.
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade combined for 57 points, including 12 of the Heat’s 16 in overtime, powering the Heat to a 115-111 overtime victory over the Celtics. The series heads to Boston for Game 3 Friday with the Heat up 2-0.
Celtics Comeback Twice in Fourth
Miami reserve Mike Miller‘s three-pointer – one of Miami’s 10 – put his team up 84-77 with just under a minute gone in the fourth. Two Kevin Garnett (18 points, eight rebounds in 45 minutes) free throws and a three-pointer from Mickael Pietrus cut the deficit to one, then went up 86-85 when Rondo picked off a pass and sprinted for the fast-break layup.
The Celtics built that lead as high as five, going up 92-87 on one of 10 mid- to long-range jumpers by Rondo. He shot 16-for-24 and went 10-for-12 from the free throw line, fueling nearly all of his team’s offense Wednesday.
James kept the Heat from crumbling late, however, earning and scoring six free throws in the final four minutes. His last two put the Heat up 96-94, and Udonis Haslem‘s 18-footer pushed the lead to four. Haslem led all reserves with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
The Celtics had another comeback in them, however, with Garnett’s alley-oop from Rondo (10 assists) cutting the deficit to 98-96. Following Wade going 1-for-2 at the line, Keyon Dooling drew four Heat defenders to him under the basket before finding Ray Allen behind the arc. Allen, who rebounded nicely with 13 points after a horrific Game 1, knocked it down to tie the game 99-99.
A similar story runs through both the Eastern Conference and Western Conference Finals. Both series will match athletic, physically strong youngsters against experienced, cagey veterans. The brash and burly Miami Heat play the ancient and venerated Boston Celtics in the East, while the run-and-gun Oklahoma City Thunder play the super-synchronized San Antonio Spurs in the West.
Each teams stands just four wins away from a trip to the NBA Finals. A Celtics championship would write the perfect ending to the likely final year for their New Big Three, while a Heat championship would do away with all the criticisms LeBron James has endured about his lack of big-game effectiveness.
The Spurs would love to milk one more championship out of Tim Duncan, who’s already won it all four times since 1999. And a trophy by the Thunder would provide some hardware to match Kevin Durant‘s considerable skills.
Do brains conquer brawn in basketball? Do teams win in the playoffs by scoring or preventing scoring? Here’s my preview of the third round.
Celtics vs. Heat
Celtics fans desperate to believe their team can beat the Heat will no doubt look at the Celtics’ 3-1 record against them this season. You know who started all three wins? Avery Bradley. You know who won’t play basketball again this season? Avery Bradley. And without him, the Celtics don’t have enough perimeter defense to contain Dwyane Wade, especially with Ray Allen hurtin’ and the bench nonexistent.
The Celtics struggled with the 76ers’ strength and athleticism throughout their series. Doc Rivers even called them “Atlanta on steroids.” Well, the Heat are the 76ers on steroids: even stronger, even faster, even more durable. And they’ve had two extra days off.
Kevin Garnett won’t be able to dominate in the post as he did against the 76ers, and an injured Paul Pierce won’t be able to hang with James. Rajon Rondo is an infinitely better point guard than Mario Chalmers, but both perform best as facilitators, not scorers. And Chalmers just has better offensive options than Rondo.