Erik Spoelstra, hydrated (Getty Images)
Miami Heat 93, Boston Celtics 79 (Miami leads series, 1-0)
It nearly goes without saying that Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is in a lose-lose situation. He hasn't exactly been set up to fail by being placed at the head of the bench on a team featuring LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and eventually Chris Bosh; but if he wins the Finals every year? It's expected, and must be the work of the players. If he loses? A replacement looms, and it would seem a deserving switch. The same goes for his work during his team's trip to the Eastern Conference finals, because of course he and his Heat are supposed to dominate a Celtics team that can barely keep up, working with absolutely no bench and a fourth star in the Big Four whose ankles look like absolute rubbish at this point.
This shouldn't take away from Spoelstra's adjustments, coming out of the halftime break, in Game 1. Miami's offensive spacing was so wonderfully improved, and they were ready for the obvious Boston adjustments that didn't show up for about 30 or 40 minutes of real time following the halftime meeting, and I really have to give Spoelstra yet another game ball even in a contest where LeBron James and Dwyane Wade combined for 54 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists.
We're well aware that the players have to execute in order for this to succeed — James Jones and Mike Miller have to come off the bench to hit needed bombs, and Ronny Turiaf has to make himself somewhat of a threat on either end, and the two superstars have to play an unbelievable brand of basketball to put Miami in a position to win. Spoelstra, since the low point of his team's Game 3 loss to Indiana earlier this month, has been pushing all the right buttons in order to put the team over the top.
Which, if we're honest, he wasn't doing last year. Or, at times, this year. It's that extra gear, to use sportswriter-writ, that is giving this team an edge on top of Wade and James' brilliance.
We're well aware that LeBron James played nearly 44 minutes, and that it's his strength and touch that allows him to finish in the lane against defenders that would usually have either a strength or size advantage on him. But there Dwyane Wade was, working as a point guard against Boston's defense amongst several other wings, and it shifted things in the third quarter. And there Spoelstra's offense was, flattening things and creating spacing against a brilliant defensive team from Boston that really only has to worry about two players, but yet somehow can't trap either Wade or James. In spite of starters Mario Chalmers and Shane Battier combining to miss 13 of 15 3-pointers.
Miami clearly has myriad advantages, as this series moves along. But if Erik Spoelstra is going to start coaching on the level of Doc Rivers, as Doc attempts to make up for his lacking roster? Then it's looking more and more like what you'd probably expect from these Eastern Conference finals — Miami wins again in Game 2, Boston blows the Heat out in Game 3 back home, the Heat take a heartbreaker in Game 4, and it ends next Tuesday in Game 5.
We've been critical of the rotation and offensive schemes of Erik Spoelstra since the first month of his first season with Miami, all the way back in 2008-09. And while he might disagree that he's coming into his own, and you might point to the players as the reason the Heat are winning (and you'd be right, there), this significant progress is still worth pointing out, and talking up.
Don't fall back now, Erik. You can't afford to, considering your counterpart on the other end of the sideline. Because Doc with a day "off" between games is a dangerous thing.
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- Dwyane Wade
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- Erik Spoelstra
- Eastern Conference finals