Boston Celtics 94, Miami Heat 90 (Celtics lead series, 3-2)
It's OK to rip LeBron James here, you know. It's OK to point to the fact that 30 points and 13 rebounds, with nine points scored in the fourth quarter, are not enough. It's OK to discredit him more than you discredit Dwyane Wade, all while not discrediting the Boston Celtics in the same breath. Our brains and these games are big enough for all of this. LeBron James was great, in Game 5, but he needed to play better. There's no way around this. At this point the failures of the Miami Heat supporting cast are a constant, and James should know by this same point that he absolutely cannot take possessions off on either side of the ball if he wants his team to advance past a Celtics team that is slightly deeper (somehow) and more consistent with its effort.
Remember, it was the Boston Celtics that entered this series featuring absolutely no depth. The team that played Ryan Hollins. The team that was cursing the absence of Avery Bradley, who was a 34 percent-shooting rookie and absolute afterthought when the Celtics and Miami Heat met in the postseason last year. The outfit that lives and dies with whatever the hell Mickael Pietrus is doing at that particular moment. The team that has Keyon Dooling on the court in the final seconds of a pivotal Game 5.
The team that is, somehow, one win away from its third NBA Finals appearance in five years.
Miami's the one without the help, apparently. Miami's the team with such little depth that a somewhat subpar combined game from Dwyane Wade and LeBron James (44 percent shooting, four missed free throws) gives Boston the chance to pounce. It turns out that the Heat's supporting cast, even when Chris Bosh returns to give his team nine first half points, is just that bad. Bad enough to squander a win at home with Wade and James combining for 57 points and 19 rebounds. Bad enough to look the other way when Rajon Rondo misses 12 out of 15 shots and turns it over (five times) nearly as many times as James and Wade (six) combined.
It is Miami's supporting cast that dug that hole, that provided no support, while shooting 11-35 (31 percent) and turning it over nine times. Tell me you're shocked at these numbers, and I'd guess that this is the first NBA column you've read in months. The Heat's rotation is terrible, somehow making a seemingly as-skinflint Celtics bench look superior along the way.
James knows this. He should know this. Which is why he can't stand around, offensively, when he doesn't have the ball. It's why he can't disappear, defensively, at times. He has to play perfect basketball, because of what he's signed up for — not to attempt to overcome the embarrassment of The Decision and all those hoped-for championships, but something much more tangible. His supporting cast, because of the top heavy nature of Miami's payroll, is doomed to be lacking. And he has to work just as hard as he sometimes did in Cleveland to make up for that, in spite of the presence of those other All-Stars.
This is all by James' design, we should remind ourselves. We have absolutely no problem with this guy chasing the ring, not everyone should have to live out a desperate life a la Allen Iverson and his one-note Philadelphia 76ers from a decade ago. But he also chose to align himself with two other stars that make up all but $10 million of their team's salary cap with their nearly-maxed out salaries. This leaves precious little room to fill out a championship-worthy rotation, and you just have to roll the dice with cap exceptions (like for Mike Miller, and Shane Battier; who have combined to shoot 29 percent in the playoffs) and minimum salaried guys or players on rookie deals.
Boston's in the same boat, though, finance-wise. And though Paul Pierce stunk things up from the floor and Rondo couldn't find the net, they still somehow pulled out the win. Something about that quick hit to Kevin Garnett, coming out of a timeout; a play that neither Erik Spoelstra nor James appear to either consider nor want to attempt, despite James' length and ability in a similar post-up or alley-oop situation. Toss in seven of 10 shooting from the bench, compared with 5-19 from Miami (that's including Bosh) and this is how these things shake out. Little things, not movie-worthy narratives.
Big names do little things, though. And it was little things from the biggest name that allowed Boston to grab the game.
There were entire, significant possessions in the fourth quarter where James moved as much as Shane Battier in the corner. This is the fault of both James, who has never learned how to work when he cannot dominate the ball, and Spoelstra for encouraging sets that support this sort of stagnant play, and reversion to unfortunate instincts. No, Michael Jordan didn't get the rock for every trip down court in his time with the Bulls, but he didn't take up B.J. Armstrong's spot in the corner, either.
Jordan made sure every eye was on him. He'd flash to the post. He'd struggle, pretend to spin away from the contact and fake or ask for a reversal lob. He'd cut under the basket to the weak side to pretend to take a screen for an elbow jumper, the pressure would all shift to that side, and the Bulls (on the strong side) would take advantage. This happened against traps, borderline zones, and defenses that approximated Doc Rivers' amalgamation of the two last night.
James? He stands. Watch the tape. He's no threat at all, even if he ends up with the pass in that corner. He is telling defenses, with his inaction, that he is willing and ready to take exactly the sort of shot they want him to take. Blame the supporting cast, for offering no other alternatives. Blame Erik Spoelstra, for not getting his team to play a more active, dynamic and dangerous brand of basketball on that end. Blame James, for still doing this nearly nine years after being drafted. Blame Wade, who can be quite a martyr himself as he pounds that dribble away.
And blame Boston, badasses that they are. Apologies to the C's, for ignoring them throughout this recap. This is something they've earned, something they've taken, and not something that was gifted to them by a trio of lacking superstars and their keystone cops helpers.
One win away from the NBA Finals. A day later, it feels more deserved than ever.