The Philadelphia 76ers didn't really want to face the Miami Heat in the playoffs - at least until the conference finals. Sixers fans like myself dreaded it because we knew it would take some near-perfect games to beat the Heat, and that even having a big early lead wouldn't really help. In fact, Miami is one of those teams that can afford to fall asleep - even for an entire half - and still wake up in time to win.
The Boston Celtics learned that the hard way in Game 2 of the conference finals on May 30. With a chance to take a commanding 2-0 series lead, the Heat came out flat in the first half and fell behind by as many as 15 points. Yet despite that deficit, a late five-point Celtics lead and Rajon Rondo having his way for 53 whole minutes, the Heat flipped the switch enough to escape with a 115-111 overtime win.
Miami didn't really show up for the first three-fourths of the first half, yet still trimmed its deficit to single digits late. Once the Heat took the lead in the second half, the Celtics rallied back to take another late lead - only to have Miami wake up again to go ahead. And then even when the Heat blew a four-point lead in the final minute and went to overtime, they still focused just long enough to finally put the Celtics away.
The Heat first established this pattern against the Indiana Pacers in the second round. They could afford to sleepwalk and do virtually nothing for Games 2 and 3 and the first half of Game 4, yet rose back up to dominate the last two-and-a-half games of that series. Since Miami has LeBron James and Dwayne Wade, it can just coast along until they finally get their act into a game and cruise from there.
The Heat didn't cruise after falling behind by so much to the Celtics, yet it was inevitable that they would make a run and that Boston would stop making most of its shots. Therefore, Miami could have fallen behind by 20-25 points and it might not have mattered a great deal. Despite having only two superstars left right now, and a habit of making things way harder than they should be, the Heat can pretty much sleepwalk as long as they want and wake up in time to do damage.
This is kind of a lazy, frustrating way to win a championship - but then again, if James, Wade and Chris Bosh wanted to do things the hard way, they never would have joined forces in the first place. Still, the Heat tried to sleepwalk to a title last season and couldn't wake back up against the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals, so maybe they're getting better now at overcoming rough patches. Or maybe this way of doing things will finally catch up to them when/if they get back to the finals -- especially against a team like the San Antonio Spurs.
At the least, Miami knows that it can stumble along as long as it wants against Boston and win - although doing it for more than a half would push it. The Celtics need to play a perfect game just to get close to beating the Heat, whereas Miami can play at less than full strength for long stretches and beat Boston anyway. That best symbolizes just how far apart these two franchises are at the moment.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident and 76ers fan - who has become quite familiar with the Celtics in that time.
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