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MIAMI – When the Boston Celtics climbed on the team bus in the bowels of American Airlines Arena late in the regular season, the mood had been thick with anger and disgust over finally losing to the Miami Heat. Only then, several sources say, the Celtics initially suspected a deeper violation: They believed someone had boarded the bus and stolen cash and belongings out of coaches and players bags.
Nevertheless, a Heat official told Yahoo! Sports that video surveillance showed no one improper had gone onto the bus during that April 10 game, and the unidentified Celtics player alleging that $1,200 was gone was never made available to authorities. NBA security investigated, but no charges were filed. Between these Celtics and Heat this season, it’s always been something.
Every time the Celtics leave this arena now, they leave more of themselves here. They leave with less of a season, less belief they can hold back LeBron James(notes) and Dwyane Wade(notes). This time, it was two bludgeoning defeats to the Miami Heat – including a 102-91 Game 2 loss on Tuesday night – that have had far-reaching reverberations within the Celtics. So far, LeBron James and Dwayne Wade have delivered a systematic, spectacular obliteration of Boston. They’ve shown a rhythm and resolve to play brilliantly, efficiently, and maybe most of all, play together.
James had 35 points, seven rebounds and never committed a turnover. Wade had 28 points, eight rebounds and lived on the free-throw line. They’re much more together than these Celtics, much hungrier. They’ve made Boston’s stars look sluggish, stumped and within a whisper of getting pushed out of the way, out of the postseason. Wade dominated Game 1, and James Game 2.
Everyone else feared this is how it would play with James and Wade together. Privately, the Celtics prayed they would have one more season until these two stars learned to play without the ball, learned to defend every trip, learned to give of themselves for the greater good of championship basketball.
“That is the vision I had during the free-agent period when I decided to come here,” James said. “It’s all coming together at the right time.”
This has been jarring for the Celtics. The Heat are beating them in the way the Celtics used to beat everyone else: smart, efficient offense in the fourth quarter, with the ball in the hands of their best players; and suffocating, unrelenting defense that takes away an opponent’s best players. The Heat’s will is unmistakable and their belief is brimming. They’re younger, stronger, and they smelled blood in the shimmering green waters on Biscayne Bay.
“It’s only our seventh playoff game together,” James said.
As much of a statement of fact, this was a warning too. The Heat teased the Celtics, and ultimately tore them apart in the fourth quarter. The Celtics pulled even with the Heat at 80, but the Heat made the game so simple for themselves in the final minutes. Miami made sure it played through James and Wade, and Boston’s coaches and stars watched in disbelief as Big Baby Davis tried to make up-and-under moves on wild dribble drives to the rim.
“I’m Thunderbolt,” Davis declared. “I’m always crashing my way up.”
That’s wonderful, but he might want to give the ball back to Ray Allen(notes) and Paul Pierce(notes) when James and Wade are killing them down the floor. Still, Allen and Pierce were feeling the advanced years of thirtysomething bodies under the torrent of James’ and Wade’s assault. Pierce had gone to the locker room for treatment on a strained Achilles, only to return incapable of guarding James again. Allen had to leave the game to go the training room, because he couldn’t breathe after James had delivered an elbow into his chest. And Rondo’s back had stiffened so badly that he had to ask out of the game and lay on the floor for several minutes getting treatment.
Doc Rivers found himself flummoxed over who was coming and who was going. “A circus,” the Celtics coach called it later.
No one cares about Boston’s injuries, because the Celtics still haven’t played well in the postseason when completely healthy. Outside of Game 3 against the New York Knicks, when have they truly been impressive? Truth be told, the Heat are rising now, gathering conviction that they’ve found the formula to topple the Celtics. The Heat keep talking about Boston’s great defense, but it’s gone now. It wasn’t on the floor with Jeff Green(notes) and Nenad Krstic(notes) in Miami, but with Kendrick Perkins(notes) and Tony Allen(notes) in Oklahoma City on Tuesday night. The Heat are still speaking with reverent and respectful terms about Boston, but privately they must be wondering: Are we talking about the old Celtics, or these Celtics?
After three days of rest the Celtics desperately need, everyone finds out this in Boston on Saturday night: What do Boston’s stars have left in a big moment, a big spot? And is it enough to hold off this train chugging toward them in the distance, James and Wade gathering speed, gathering momentum and daring to deliver Boston a final deathblow?
“We’ve never been down 2-0 together, so this has turned into our biggest test,” Rivers told Yahoo! Sports late Tuesday on his walk to the team bus. “But if we’re going to face this together, I’m glad we’ll face it in Boston.”
The Celtics have lost a lot in Florida over the past month – money and belongings, regular-season games that started to shed their invincibility and, now, two Eastern Conference semifinal debacles. Assuming the Celtics manage to get one victory in Boston in Game 3 or 4, they could come back here next week on the brink of losing everything to James and Wade. That could be the end of Rivers as coach, the end of the Celtics’ championship window, the end of this great run.
This is everything the Miami Heat imagined when they gathered James and Wade and Chris Bosh(notes) together. They planned an Eastern Conference coup, the complete and utter destruction of the Boston Celtics that promised to clear a path to the NBA Finals.
They’re coming to Boston this weekend, and they’re coming for the Celtics’ hearts now. As had long been the plan, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are coming for everything now.
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