Behind the Box Score, where the Miami Heat earned another trip to the Finals
Miami Heat 101, Boston Celtics 88 (Miami wins series, 4-3)
It was Nervous Time for a while. The Miami Heat helpers weren't helping, Dwyane Wade appeared to be playing as if he couldn't wait for 2012-13 to start and LeBron James' offensive focus seemed to wane a bit in comparison to the locked-in focus we got from the guy in Thursday's Game 6. Also, Chris Bosh was on the bench for a while. We define "a while" as "too damn long."
Then, at once, each of these things changed. James drove to the hoop, realizing that picking and choosing and playing the percentages as he hit the open man just wasn't going to sway things for his lacking team. Unless that open man was Bosh, who finally got off the bench eight minutes into the second half. And once those two got rolling, Wade got his formidable all-around game together long enough to help put the Celtics away.
And, in the process, the Heat took a classic Game 7. The Heat did all the stuff necessary to stave off a close game in the final stretches, tidying up all angles of what ailed them in the first half long enough to pull away with a dominant second half. Boston had no options but to just marvel at the beast without a name. Miami -- after even a shortened season that seemed to go on forever because of the usual storm and stress that walks hand in hand with the Heat and their mixed-metaphor-obsessed media followers -- is heading to the Finals. And they earned this one, sports fans. Took it.
You could point to Boston reaching the end of its proverbial rope talent-wise, or point to the fatigue that comes with playing 20 playoff games with no bench in just six weeks, and you wouldn't be wrong in that regard. The Celtics were a miserable offensive team for most of the regular season, though they seem to play peculiarly well on that end against Miami. Even in the half court and not surviving off turnovers, Boston somehow found a way to consistently put the ball in the basket against this team. Save for six quarters spread out over Game 6 and 7, of course. Still, for the team's shots to fall short towards the end of this one seems sadly apropos.
We'll have more on this amazing Celtics group in the days to come. For now, the focus has to be on what the Heat did right and how they have to be mindful of their startling turnaround in Game 6 and Game 7 if they want to continue this run.
The focus cannot change and it cannot relent. Because the Heat's roster is so inconsistent — even moving up to James and Wade, at times — LeBron has to bring a singular focus that we saw in spades in Game 6 and in the second half of this win.
Yes, James piled up the free-throw makes in the first half, but he wasn't cutting and moving without the ball as ferociously as he did in Game 6 -- and in an NBA where ball movement is often the difference between winning and losing, less sharing and caring and more get-it-to-LeBron-now-no-not-up-there-yes-down-there-by-the-paint is Miami's needed salve. The drop-off in star to supporting talent is so severe that James really needs to act as a scorer and little else, and the Heat faltered as they tried to set up Wade (who couldn't be bothered to meet the ball on a couple of entry passes that turned into Boston steals), and James attempted to find teammates who would miss his would-be assists.
The would-be assists wouldn't be, and James played a dangerous game by running things The Right Way. By the second half, though, he was afforded attempts at assists by the presence of Bosh and spacing in the lane as the Celtics passed on slacking off of both Bosh and Shane Battier as James drove to the hole. Yes, Miami won by double-digits and this was comfortable toward the end, but even with Bosh's return to action James has to keep the pressure on from the first quarter onward. Has to.
Not a lot of action to Bosh's action, he just coolly made the difference. He got his game going early on a couple of blown Celtics plays defensively (losing him on the perimeter, or Ray Allen failing to box out Bosh on a switch that Chris turned into an offensive rebound and score), and his touch took over from there. Three of four from behind the arc for Bosh in the win, 19 points on just 10 shot attempts, as he was the lone Miami bench player to see more than four minutes off the pine.
(Hint, hint, LeBron. They're going to need you for ridiculous amounts of work against Oklahoma City. That bench isn't getting any better once Bosh begins to start and Udonis Haslem takes his place with the reserves.)
[Related: LeBron James heads to NBA Finals playing best basketball of his life]
Boston just couldn't hang. Rajon Rondo managed 22 points and a litany of highlight lay-ins, but he needed 22 shots to get there as Miami did well to crowd the lane with LeBron looming. The Heat did well to chase Brandon Bass off his hot start, Kevin Garnett didn't see the ball as much as I hoped (and didn't finish as well as you'd want him to, even as he made 6 of 12 shots), and Paul Pierce just couldn't find that arc in his season's final two games — combining to miss 25 of his last 36 shots from the floor.
Miami made this happen, you know. It might take a timeout or two, or a halftime chat to get this team focused and up to the task, but once this group finds a rhythm they're as good as gold. Especially when James is driving. Especially when he's looking for his own shot. A good shot. Because in spite of all those free-throw attempts in the first half, most of his half-court possessions in the first frame saw him attempting to mix it up with a good chunk of the charity attempts coming off transition run outs.
The predictions for the Finals, which begin on Tuesday, can wait. The re-telling of the Celtic story can wait. For now, it's all about Miami, and how this team was up to the task. How the drive was there, and the talent that followed (talent that was allowed to breathe, and also a good look at the rim from 25 feet away) took over from there.
Even if the Heat win a series of championships, a roster like this might never find the sort of consistent rhythm it takes for the team to meet its significant potential, possibly because its two best players might be a bit mismatched. On nights like this, though, it hardly matters. What matters in this instance is how one possession after another piled up, how the Heat stayed in the moment in that deciding second half and how the opponent just about did not matter.
That's impressive. And, unlike a lot of Heat victories, it was fun to watch.
More, please. Whatever the result.
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