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The Miami Heat’s LeBron James was an unstoppable force in Tuesday’s Game Two of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals against the Boston Celtics. In the paint, through the lanes, from the key, from beyond the arc, it didn’t matter: James hit shots from every angle and spot on the floor.
The Celtics could not contain him, and often they couldn’t even disrupt him with fouls. Celtics ricocheted off him like stones on the water, and James just kept on shooting.
James dropped 35 points on the Celtics Tuesday night, part of a Miami Big Three that outscored Boston’s Big Three 80-49. The Heat beat the Celtics, 102-91. The series heads to Boston with the Celtics down 2-0.
No matter what the Heat had done for the first 41 minutes, the game was still tied 80-80 with 7:09 left in the fourth quarter. That’s when James and the Heat took their game to a level Boston could not match.
After a Mario Chalmers three-pointer and two Dwyane Wade free throws put the Heat up 85-80 with 6:15 left, James went on a personal 7-0 run highlighted by a dunk over Delonte West that also put James on the free-throw line. On defense, the Heat limited Boston to single-shot possessions, and James grabbed two defensive rebounds during that stretch.
Boston finally broke the 14-0 streak that chewed up almost four minutes with a Kevin Garnett jumper with 3:19 left, but Boston could only trade baskets in the final minutes, never eating into the lead.
When James wasn’t scoring, it was Wade or Chris Bosh. In the final 7:09, Miami’s Big Three scored all but three of the Heat’s points, outscoring Boston 22-11 down the stretch.
Bosh finished the game with a double-double, scoring 17 and grabbing 11 rebounds. He outplayed Garnett, who finished with 16 points and 11 boards.
Wade scored 28 and grabbed seven rebounds. You know an offense is working when a 28-point shooting performance is only the second-best of the night.
In the second quarter, Wade faked a three-pointer, then beat Garnett with a crossover dribble through the lane. Garnett knocked Wade as he went by, but Wade simply absorbed the hit and still laid it in for the 43-38 lead and a free-throw. It was one five and-1 baskets the Celtics allowed, all to Wade, Bosh or James.
In the third, after the Celtics had taken a 60-58 lead on a Rajon Rondo offensive rebound and a Garnett jumper, James hit back-to-back threes to put Miami back up 64-62. The Celtics never regained the lead.
Bosh and Wade combined to shoot 24 free throws, part of a 36-22 free-throw disparity.
Five Celtics scored in double digits: Garnett, Rondo (20 points, including seven of Boston’s final nine, 12 assists), Paul Pierce (13 points while limited to 33 minutes due to a second-quarter foot injury), Jeff Green (11 points in 22 minutes), and Delonte West (10 points on 4-4 shooting). But despite good scoring distribution – usually a sure sign of a Celtics victory – there were long chunks of the game when the Celtics simply didn’t score. The Celtics missed six consecutive shots early in the second, then missed seven more in a row later in the quarter.
Every Celtics starter committed at least one turnover, leading to 14 Heat points. Wade and James are simply too big, too strong and too fast to be contained on fast breaks, and turnovers exacerbated several Heat scoring streaks.
The lone bright spot for the offense was Rondo, who may be the one player that matches up favorably with his Heat counterpart. But because the Big Three weren’t scoring – and the Celtics have never incorporated the center into their offensive strategies, mostly because they haven’t had a consistent starting center all season – Rondo had to become a scorer instead of a passer.
While this led to several exciting baskets – including one in the third in which he fully extended his right arm as if to pass while slashing through the lane, but suddenly pulled it back and laid it in for the basket and a foul – Rondo is best when he’s finding other scorers.
With Ray Allen owning the three-point line, Garnett the post and Pierce the lane, Rondo shouldn’t have to do more than draw coverage and then hand the ball off. But with the Big Three struggling (especially Allen, who scored just seven while dealing with foul trouble and a bruised chest), Rondo had to do it all, and he simply isn’t versatile enough to do that.
While Boston’s bench outscoring Miami’s 21-12, with Green and West each hitting two three-pointers, is slightly encouraging, Tuesday’s game showed cracks in the Celtics’ game that might be irreparable. The Heat are not a strong low-post team, but they played even with the Celtics in the paint. Wade and James caused havoc in the Boston interior, and the team never found a strategy to keep them from scoring, not even by fouling them.
The Celtics have bad hands, and several opportunities for offensive rebounds went out of bounds because the Celtics simply couldn’t secure them. Several other scoring opportunities were killed off by turnovers. Celtics passes were either too flat or too predictable, and the Heat swiped six of them. The Heat have the athleticism to get back and reset their stout interior defense (nine blocks to Boston’s two), so they can afford a couple of turnovers. Boston can’t.
The Heat out-rebounded the Celtics, 44-38, and they pulled down 12 offensive rebounds. The Celtics sruggled with boxing out and positioning, and as the game went on, more and more easy rebounds suddenly became 50-50 balls. In those situations, the Heat were always the ones scrapping more, pushing harder, jumping higher. When you play two of the best scorers in the NBA, you cannot, under any circumstance, give them extra shots.
Tuesday night, that’s exactly what happened. And unless Doc Rivers comes up with a new strategy, it will happen again Saturday in Boston.