|Jon Lester Served First Loss in 6-4 Defeat to Adam Dunn, Chicago White Sox||Avery Bradley’s Role With the Celtics: Present and Future||Connelly’s Top Ten: Bruins Up 2-0||2013 NBA Playoffs Expert Picks: Third Round|
The Celtics had done what they wanted for three quarters; limit the Miami transition game, hold LeBron James in check (relatively), and get contributions from all of their starters to earn a 73-73 tie heading into the final frame. However, some cold shooting from the Celtics and clutch baskets by the Heat in the fourth ended the Boston season 101-88 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals at the American Airlines Arena in Miami, Fla.
The Heat outscored the C’s 28-15 in the fourth quarter, distancing themselves from the veteran Boston squad en route to their second straight NBA Finals appearance. The much maligned James finished the pivotal contest with 31 points and 12 rebounds on 9-21 shooting (12-17 from the charity stripe), and put the nail in the coffin with his back-breaking, 31-foot three-pointer midway through the fourth.
But the game wasn’t all about James, as his teammates stepped up in big fashion. Dwyane Wade ended the game with a statline of 23-6-6 on 8-17 shooting, while Chris Bosh dropped 19 points and was unstoppable from the field, shooting 8-10, including 3-4 from downtown.
In what could be their final appearance together, Boston’s Big 3 played inspired first half ball. They jumped out to an early lead by playing tremendous on-ball defense, intercepting the passing lanes, and converting their opportunities to jump out to an 11-point second quarter lead and a seven-point halftime advantage.
All five Boston starters finished in double figures; Paul Pierce finished with 19 points on 7-18 shooting, Ray Allen dropped 15 (3-8 from beyond the arc), Kevin Garnett had 14 points and seven boards, and Brandon Bass totaled 16 points.
But the most significant offensive force was Rajon Rondo, who put the team on his back early with a plethora of beautiful assists and skilled layups. He concluded Game 7 with yet another triple double; 22 points, 10 rebounds, and 14 assists in the defeat.
Yes, Miami’s Big 3 had a whale of a game with 73 of their 101 points, but the Heat’s depth provided essential buckets to send them to OKC. Shane Battier made four critical long balls for 12 points, Mario Chalmers chipped in nine, while Udonis Haslem added seven points of his own. These efforts, combined with Chris Bosh’s inspiring play off the bench, lifted the Heat.
On the other end, Boston’s bench was downright putrid throughout, with non-starters totaling just two points in the loss, a Ryan Hollins put back in the second quarter. Reserves Keyon Dooling, Michael Pietrus, and Greg Stiemsma were rendered irrelevant.
LeBron James was brilliant, slashing through the paint to draw several fouls and 17 free throw attempts. Miami finished the game with 27 total attempts, compared to Boston’s 15. This is not an indictment of officiating however, as the Heat (more specifically, LeBron James), were more aggressive on their drives to the basket.
With the free agency of Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett approaching ($31 million in cap space), along with the expiring contracts of Rasheed Wallace and Jermaine O’Neal (nearly $13 million in cap space), Danny Ainge will have some decisions to make with the future of this franchise. With a core of Pierce, Rondo, Avery Bradley, and Jeff Green (remember him?) to start next year, along with salary cap flexibility, the Celtics could be completely revamped for the future.