No one questioned the Boston Celtics’ heart coming into the Eastern Conference Finals against Miami, but plenty of people, TheSportsNotebook included, questioned their ability to even extend this series as far as six games. Both points of view were vindicated in an epic 115-111 overtime game won by the Heat to take a 2-0 series lead. Boston turned in an extraordinary effort, one that leads you to wonder if they couldn’t win playing like this, can they possibly make this series anything more interesting than whether they can cover pointspreads?
Rajon Rondo delivered a stunning 44-point night, even more unreal by the fact most his points came on perimeter jump-shooting. The Celtics, normally a poor rebounding team, were even with the Heat on the glass. Defensively, they forced Miami to settle for jump shots and Ray Allen showed some signs of life for the first time in this postseason. But if Miami is going to play like it did in Game 2, then we have to start thinking—again—that maybe can win the NBA title that they were suddenly written off from achieving (yes, including by me) after Chris Bosh got hurt and their wins seemed more about lackluster competition than real championship play.
LeBron James posted a 34 points/10 rebounds/7 assists line. He also missed the last shot of regulation, while it was Dwayne Wade who delivered the biggest Miami basket of overtime, something that will no doubt be endlessly rehashed. But the biggest Heat bucket down the stretch in the fourth quarter, when they trailed 94-91 was an open three-pointer by Shane Battier, a shot set up by good recognition from James when he was double-teamed and quickly reversed the ball. Sure, if LeBron was the next Jordan, he’d have hit the shot at the end of regulation. But he also compares favorably to Kobe, who would surely have forced up a bad shot rather than reverse it to a teammate. And trust in the teammates was what made Miami ultimately unbeatable last night. If Mario Challmes is going to knock down 22 points, if Udonis Haslem is going to hit 13, including several key baseline jumpers in the fourth quarter, if the Heat as a team are going to bag 10 three-pointers a night, then they aren’t going to lose this series, or even be extended past a Game 5 at home. And San Antonio should take notice.
Well, before San Antonio takes notice of anything going on the East, they do have some business to take care of in the West, as that series starts its middle two games in Oklahoma City, with the Thunder looking to show Games 1 & 2 were just about homecourt and not about a clear Spurs’ advantage. I would like to see some tighter defense from San Antonio tonight, even if they don’t win. Teams have shot for good field goal percentages against them, and while you won’t stop Durant from getting his points, you can force Russell Westbrook into a bad shooting night and there’s no reason James Harden should go off for 30, like he did in Game 2. If San Antonio loses playing tough defense, it’s still a good sign for their hopes of closing the series out in five. If they lose playing bad defense, then we could be in for a back-and-forth homecourt series that goes the distance.