The Miami Heat’s strength all year has been lockdown defense. The Boston Celtics’ bugaboo all year has been rebounding. A combination of the two delivered Miami a decisive 93-79 win Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals last night in South Beach.
LeBron James was outstanding with 32 points, but his 13 rebounds also led the Heat and helped key the win. Shane Battier was an unlikely stalwart on the boards, with 10, while Kevin Garnett was the only one able to do anything on the glass for the Celtics. And Miami was forcing plenty of misses to rebound, holding the Celts to 39.5% shooting from the floor. Paul Pierce was a non-factor at 12 points on 5-for-18 and Ray Allen might as well not even be on the floor right now.
Boston didn’t have its own tough defense in effect. Miami shot 50 percent, a figure that stayed stable through much of the game and the defensive breakdowns by the Celtics were uncharacteristic. It’s not as though the Heat were hitting tough shots, or even just open long jumpers. In fact, Miami’s offense jacked up way too many threes. For some reason Battier decided he was J.J. Redick and launched nine from behind the arc, only making two. As a team Miami shot 5-for-25 from trey range.
On the positive side for the Heat, this means they really didn’t play their best game on offense and still won by 14. On the negative side? It’s unlikely the Celtics are going to hand them as many breakdown layups in future games and Miami cannot settle for three-point shots when they’re so much better driving to the basket and using their superior athletic ability.
As to the Celtics, the fact they were tied at halftime may end up working against them. There’s no doubt this was a tired team after the seven-game series with Philadelphia that ended on Saturday. The C’s might have been better off getting smoked early, waving the white flag and started resting up the vets for Game 2 tomorrow.
The Western Conference Finals resume tonight when Oklahoma City tries to even up the series with Game 2 in San Antonio. In the recap of the Spurs’ 101-98 win on Sunday, TheSportsNotebook noted that Thunder center Kendrick Perkins has got to be more of a presence—or any kind of presence at all—on the glass. And whether Russell Westbrook shoots better or not is anyone’s guess, but if Westbrook is cold, he can’t keep firing. He instead needs to create shots for Kevin Durant and James Harden. In the big picture I think San Antonio’s going to win this game and ultimately the championship, but I like OkC to come out strong and win a good one tonight.