They were supposed to be the second coming of the Jordan-led Bulls.
They were going to win title after title, just like the Bill Russell-led Celtics of the 1960's winning eight in a row.
They would race to a huge division lead and likely challenge for 75 wins.
There were too many weapons on the Heat. If you key on Wade, Bosh would make you pay. If you focused on Bosh, James would take you down.
Yet as LeBron pouted from the pine midway through the second quarter Thursday night, with his team trailing the Celtics again, this time by 10 points, many in the arena found themselves doubting that this Miami Heat experiment is working.
Miami, happening far too frequently, looked clumsy and plodding. Not nearly enough ball movement. One guy drove the lane while the other four watched. How could anything this ugly ever hope to go anywhere?
Occasionally LeBron would try to bully his way to the rim, but it looked like a bowling ball scattering pins. Bodies were flying, James was whining and too many shots hit iron and harmlessly bounced away.
Meanwhile Boston had five, six, seven touches before firing a bullet pass to an open Garnet or Allen, repeatedly, consistently, on nearly every possession.
The contrast could not be more stark. Miami's “me ball” vs.Boston's team ball.
At halftime, Charles Barkley ripped the Heat, noting that “there is no point defense on this team.” Barkley explained how the Celtic guards were having their way with hot ball movement and sizzling offensive touches creating wide-open looks from ten feet, and doing it with little resistance.
The Celtics owned the offensive side, going anywhere they wanted.
Kevin McHale said the Heat were "playing soft," settling for long distance finesse shots rather than pounding it up the middle like the Celtics were doing.
McHale argued the difference was determination and grit, sorely missing from the expensive Heat trio.
Kenny Smith said the Heat body language suggested defeat and fear, rather than needed aggression and confidence. He said, "Look at those hung heads! If you showed that to any of the guys in this booth, we would've pounced like a lion on red meat! We would have taken you apart!"
"Those guys can't fool us. We know those looks. Experienced ball players know when the other guys are confused, and Miami is confused! They can't fool us or the Celtics!"
Moments into the third quarter, TNT showed a video clip of an agitated and panicked Erik Spoelstra pacing to and fro, pleading with his team to “lose the ego” and “do your jobs.” A sermon met with empty eye-rolls and apathy.
Minutes later, a fired-up Celtic team had raced out to a 20-point lead, 72-52, with 7:44 left in the third.
Also noteworthy was an intense yet relaxed Garnett, clearly playing with the influence that his newly-signed 300-plus-pound veteran teammate and center was bringing to the team.
Late in the third, the Celtics appeared to be getting bored. Slowly things began to change.
After a time out, LeBron barreled into the lane and was fouled hard by a sturdy and somewhat amused elderly Shaq. But it seemed to be the first glimpse of determination that McHale had said was missing.
On the sidelines sat a groveling Pat Riley from several rows back, with a facial expression that looked like second-guessing and doubt.
Miami began to crawl back, but even as they did it still seemed like Boston was in total control of the game. Even when the lead slipped to 73-60 with 5:26 left in the third.
A very questionable offensive foul by Boston’s Ron Davis caused him to respond angrily with a twisting layout through three defenders for an easy two.
Boston still whipped the ball, finally finding the one person wide open. And yet the Heat still managed to whittle away at the lead.
81-70 with 4:40 left in the third period.
More Miami plodding, yet more chipping away. At 8:35 left it was down to four points, 91-87.
A missed Wade three-pointer sailed harmlessly off the rim and into the hands of Ray Allen.
A forced and missed three-pointer by LeBron left the Heat seven points behind, at 106-97 with 4:22 left.
Another James brick, followed by a quick three-on-one Boston fast break made it 110-99 with 2:30 left.
With a mere one minute left LeBron threw up an embarrassing three-pointer from the left side that bounced off the side of the backboard and into the hands of a surprised Ray Allen.
Miami charged, but fell short. Whether it was Celtic apathy over a game long since decided, we will never know. But the closest Miami got was two points shy of the 112-107 final, moments before the end.
Truthfully, the game never felt close. It never felt intense. It never felt as if Boston was in trouble.
It came across as one team of salty old dogs, veterans with a ton of playoff experience, dominating a team of inexperienced kids who still don’t understand the concept of “team” and how that is supposed to work.
Three superstars in Miami who, according to the stats, have made each other worse instead of better.
And for that, the Heat have stumbled to three losses in the past four games. A blown 20 point lead against Utah, and now this!
How much uglier can it get?
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