NBA Playoffs 2012: Why Nothing Makes Sense in Boston-Miami Series
You don't know. Throw all the statistics out the window for Games 1 through 6. Forget the imminent doom and lack of team play for the Heat. Laugh off the claims that old age has finally caught up with the Celtics (they looked just fine Games 1-5).
You don't have a clue what's going to happen tonight and no one else does either. Yes, anything is possible in sports. But generally prognosticators can give a fairly accurate read on a series, particularly a basketball series between two rivals like the Celtics and the Heat.
More than any other series in the playoffs, the Heat-Celtics series has been a nightmare for stat junkies. One game, the Celtics are scoring more than 100 points. The next, they look ancient and struggle to get to 70.
One game, the Heat look lost for the umpteenth time this year. The next, they have it all figured out and the role players are in a groove.
More than any other series, no one has a clue about this one.
Here are a few wild, fluctuating factors as to why no one knows anything about this series.
Coaching Chess Game
There has been a subtle back-and-forth going on between Erik Spoelstra and Doc Rivers. The main battle is over this: Who can get their superstars into open spaces near the basket in the first half and in the third quarter?
For the most part, Rivers has been winning these battles as the Celtics have won three times and really outperformed and maneuvered Miami in their overtime loss in Game 2. Four games with four superior game plans should have been enough to win it against any team but the Heat.
Miami's team is like a bunch of odd-shaped jigsaw pieces. Spoelstra has continued to switch the lineups deep into the playoffs because of injury, but also because he has so many unusual, injury-plagued, moody players. Imagine fighting a war and not knowing who exactly is going to show up on the battlefield from day to day. That's what Coach Spo is dealing with. Even he isn't quite sure what he has out on the floor.
Watch for how quickly Rivers and Spoelstra adjust after the first five minutes of Game 7. Then watch the first six minutes of the third quarter and you'll have a pretty good idea of who is out-coaching whom.
On most teams the guards defend the guards, the forwards defend the forwards. But both the Heat and the Celtics have some of the most flexible, imaginative playmakers and defenders.
They are also weak at center and try to mask that fact. So both teams have moved their power forwards around, either to guard the center or to use three forwards to go big on the floor.
The huge x-factor is the wing player in open space. Dwyane Wade is a superstar but is having the most erratic postseason of his career. That's not only on the scoring side, but also rebounding and playing defense.
Ray Allen is running around on shredded wheat for ankles. LeBron James is superman one night, then ''merely' great the next.
There are too many ifs to know which players are going to show up. San Antonio and Oklahoma City made personnel tweaks in the Western Conference finals, but their superstars knew their roles.
For the Heat and Celtics, their superstars are at the wings and are in constant flux. From game to game, they are radically switching their approach to plug their team's holes while dealing with nagging injuries.
When this series is over, the NBA is going to have to look at the tape and decide: Is this the best we can do?
In this close-fought series, the referees have been handing out strange technicals and making odd decisions. One game, the Heat are getting free throws when the Celtics sneeze. The next, the referees overcompensate by swallowing their whistles and allowing obvious hacks to go uncalled.
Look, statistically Boston is one of the highest-fouling teams in the NBA. They have older legs, can't move as well as the Heat and use their arms to grab people when they blow past them. This isn't an opinion. Look at the entire season and you'll see this pattern against other teams besides Miami.
But Boston is also a veteran team. They're smart and going to use whatever head games they can to make it seem like it's unfair (without saying it directly and incurring an NBA fine).
Statistically, the Heat are one of the leading teams at getting to the free-throw line. Once again, these are numbers. It makes sense when you have two slashing all-star players that they're going to be drawing more fouls. Yet there is no consistency from the referees. Either swallow the whistles for the entire series or call it like you see it.
Part of the problem is that the referees are self-conscious about how many fouls each team is getting and try to balance it out from quarter to quarter.
The Heat coaching staff gambled that it could squeak by the Celtics while saving Chris Bosh for the NBA finals. The gamble has almost cost them the series as Kevin Garnett has been putting on a clinic against Heat defenders.
Bosh is an x-factor because some members of the Heat staff believe they can eke out a series victory on the pure strength of Wade and James. They're hedging, trying to play him in a wait-and-see mode. But in Game 7, Bosh will be starting. And not because of his scoring prowess.
Bosh will factor into defense and rebounding, two areas that are not his strength. Yet, he's still a far better defender against a long-armed Garnett than Udonis Haslem or Shane Battier. If he can manage to keep Garnett out of the paint and tire him out defensively, the Celtics will be struggling for an inside presence.
Bosh also spaces the floor with his outside jumper. This and this alone clears the lane for Wade. Bosh on the floor makes it harder to double-team at the top of the key as the Celtics have to honor him.
The Celtics are dealing with limited resources due to injuries. Doc Rivers will probably have to gamble on this and keep the double-teams focused on LeBron James to avoid another monster performance. Defensively, the Celtics must dare Wade and Bosh to beat them in Game 7 will tying up the King.
If there were an all-star team for moody players, the Celtics and Heat could fill the roster. Kevin Garnett and Dwyane Wade are highly combustible, exciting, aging, temperamental flashes of lightning. Some times Garnett looks like a beast and some times he looks like he's ready for a nice soft wheelchair...and this is within the same game!
Wade's temperament has not aged well. As the injuries have piled up over the years, so have his mood swings. Even die-hard Heat fans will admit to seeing a frustrating and some times exasperating star who makes questionable decisions on the court. He'll frequently blow defensive plays because he's arguing with the referee. Then in the next exchange, he'll run down a fast-break scorer and block his shot with ruthless glee.
But the king of all the all-star Moodies is King James. Unlike Wade, LeBron James doesn't scream when things aren't going his way. He merely disappears. It's like he tries to shrink himself at certain times and pretend like he's just another team player. But he's not! He's the best athlete on the planet and one of the best basketball players of all time.
Home Court Disadvantage
Usually, you want to play at home. But the Heat and Celtics seem to relish challenges. In both Game 5 and 6, it was the home-court team that wilted. It's almost as if they expected the NBA to spot them 10 points for playing in front of their fans.
Perhaps home-court advantage will be that in Game 7. It's also quite possible that LeBron James will feel comfortable at home, put away his Superman cape and be merely great. Will Wade go back to arguing with refs more than feeding his teammates?
Who knows what will happen in Game 7 for the Celtics. Will Ray Allen and Paul Pierce discover the fountain of youth on South Beach? Or will the post-mortem on the Celtics season be two words: too old.
Forget if LeBron James is the best player in the NBA. He is. No one has the mixture of speed, size, defense and offense.The question is, can he be the leader on his own team?
In Game 6, he set the tone with his demeanor and focus. It was a Jordan-like, but not in just scoring. He quietly demanded defensive intensity, rebounding.
But too often he's lapsed after greatness into a malaise. He coasts and starts smiling and mugging it up for the cameras. Is this another step in James' maturation as a leader as well as a star talent?
James can add another chapter to his legacy by closing out a series against a great veteran team by being the leader. Will he set the tone?