May 28, 2012
Eastern Conference Finals, Game 1: Boston Celtics (0-1) at Miami Heat (1-0)
“I can’t believe someone hasn’t Anthony Mason-ed him yet.” –Dr. Leuss
The Boston Celtics absorbed one of their worst losses of the season Monday night, a 93-79 wipeout at the hands of the Miami Heat in Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade combined for 54 points on 21-of-35 (60 percent) from the field and 12-of-15 from the line, 16 rebounds, 10 assists and five blocked shots. Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen combined for 57 points on 23-of-61 (38 percent) from the field and 8-of-13 from the line, 26 rebounds, 14 assists and one blocked shot.
As for Chris Bosh? He simply could not believe the incredible seats he got for the show.
The fact that Celtics’ four key players were out-performed and quite nearly out-produced by the Heat’s two does not on its own constitute a “one of the worst” type of defeat. We wind up in that territory by dint of the following:
- The Celtics scored 79 points, marking the thirteenth time out of 80 games this year (regular season and playoffs combined) that they’d scored fewer than 80. The gap of 14 points that separated them from the Heat’s 93 was the fifth-largest point differential that the Celtics had surrendered this season.
- For the more APBR-inclined among us: by our calculations, there were 84 possessions for each team during the game (Basketball-Reference shows 82.5, so one of us is wrong). The Celtics scored 0.94 points per possession, or 94 points per 100 possessions. The Heat, meanwhile, managed 111 points per 100 possessions, the ninth-largest mark that the Celtics have allowed this season. The gap of 17 points per 100 possessions was the fifth-largest that the C’s have taken on.
- As implied by the shooting numbers referenced in the opening paragraph, Miami shot the ball quite well and Boston shot it quite poorly. The Heat made exactly half of their shot attempts; the C’s, just 39.5 percent. This was only the eighth time this season that a Celtic opponent had made 50 percent or more of their shots. It was the thirteenth time that the C’s had made fewer than 40 percent of their own.
- The gap separating the Celtics’ field goal percentage from the Heat’s was -10.5 percentage points. This was only the sixth time this season that the Celtics were out-shot by their opponent by five percentage points or more, and just the third time that they were out-shot by more than 10 percentage points. The Philadelphia 76ers outdid them by 12.4 percentage points in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, and by 13.3 percentage points on March 7.
- The Celtics had an uncharacteristically awful free throw shooting night. During the regular season, they shot 77.8 percent from the line; the fifth-best mark in the league. During the playoffs, they are connecting at a rate of 80.3 percent; third-best behind the Oklahoma City Thunder and the long-bounced-out Dallas Mavericks. Last night, the Celtics hit only 52.4 percent of their free throws, the second-lowest mark they’ve put up this season.
The C’s looked to be in for a bumpy ride from the start. The Heat scored their first six baskets at the rim before Shane Battier stuck a corner three to give them a 17-9 lead with three-and-a-half minutes left in the game. Seven of Miami’s nine first-quarter field goals came on lay-ups or bunnies. They would go on to shoot 21-of-27 (78 percent) from within the paint. This was especially troubling as the Celtics were amongst the best rim-protectors in the league during the regular season, holding opponents to 58.8 percent shooting from within three feet, the third-lowest from that distance.
The Heat’s early success on the inside seemed to put the Celtics back on their heels, opening up the perimeter and allowing Miami to take a more balanced attack for the rest of the game. In the second quarter, half of their makes came from within the paint and half from without. In the third, the split was six-to-four; in the fourth, it was three-to-six. Mike Miller kicked off the proceedings in the second, knocking down two wide open threes off kick-outs before using a Rony Turiaf screen to get an open jumper from 21 feet out.
After Miller’s first make, Madame Kuts astutely noted that he appeared to share a barber with world-class a**hole Dr. Frederick Chilton. Off his third, she delivered the line of the night, stating matter-of-factly, “I don’t like that guy. He’s got that pimply face of a meth head.”
For what it’s worth, we’ve always liked Mike Miller. He seems like a nice guy, kind of thoughtful and laid-back. Below, he takes it real easy late in the third quarter, lounging courtside with his best buddy at his elbow, watching the players drift up and down the court like so many stretched-cotton clouds engaged in their lazy parade across the cobalt summer sky.
The Celtics had opened up the second quarter in a 10-point hole, having scored only 11 points in the first. They erupted over the next 12 minutes, pouring in 35 points off 13-of-22 shooting, including four-of-five from beyond the arc, to carry a 46-all tie into the half.
Three-point shooting has been a problem for the Celtics in the postseason. After finishing the regular season at 36.7 percent from downtown – seventh-best in the league – they’ve seen their shooting percentage on threes drop to 28 percent, the fourth-lowest mark of all playoff teams. Ray Allen’s struggles have been well-documented; bone spurs in his ankles have seen his career-best regular season three-point shooting percentage of 45.3 plummet to a career-worst playoff mark of 26.8. Mickael Pietrus has also struggled mightily, hitting only 23.7 percent of his threes after making 33.5 during the regular season.
The hot second-quarter shooting would not be a portent of things to come. The Celtics would go on to miss all six of their second-half three-point attempts en route to a 14-of-39 (36 percent) shooting performance to close out the game
The Heat, meanwhile, were locked in at an untoppleable level of play. They scored 46 points in the first half, hitting exactly half of their shots. They followed that up with 47 second-half points, once again hitting exactly half of their shots. As the game progressed, James and Wade only appeared to get stronger, uncorking one driving, twisting lay-in or wrong-footed runner after another as they keyed third-quarter runs of 12-to-4 and 10-to-1 that saw Miami close out the third with an 11-point lead. They opened the fourth with a six-to-nothing run that built the lead up to 17, more than enough to carry the game home.
One play in particular was emblematic of the game at large. With 5:19 left in the fourth, Kevin Garnett sank a pair of free throws to cut the lead to 12, just close enough to keep that last ember of hope from being choked into the void by despair’s eely noose. LeBron James advanced the ball to half-court and initiated a series of swing passes that eventually found Shane Battier in the corner for a wide-open three. His shot caught the back of the iron and bounced straight up into the air. James battled Garnett for the rebound, leaping and tipping it to Udonis Haslem on the baseline. Haslem sensed that he would not be able to corral the ball, so swatted it out toward the perimeter in hopes that one of his teammates would be able to collect it.
Rajon Rondo chased the ball to the sideline, pulling up just a few feet off, expecting it to bounce out of bounds and into the Celtics’ possession. As he did so, Wade sprinted into the play and sprung past the boundary, catching the ball and twisting in mid-air to send a bounce pass toward James Jones at the half-court.
Brandon Bass raced toward the ball, getting to within a hair of it before Jones snatched it up and flung it back toward Wade, who had re-entered the live court. Wade drove toward the elbow, where he bailed out of a double-team from Ray Allen and Paul Pierce by smoothly wrapping a behind-the-back pass to LeBron James on the baseline. Garnett, playing close to James’ body beneath the basket, lashed his arm into the passing lane and knocked the ball out toward the perimeter. He didn’t knock it far enough; James took one step out and collected the ball just inside the corner.
James flipped the ball to Jones at the top of the key, who immediately sent it back to him. LeBron dribbled up the perimeter’s arc, slowed to a near-stop, then put down a stutter-step and drove to his left, pulling up at the low block to loft a jumper over Garnett’s outstretched arm. The shot kissed high off the glass and splashed through the net, bringing the lead back up to 14.
The Celtics had defended the play about as well as they could have, but there was no relenting in the Heat. While you could say that the breaks hadn’t gone Boston’s way, you could also say that Miami had made the breaks break for them. Most importantly, the two best players on the floor were dressed in white, and their presence was all that was needed to carry the play through.
Game Two is Wednesday night in Miami. There’s no doubt the C’s will be fired up for it, but if they need some extra juice, they should lock themselves in a room and watch this on a loop for 30 minutes before the game starts.