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NBA Playoffs Celtics Heat: Anatomy of a heart-breaker

Apr 27, 2010, 10:05 AM EST

Dwyane Wade talked to his hand and destroyed the Celtics to get the Heat a game in Miami. But most people consider this series to have ended when Paul Pierce stuck the dagger in in Game 3. It was a maelstrom of both the Celtics’ excellence and the Heat’s failure to execute. The Heat watched as one of the best clutch performers in the game drove in an isolation set, having a foul to give, and a help-defenders in range. They then watched as Pierce drove to his favorite spot on the floor, the elbow, jab-stepped-back and drained the game winner. 3-0, Celtics.

If anyone can lead a team back from 0-3, it’s Dwyane Wade. But that shot was pretty devastating for the Heat and also showed that the Celtics can still execute in those big-time playoff situations. And that Paul Pierce is still the Truth. Here’s how it broke down.

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Overloading the near-side with Allen and Garnett is a risky but productive decision. While you’re compacting defenders, you’re also creating more space for Pierce to work. If he has to pass, they’ll need a quick shot anyway, so the cross court pass isn’t really feasible. Miami for its part is playing “standard” situational defense, looking to deny penetration while also sticking to shooters. The proximity they have to the shooters will slowly erode as this play goes on.

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To be fair to Beasley, he’s got to maintain position between the roll-man and the basket. It’s hindsight to say he should have denied the pass, but even a momentary hedge might have cost the Celtics another second. And “biggest C on the floor” is obviously sarcasm, as it’s Michael Finley out there, shedding Wright.

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It’s at this point everyone watching at home can see the car wreck before it happens and yet they are all helpless to stop it. You know where Pierce is going but you can’t stop him from going there. This is where the Celtics take a disadvantage in the overload into an advantage.

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Haslem now has to keep position in case they swing the ball to Allen and his man can’t clear the screen. He’s also got to maintain proximity to Garnett to prevent the mid-range jumper. And in trying to maintain these two responsibilities, man-help on Pierce becomes less and less feasible.

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And yet there’s hope. The Heat still have a foul to give, with 5.4 seconds left. Haslem is right there to provide help, but he’s still a little shallow. There’s good spacing all over. This is the last time things are going right for Miami on the final possession.

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With 1.5 left, Ray Allen’s not even ready to receive a pass. The rest of the Celtics know what’s coming. The Heat, somehow, do not. Haslem has backed off instead of pulling to the danger zone. Dorell Wright can just literally reach out, foul Pierce, and force a reset with a little over a second remaining. If Haslem flashes, Pierce has to adjust and dish to Garnett for an 18 footer. Still a pretty good shot, but not an in-rhythm ISO from the elbow for a big-time player at his favorite spot.Instead, Haslem’s concerned about the drive.

Pierce meanwhile engages in the mid-drive jab-step, feigning inside while dragging his right foot back for the pull-up. This game is over and the Heat don’t even know it.

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Wright can’t be blamed here. He kept good spacing at the top of the key, hung with him, dropped back to not pick up a blocking foul when Pierce feigned inside, and leaps to contest right as Pierce is pulling up. He’s literally milliseconds late. And that’s all Pierce needs.

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Look how close Wright is there. He’s jumping from further away, trying to extend, and it’s just not enough. It’s enough to make it a tough shot for Pierce, but that’s what Pierce thrives on. He’s in the outside corner of the danger zone, and that’s all she wrote.

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