May 1, 2011, 8:24 PM EDT
The Miami Heat aren’t the most complete team in the championship hunt. They don’t have a reliable starting center or point guard. They don’t have a deep rotation. They don’t have a lot of guys who can create their own shots. However, the Heat do have a stingy defense, players who can make open shots, and two of the best players in basketball. On Sunday, that was enough for them to hand the reigning Eastern Conference champions their first loss of the 2011 playoffs.
Dwyane Wade was the story of Game 1. Wade struggled mightily against the Celtics during the regular season, but he picked up right where he left off in the 2010 playoffs on Sunday afternoon. Every part of Wade’s game was working perfectly. Wade’s often-unreliable jumper was deadly all game long; he made five of his nine mid-range jumpers and two of his five threes, including a dagger three shortly after Paul Pierce‘s ejection that put the Heat up 16 with six minutes left to play. Wade also attacked the basket aggressively, and was effective on dribble-drives, off-ball cuts, and in transition. Wade was also active on defense, and finished the game with three steals and two blocks. Wade allowed Ray Allen to get the few inches of space he needs a couple times, but that just proved he was mortal. This was a masterpiece of a performance from Wade, who finished with 38 points.
Only two other Heat players scored in double digits. One of them was LeBron James, who had a good all-around game even though he “only” recorded 22 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists. The Celtics were able to take away LeBron’s drives to the rim in half-court situations, which they have often been able to do throughout the years. LeBron didn’t get frustrated, and was still able to contribute by facilitating, grabbing rebounds, working in the post, making big plays on defense, and hitting some jumpers at key moments. LeBron didn’t need to do everything for his team to get the win over the Celtics, which is why he came to Miami in the first place.
The third Heat player to score in double figures was James Jones, who was absolutely crucial. Jones contributed 25 points off the bench, making five of his seven three-point attempts and all 10 of his free throw attempts. Jones kept the floor spaced for James and Wade by draining catch-and-shoot threes, which came off of dribble-penetration and the Heat’s “Hawk” sets designed to free him up off two off-ball screens. He was also able to play his usual brand of good positional defense, and was able to get into Paul Pierce’s head in the fourth quarter by being physical. Given how ineffective the banged-up Mike Miller has been all season, it’s hard not to wonder where the Heat would be without James Jones.
The Heat didn’t get much production outside of those three players. Joel Anthony continued to prove that he’s one of the most valuable defensive players in the playoffs, but he didn’t make a field goal. Zydrunas Ilgauskas continued to look like a complete liability. Mike Bibby made one three, but that was pretty much it. Mario Chalmers provided some energy, but also had a few glaring mental lapses. Chris Bosh managed to play Kevin Garnett to a stalemate, but the Heat would probably like to see their All-Star forward do more offensively.
Fortunately for the Heat, the Celtics’ offense was completely unable to punish the Heat’s lack of offensive depth. The Celtics made threes early and often, firing with abandon in semi-transition and making 12 of their 24 three-point attempts. Apart from that, they had few answers for the Heat’s swarming defense.
Rajon Rondo was unable to push the break, and was completely invisible in half-court situations. Kevin Garnett got few touches in the post, and his normally automatic catch-and-shoot jumper failed to find the net. Paul Pierce made some shots early in the clock, but couldn’t do much against LeBron James when the Celtics had to find some set offense, and lost his composure before being ejected in the fourth quarter. Even a dialed-in Ray Allen wasn’t enough for the Celtics to have any consistent offensive success. Worst of all, the Celtics were sloppy with the ball, which is an unforgivable sin when playing the Heat; Miami scored 23 points on 14 Boston turnovers.
Performances like the one Wade had are ones the Celtics are simply going to have to live with. Great players like Wade are going to have great games, especially when they’re hitting their jump shots. What they can control is their offensive execution. If Boston wants to leave Miami with a win, they will have to push the break more effectively and get better looks in the half-court. If Miami’s defense is good enough for them to need only one of their “Big Three” to be rolling on all cylinders, this will be a very long series for the Celtics.
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