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Celtics-Heat Game 7: Erik Spoelstra’s redemption

Jun 10, 2012, 12:22 PM EST

Erik Spoelstra AP

I’ll say it, I buried him.

I absolutely buried Erik Spoelstra after Game 5. He had failed to make any meaningful adjustments, had allowed the Celtics to dominate the structure of the series, and had squandered opportunities to put this series away. I buried him.

And hey, shocker, I was wrong. He’s not buried. He’s the coach for the Eastern Conference champs, again. And when he had to, he made adjustments. Again. He’ll get zero percent of the effort for the Game 7 win, instead as always, his victories are considered the product of talent and talent alone. But if you really want the truth, if you care about what actually won Game 7 and sent the Heat to the Finals, you’ll recognize that Erik Spoelstra, in the biggest game of the year, outcoached Doc Rivers.

He trusted Chris Bosh, finally, coming off his injury. This is significant. Playing a good player may seem obvious, but there are a lot of coaches who would have held back on Bosh, not wanting to ruin his endurance for the end. Spoesltra managed him perfectly, and gave him the timeouts necessary to keep him winded. That adjustment changes the game. Kevin Garnett‘s lobs no longer appeared unscathed, Bosh snatched them away, and the Celtics’ chances alongside.

He kept Battier off of Bass. This is huge. It’s not about Bass, who scored anyway, muscling in and doing work. He transitioned Battier onto Pierce and Rondo and Pietrus and let him make the little plays while others helped out on Bass. That was huge. He stemmed the bleeding.

He drew up the plays that worked, trusted Bosh in the corner, which was a major gamble, and didn’t get in LeBron’s way. He’ll get no credit for that. Which is ridiculous. Want to know why? It’s the most tried and tested way for a coach to win and make his starts happy.

From Bill Russell to Michael Jordan to Kobe Bryant, stars say the same thing. “My coach trusted me to make the right play.” Spoelstra did that with James, not pulling him, letting him play it out, take them home. That seems obvious. It isn’t, and that line of thought is a big differential.

Spoelstra didn’t coach a great series. He didn’t coach a good series. He was outworked, but much of that came when he lost his starting power forward, a fact I overlooked when I buried him.

Whoops.

So now Spoelstra’s back in the Finals, matched up against another young coach with championship aspirations coaching three stars. He’ll have to have the defense he constructed control three terrific scorers, have his offense beat a shot-blocking menace. He has to manage minutes and rotations and do it for a team coming off a draining, exhausting seven-game series.

But for now, Erik Spoelstra has redeemed himself. He’s not dead.

Not even close.

  1. hwentworth - Jun 10, 2012 at 12:34 PM

    They did an inside the huddle with Doc and Spoelstra towards the end of the game: Rivers’ voice was destroyed from screaming so much. Mr. Spoelstra sounded as if he hadn’t said anything all game. Which was true. Because he didn’t.

    • md23rewlz - Jun 10, 2012 at 1:00 PM

      Well I’m glad that they always insightful Inside the Huddle solved THAT mystery for us.

      • md23rewlz - Jun 10, 2012 at 1:06 PM

        “the,” not “they.” Dammit, my hilarious joke now looks like a child’s scribbling on the wall. Curses on you, “they.”

    • turnmymicup - Jun 11, 2012 at 1:14 AM

      What did all that screaming get him in the end? A soar throat and a early vacation. Spoelstra controlled his emotions and set an example for his team. Great job Coach.

  2. the1line - Jun 10, 2012 at 12:51 PM

    So, basicaly, Spo got out of the way and let his heavily favored team play as it should, using all that talent of Bosh, James, Battier, and that is “outcoaching”. Letting Bosh shoot 3s IS a gamble. Apparently, if they go in you are a good coatch. I think, Spo VS Doc was the only reason Celtics had a chance…

    • ihavenonickname - Jun 10, 2012 at 5:02 PM

      I completely agree.

      Matt Moore’s recipe for brilliant coaching according to this article
      Point #1: Give Bosh minutes.
      Point #2: Have Battier (a SF) guard anyone besides PF’s and Centers
      Point #3: Give Lebron minutes.

      yea pretty brilliant stuff there.

    • turnmymicup - Jun 11, 2012 at 1:56 AM

      Yes that is called “outcoaching”. The coach that uses the talent on their team to outperform the talent on the other team is usually how it works. Bosh going three for four from downtown isn’t a gamble. Thats called sticking with what’s working. If they keep going in thats called a good play. Apparently, you’re a Spoelstra HATER. Thats ok though SPO VS DOC in the PLAYOFFS chalk up 2-0. Keep up the good work Coach.

  3. lucky5934 - Jun 10, 2012 at 12:55 PM

    If Doc River’s and Erik Spoelstra swapped teams, the Heat would have won in 5 games max. Spoelstra is receiving too much credit for Bosh coming back and playing a significant role. I personally don’t agree with you Matt that he made these amazing coaching decisions. Truth is he reverted back to the game plan that the Heat used before Bosh was injured.

    • md23rewlz - Jun 10, 2012 at 1:04 PM

      Reverted back to the game plan the Heat used before Bosh was injured? So you’re saying that while he was injured, the Heat had to come up with a completely new game plan they hadn’t used all postseason to adjust for Bosh’s injury. Sounds pretty impressive to me.

      • lucky5934 - Jun 10, 2012 at 4:31 PM

        Yeah your right… they used the same exact game plan without having a scoring presence inside who could clear out the lane with outside shooting or command an occasional double team. Don’t you find it interesting that Wade and Bron drove the lane more in these last two games during key moments. If you don’t think not having Bosh didn’t alter their game plan at all is ridiculous. I never said it was a life altering game plan, but it was a significant enough of a change that Boston wasn’t prepared for it.

    • 1972wasalongtimeago - Jun 10, 2012 at 1:57 PM

      Do you think Spo would have had Bass defending James 1 on 1 so far from the basket which allowed LBJ to easily drive to the hoop; or do you think he would have played back, giving LBJ the long range jumper instead?

      Don’t know what Doc was thinking, but on behalf of all Heat fans, Thanks Doc.

  4. abchome - Jun 10, 2012 at 1:00 PM

    Playing a healthy Bosh is not much a decision. Winning a game doesn’t mean outcoaching the opposing coach.

  5. scalfor3 - Jun 10, 2012 at 2:21 PM

    i love doc, think he’s the best coach in the league bar none, and without his coaching they wouldn’t have a chance, but…

    i can’t believe he left out to dry covering lebron in the fourth. i know bass had done an admirable job in the first half, but he was helpless when lebron decided to start forcing the issue and attack the rim. granted lebron is a tough matchup for anyone on the planet, but pierce would’ve had a prayer of at least slowing him down. bass didn’t.

    as for spo: he is what he is. a decent coach, but not a great one. if they win a title it wont be because of him.

  6. daniel10017 - Jun 10, 2012 at 2:23 PM

    Spoelstra is a decent coach, nothing more. The reality is that the Heat won the series in spite of him. They finally woke up during the mid 3rd quarter. In the end the series was won by talent in which the Heat have more. ANYBODY can do his job. Spoelstra and NY Yankees GM have the easiest job in sports. All they do is sit back and watch (in the case of Cashman, the only skill he has is writing the checkbook). Heck my sister can coach the Heat to a championship. Let’s see what Spoelstra does once the Heat fires him after the Finals because they will lose to the Thunder in 6 games.

    • caseybojangles - Jun 10, 2012 at 3:02 PM

      thats probably one of the dumbest things ever posted…

      so phil jackson isn’t a great coach???? i mean, he did have the best player ever for his first six and arguably the most dominant big guy for the next few and a really good fax of MJ (although i can’t stand him) for the next couple. he probably called all those championships in, right?

      you’re a joke. jackson would have had 0 rings if not for superstar talent like MJ, Shaq, and Kobe (not to mention all the other stars he had). coaches can’t do it without talent. talent can play an awesome game of HORSE without coaching but talent can’t win championships without the decisions and adjustments that coaches make in the game

    • knightrider1755 - Jun 10, 2012 at 4:43 PM

      Hell if your sister can coach the Heat to a championship send her to the Knicks because we haven’t won one in 40 years. In fact if she can pull that off, we’ll make you the GM.

  7. Miami305 - Jun 10, 2012 at 3:38 PM

    Erik Spoelstra is the new Phil Jackson.

  8. vallegfv - Jun 10, 2012 at 4:50 PM

    Mr. Moore the Celtics ran on fumes for most of the series, yet still almost won. The Celtics lost Saturday because the tank was empty in spite of Spoelstra journeyman coaching. IF YOU PAID ATTENTION at halftime Garnet could barely walk down the tunnel to the locker room, even though he had HEAT munchkins covering him. If Garnet runs the court a few times with Dexter Pittman 6’11”, 285lbs, 24yrs old, U Texas standout, Garnet doesn’t make it past the 1st quarter game 1. IT WAS Garnet’s Dunk-fest that kept the series close.

  9. newyorkfootballjets - Jun 10, 2012 at 6:08 PM

    Any other coach would have let bosh play earlier in the series to end it fast then let him rest b4 the finals . Doc rivers definitely out coached him.

    • turnmymicup - Jun 11, 2012 at 2:31 AM

      All the other coaches are home watching the finals taking notes. Considering Spo just won the East two years in a row! So I highly doubt Spoelstra cares what any of them have to say. Bosh came back right when we needed him. Why risk another injury to Bosh if the team was winning without him? Bring Bosh back earlier and it would’ve been the Heat going home early. Doc Rivers definitely got outcoached since he lost the SERIES not just game 7.

    • knightrider1755 - Jun 11, 2012 at 9:23 AM

      Doc Rivers outcoached Spoelstra and that’s why the Celtics are going home to watch the finals on television like the rest of us. That makes sense. On Mars.

  10. mogogo1 - Jun 10, 2012 at 9:56 PM

    Matt Moore is going to have to get a little deeper in his analysis than “The Heat lost, so Spoelstra stinks… oops, now they won, so he’s a genius.”

    The last two games saw a 45-point outburst by LeBron and then they finally got Bosh back for a real contribution in the deciding game at home. Moore doesn’t know any more today about Spoelstra’s coaching than back when he “buried” him.

  11. florida727 - Jun 11, 2012 at 7:33 AM

    The NBA is, and always will be, first and foremost a “players” game. The least relevant aspect of the NBA is coaching. Why? Because (San Antonio Spurs aside) it’s primarily a one-on-one game. Teams in the NBA rarely runs “basketball plays”. Give the ball to LeBron, clear out, let him go one-on-one against (fill-in-the-blank-defender). Space out the floor in case he drives and someone collapses on him and he decides to kick out a pass to an outside shooter. When he’s out of the game or just needs a blow, insert Dwayne Wade where LeBron was previously mentioned and continue as normal.

    If you want coaching, you’ll have to watch the college game. Only there do coaches play a significant role… emphasis on SIGNIFICANT.

    The most overrated discussion regarding NBA success or failure is that of the coach. And if you’re about to summon Phil Jackson’s name, insert players into his “triangle offense” NOT named Jordan, Pippen, Kobe, Shaq, etc., and see how many championships you win.

  12. Louis Tumblin - Jun 11, 2012 at 3:10 PM

    Spo needs to get this done or he will be looking for work.

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