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Bob Ryan

Miami is on hot seat

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / May 1, 2011

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MIAMI — We all can say we knew this clash was inevitable, but who knew it would be this humbling?

I mean, wasn’t this supposed to be for the Eastern Conference championship?

Both the Celtics and Heat took their eye off the prize, allowing upstart Chicago to claim the No. 1 seed. So what we have here is the most anticipated, most hyped, most fascinating undercard in NBA playoff history. When this thing is over, the winner and its fans will be saying, “Wait a minute . . . there’s more?’’

The Celtics are as ready as any team could be, or deserves to be. Sweeping the Knicks enabled coach Doc Rivers to balance rest and much-needed practice. The team is healthy. There are no excuses, no ifs, ands, buts, or wait-a-minutes. They know how to play. They know what they want to do. They just have to do it.

What’s that? Oh, him, the Big Guy. Shaquille O’Neal has made but one brief, titillating appearance since Feb. 1, and now Doc says we actually may have a Big Guy sighting before this series is over. Great! Wonderful! Join the party! But we’ve all heard this one before. And before that. And before that. Until further notice, Jermaine is the resident O’Neal for the Celtics.

If the Big Guy shows up to provide an occasional legitimate Big Guy presence, that would be a welcome treat. But it certainly would be in the category of a major bonus.

Let’s be honest. The Celtics are going to play well, Big Guy or no Big Guy. This thing is all about the Miami Heat. Let’s be even more honest. This entire NBA season has been about the Miami Heat.

Nope, that’s not entirely true, either. This Heat thing is about their Big Three. The playoffs are a test to see whether LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh can do what many people say can’t be done, and what even fewer people (outside of Miami) want to see done, and that is win an NBA championship with a completely lopsided roster that defies the notion of a proper title team.

Pat Riley tried to assemble a logical, coherent, recognizable NBA team, but he failed to do so. The Heat started the season with huge questions at center and point guard, and they enter their 96th game following The Decision (8 exhibition, 82 regular season, 5 playoff) with huge questions at center and point guard. They entered the season with bench questions, and they still have bench questions. They began the season with everyone wondering how the ball would be shared, and how they would handle the end of close games, and that question still persists.

The Heat were a classic bully team. They were 40-5 against teams .500 or below and only 18-19 against teams above .500. That tells you something.

Offensively speaking, what are they?

They are just a conglomeration of three talented solo acts, according to one mystified Eastern Conference coach.

“The Heat do not run any plays at all,’’ he insists. “The Lakers have the triangle. The Celtics run plays. The Bulls run plays. But the Heat don’t run any plays at all. They just hand the ball to LeBron or Wade and ask him to do something with it.’’

The Heat have one great source of offense, however, and how much they get to exploit it may very well determine who wins this series. The one guaranteed way to get yourself beaten, and possibly even embarrassed, by the Miami Heat is to turn the ball over between the top of the key and midcourt, thereby allowing the Heat to get into the league’s most lethal transition game. LeBron and Wade are devastating weapons in the open floor.

This is particularly troublesome for the Celtics, because Rajon Rondo has been known to get careless with the basketball. The Celtics will want him to attack the rim, to be sure. But he must tone down the fancy-dan passing, because you just can’t run the risk of sloppy passing against the Heat. In this series, Rondo must balance creativity with caution.

Messrs. James, Wade, and Bosh have been every bit as individually brilliant as advertised. LeBron had another quality year, averaging 26.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 7 assists a game. Wade went for 25.5/6.4/4.6. Bosh quietly went about his business of being a pilot fish living off these two spectacular virtuosos. He finished with 18.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per. The shot distribution was what you’d expect, with James and Wade each taking 18 a game and Bosh 13.

Beyond those three, coach Erik Spoelstra has no one he can rely on for consistent offense. Mike Miller was going to be the big bench guy, but he now has two bad thumbs, and even when somewhat healthy he was never a factor. Eddie House has had a so-so year. Mario Chalmers is coming off a 20-point Game 5 against the 76ers, but that was his first double-figure game since March 14.

The one guy to be concerned with is 6-foot-8-inch veteran James Jones, who has shot 52 percent on threes (22 for 42) since the beginning of April. Doc might gently remind his guys not to leave this guy open when they’re doubling up on a star.

There has been one major Miami team positive: defense. No one expected the Heat to become as effective a defensive team as they did as quickly as they did.

But what would it say about the game of basketball if such a top-heavy team were to win the championship immediately upon assembly? Nothing good. The Celtics have almost a moral obligation to uphold the honor of the sport by stopping this team before it goes any further.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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