James, Wade using all tools in their kit
MIAMI — So far it’s been “Dancing With The Miami (Mega)-Stars.’’ LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are a two-man conga line heading right to the Eastern Conference finals.
On Sunday Wade tossed in 38 while LeBron waved his baton, orchestrating, choreographing, and otherwise directing the Heat to a 99-90 victory. Last night Wade threw in 28 while LeBron erupted for 35 as the Heat took a 2-0 series lead with a 102-91 victory thanks to a 14-0 run that broke open a game that was tied at 80-all with 7:10 to go.
Of course, there are always other factors in any team’s success. Chris Bosh has been an understated asset in both victories. But the Heat are in the process of proving that if you have two top-of-the-line talents in their prime, and they have a reasonable understanding of what it takes to win playoff games against quality competition, that may be enough to get the job done after all.
There’s no getting around the fact that, for whatever reason, Miami’s Big Two is kicking the butt of Boston’s Big Three. Is it a simple matter of age? Perhaps it is. James is — yes, it is absolutely astonishing to contemplate — 26. Wade is 29. On the other side of the ledger, as Johnny Most would have said, Ray Allen is 35. Kevin Garnett will be 35 next week. Paul Pierce is 33. None of this is what you call news, but perhaps it’s more relevant than we had thought.
Or maybe not.
This could be a simple matter of NBA playoff ebb and flow. Miami has the home-court advantage. The Celtics always knew they would have to win one game in Miami, whether it was going to be Game 1, 2, 5, or 7. One is all they need. That’s the way it works. Miami, which means both stars and non-stars, was expected to play well at home, and so it has.
“We did what we were supposed to do, however we did it,’’ said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra, who then issued a warning to his players and the team’s fans. “Now the mental discipline begins. This thing is just getting started. The series doesn’t start until the opposing team wins on the other court.’’
Good. That’s exactly what a coach in Spoelstra’s situation is supposed to say, which doesn’t make it any less sincere.
Spoelstra likewise acknowledged that his major stars are indeed earning their keep. “We had some terrific performances,’’ he said, “and then in the end our defense did it.’’ He might well have added that his stars had a lot to do with that defense, too.
Both James and Wade have been masters at picking their spots in this series. Neither seems intent on being The Man. They truly are allowing the game to come to them. But when the spotlight shines on one or the other, boy, is he ready.
Thus we had Wade scoring the final 8 Heat points of the half to change a 39-38 game into a 47-42 Miami halftime advantage. In the third quarter it was James scoring a couple of key baskets as the Heat went from a 66-64 lead to a 72-67 spread at quarter’s end.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers expressed his disappointment in his team’s inability to close out quarters in a professional manner, but Messrs. Wade and James had something to do with that. There really wasn’t much the Celtics could do.
This was a very rough night for Boston’s Big Three. They just could not get it going, and if it weren’t for the bench, which scored 17 of the first 33 Celtics points, the visitors might well have been blown out early. At the 34-33 juncture (Miami lead) Pierce, Garnett, and Allen were 4 for 15. At 54-51 (Miami lead), they were 7 for 25. It wasn’t until Garnett hit a jumper with 4:57 remaining in the third quarter that a member of the Boston Big Three actually crashed into double figures. Imagine that.
Contrast that showing to the play of Wade, whose end-of-the-half exploits included a drop-dead gorgeous crossover side-step to avoid Garnett and sail to the hoop and a step-back 3-pointer with 3.8 seconds remaining on which Allen found himself on the floor as the ball was nestling in the cords.
And then there was James, who has the most at stake in all this. Anyone who doubts his greatness needs to get hold of the tapes of these two games. He hasn’t taken anything resembling a bad shot, and he is in full command of an offensive repertoire that includes everything from ambidextrous drives to mid-range jumpers to nice little runners and, when necessary, flat-out hustle plays. He may very well have made the game’s dam-bursting play when, at 85-80 and there being no signs of an impending Miami run, he outfought several Celtics for the rebound of a Wade jumper and jammed it home for a thunderous old-fashioned 3-point play.
“They were terrific,’’ said Spoelstra, “and we needed every bit of their talent, particularly in the second half. Whenever we needed a basket, the defense would turn it up and we’d get some kind of emotional basket.’’
Spoelstra on Wade: “It isn’t easy being a two-way player in this league. It’s not easy chasing a guy like Ray Allen, who can break through at any time, and then do the job at the other end.’’
Spoelstra on James: “LeBron is physically, emotionally, and mentally tough.’’
Spoelstra on the two of them: “They have unselfish personalities and they are both introspective. They both knew they were going to have to sacrifice, but they didn’t really know how hard it was going to be with the ball in their hands 50 percent [less than] they were used to. It took a while to develop that chemistry.’’
These two extraordinary talents are imposing their will on the Celtics. Will a few days of rest and reflection inspire the Boston Big Three to respond accordingly? Can they respond accordingly? Right now, that’s a fair question.
Bob Ryan can be reached at email@example.com.