Game 7: Boston at Miami
I let this game 7 sink in for a bit longer than usual before this recap. This was an issue of timing for me, but also the importance of (most likely) the last game for Boston’s Big Four as a unit and, consequently, the seemingly unfettered path to the Finals this will allow Miami over the next two years (I’m pretty sure Derrick Rose is pinning all these Heat articles up on his fridge as he rehabilitates his knee, so just be forewarned Heat bros) The game begged for me to try and give some new context or at least a strident effort to explain why this game was so damn incredible. Not only that, but the hype before the game didn’t cause the game itself to be ruined. In fact, I’d say the game out-did the hype, which seemed impossible in the lead-up to the battle.
The game itself featured some incredible displays of talent from Miami’s Big Three; together at last as Bosh has—if not fully—recovered from the abdominal strain that kept him out of the entire Indy series and the first 4 games of these Conference Finals. But Boston’s Big Four also provided the steady play that’s allow them to vivisect the running narrative this season that they were too old; Boston’s entire starting line-up would score in double figures. But it wasn’t just the stats or the lines—particularly Rondo’s tenth career playoff triple-double (tying him with Larry Bird for 3rd place on the all-time list), or even the individual plays—like Wade’s 3-point play or LeBron’s 30 foot jumper as the shot clock wound down. No, it was the stretch from around mid-way int the 3rd quarter and to mid-way of the 4th where both teams traded baskets and stops, which gave fans, even casual basketball fans, a helluva game 7; a game 7 I’ll remember for the rest of my life; a game worthy of it’s game 7-ness; a game that makes watching basketball so fruitful an endeavor.
The Celtics got out to a 7-point first half lead, even after LeBron’s boundless game 6, he had been largely quiet in the first half of game 7. I stupidly went on Twitter, and the choking narrative was peaking its ugly head out as writers and reporters prepared their stories for today. That 7-point Boston lead did not last. With 7:13 left in the 3rd, a Dwyane Wade jumper from just inside the 3-point arc, tied the score at 59 and the game took off.
The Celtics took the lead, then the Heat tied it; the Celtics again took the lead by 1, then the Heat took the lead by 1; then the Celtics took the lead by 1 followed by the Heat taking the lead right back. It was as back and forth as you’ll find on any basketball court in the world. Guys just kept making plays. Rondo scored 10 of his 22 in the quarter and a well-rounded Heat team saw Battier knock down 2 huge 3-pointers, Haslem had a bucket, Chalmers had 6 and so did LeBron; Wade had 5 and Bosh hit a long jumper to tie the score heading into the 4th. It was a humble reminder the Heat role players aren’t always as terrible as we think, and it set the stage for a final 12 minutes of basketball that would determine the fate of both franchises.
The frenetic pace and constant lead changes continued in the 4th, but this time the Heat’s offense was all their big 3. As Wade said after, “this is why we came together,” and they truly brought the game home for the Heat—starting with LeBron somewhat overcoming his 4th quarter/Boston/Dallas demons from years past. With 8:48 remaining, Ray Allen hit a 3 to put Boston ahead, 82-81.
LeBron came down and missed a 3, and most die-hard NBA spectators groaned at the prospect of another abysmally shooting 4th quarter for LeBron where 3’s are jacked and the post is ignored. Except, that’s not really what happened; although, part of game 6’s excellence was the realization by LeBron that muscling to the rim and establishing position in the post makes him nearly impossible to defend. He learned from that experience, and pushed it in the 4th. After Ray Ray missed a second 3 on the ensuing drive, LeBron put a cross-over on Brandon Bass in a semi-transitional where Boston’s defense wasn’t set, and unleashed a soaring dunk to give Miami back the lead.
Wade stole the ball from Pierce on the next Boston possession. Neither team had led by more than 2 until there was 7:13 left in the gmae and Bosh sank a 3-pointer from the short corner (his second of the game) to put Miami up 86-82.
So, starting at the 7:16 mark of the 3rd, and continuing to the same place in the 4th, the lead never grew more than 2 points before the other team came right back to tie or go up again. It was simply insane, and one of the most enjoyable stretches of basketball I’ve ever been witness to. In case you didn’t already know, I’ve watched a lot of basketball.
After Boshs corner 3, James came back. Pierce’s lay-up attempt was blocked by Shane Battier, and James hit a nice shot at the rim to extend the Miami lead to 6 with 6:50 to play. It was nice to see James totally involved and rising to the moment instead of hanging out by the 3-point line and waiting for the game to come to him. He’ll have to take over just as much in the Finals, so we’ll see if this continues, but if you’re a Heat fan you have to be happy by what you’ve seen from James in games 6 and 7 (in terms of offensive-aggressiveness). But regardless of James’ newly found motivation to take over and force the defense to react to him, the Celtics were a feisty bunch that wasn’t going away.
After another Rondo assist led to Brandon Bass’ only field goal attempt (a made 20-footer) in the second half (he scored 14 to lead Boston in the first 24 minutes), the ball came back to Miami, up only 4 and causing a massive panic in South Beach not seen since Pablo Escobar was gunned down in Columbia and you had to start paying $20 more for a gram of the fine white. That’s when LeBron had his moment: with the shot clock winding down, he came off a very high screen around 32 feet from the basket. He pulled up and drained a 31-foot jumper to give the Heat a 7 point lead with 5:43 to go in the game.
It took the wind out of the sails of Boston’s gutsy group and hopefully eases some of the foolish writing about LeBron’s end-of-game passivity. But after LeBron missed a long jumper and Rondo got a hustle basket by out-running LeBron to a loose ball, we all realized the Celtics still would not stay down.
Then that other guy for Miami decided to show up, which is a good thing too because at this point I’m not sure LeBron had anything left in the tank. He’d been integral in Miami’s staying with Boston through that quarter-long back and forth, but he needed Wade to handle it in the last 5 minutes. He got them there, but his already-legendary 31-footer were his last points of the night not including a meaningless free throw later (he finished with a ho-hum 31 points—11 in the 4th—12 rebounds and 2 assists). Dwyane Wade was ready—since it was the end of the game and that seems to be the only time Wade attacks these days.
After Rondo’s lay-up with 5:13 cut the Heat lead to 5, Spoels called a timeout. Out of timeout, Bosh got an easy bucket in the lane off a nice LeBron pass; Wade made a pretty little runner in the lane; after Rondo was blocked, Wade made a move inside, then pulled up for a jumper. He was fouled, and after bouncing off every piece of the iron, the ball fell through.
With 2:53 remaining, Wade’s free throw extended the Heat lead to 12 and the fans were finally starting to breathe again. No one scored again until LeBron was fouled with 1:23 remaining and made 1 of 2 to push the lead to 13. Rondo hit a 3 with to cut the lead to 10, but it was with under a minute to play and the game was over. The Miami Heat move on to face the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals, which starts on ABC at 9 p.m. EST this Tuesday in Oklahoma City.
The Celtics are most likely done, and not just for the season. Allen and Garnett’s contracts end this summer, which just started for them. Danny Ainge is most likely going to let them go unless they sign for substantially less money than they were making before. Considering Garnett’s incredible play in the postseason this year as the Celtics center, it’s conceivable some helpless franchise offers his 36 year-old body a max deal and the Celtics would be fools to match it. Allen, having been hobbled by injuries all year—including the playoffs—may retire or catch on with a team that needs his experience and 3-pointing shooting.
Rondo and Pierce will likely remain and start the uphill-battle to re-tool before again taking on the best in the East. I freakin’ loved this Celtics group and you can be sure Red Auerbach is up in heaven pissed off as all hell the Heat triumvirate’s big 4th quarter got the win. This Celtics group was cast in the mold of Larry and Russell before them; they won and played as a team. They were so tenacious and so damn confident when everyone else in the country had written them off. It’s likely we’ll never see a collection of hall-of-game talent like this in a while and especially not one that plays together so well as they did.
They will be missed by many inside and outside Boston (actually, maybe just me outside of Boston). Now it’s on to the finals for Miami where everyone will again be rooting against them. That’s because it’s gonna be the dream ESPN/ABC scenario as Durantula and ‘Bron square off. I’m already tired of the 1 on 1 angle since it’s a team game, but I’m as excited as the rest of you to tune in.
Final: MIAMI HEAT 101 - Boston Celtics 88
The Heat win the series 4-3