MIAMI - The bonus playoffs will have two bonus games - minimum.
Don’t you think the Miami Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeat - I’m getting ready for that obnoxious PA announcer - thought they had gotten rid of the Boston Celtics for all times when they dispatched them in five games last year? Really. This wasn’t supposed to be happening, especially after the Heat broke everyone’s heart in Boston with that 115-111 overtime comeback win in Game 2.
I’m going to level with you. After Game 2, I was satisfied. The Celtics had done themselves and the organization proud with their effort, but I was concerned that that had been their maximum achievement. I said to myself, “Do we need to go back to Miami and listen to that screamer at the mike? Do we need to go down there and give those unworthy fans the satisfaction of seeing the Heat humble the Celtics on their way to the Finals?’’
Well, here we are, and this series really is a series, just as what’s going on out West is a series. It is now entirely logical to assume that the league and the networks will be reveling in a pair of Game 7s on Friday and Saturday.
But I will submit to you that, as far as the East is concerned, there is a better chance of the Celtics winning a Game 7 than a Game 5. Does that make sense to you?
Think about it. Think about the pressure the Miami Heat would feel if they were forced to play a Game 7 to save the season against a team that has given them more trouble than anyone else in the league all season long. That game would be no better than a 50-50 proposition.
Meanwhile, I’ve been asked to describe the nature of the Celtics’ playoff games, and I think the most appropriate word is “adventure.’’ I’d be inclined to say that I cannot imagine what it’s like to coach this team, but I also assume that by this time Doc Rivers is used to the unpredictable nature of this group. He keeps saying he’s encouraged because they have gotten this far without having put together one 48-minute sound effort, but I also think he must know by now that such a thought process is like Waiting for Godot. He ain’t comin’. And the Boston Celtics will continue to provide a nightly Adventure Theater for one and all to enjoy. They are good enough to jump on teams, but not good enough to put them away.
They had Philly whipped in Game 4. They had Miami down in Game 2. In each case, they got away from the good things they had been doing offensively to get those big leads, and in so doing they put themselves in a position for bad things to happen. They did it again on Sunday evening, ultimately depending, if you can believe the good Doctor, on the Ghost of Red Auerbach to prevent Dwyane Wade’s very makeable step-back jumper from winning the game.
Expect the Heat to be energized at the AmericanAirlines Arena Tuesday, because the dirty little secret of their weekend excursion to Boston is that they treated their 2-0 status like a big pillow. Perhaps they enjoyed our fine restaurants and the overall hospitality a bit too much, because they did not act much like a team that wanted to get the series over with as quickly as possible.
The Celtics dominated the final 30-plus minutes of Game 3 and the first 24 of Game 4. The Heat had a too-little, too-late comeback in Game 3 and a pretty good surge to take three brief leads in the fourth period of Game 4, but there was no overall sense of urgency.
“The way we came out in the first half,’’ said coach Erik Spoelstra, “we weren’t as committed as we can be. That’s the way you have to be against this team. You have to be collectively willing to get into the pit and get your hands dirty for however many minutes it may be. In the second half, we got into the grind, into the fight.’’
So the Heat had a cushion, and now it’s gone. If the Heat have consulted the unofficial NBA manual, they have noted that in matters in which a team is 2-2 and coming back home, Game 5 is supposed to bring out the best in the favored squad. Speaking of which, Monday was the 36th anniversary of the celebrated 128-126 triple-OT conquest of the noble Phoenix Suns. It was, of course, a Game 5.
One thing to monitor this evening is the play of the auxiliary guys. Very often the difference in an NBA game is the play of either subs or less-heralded starters (think Brandon Bass’s 27-point outburst vs. Philly in Game 5 at the Garden). It is an NBA axiom that whereas stars will be stars will be stars, regardless of venue, so-called “role players’’ perform better at home.
Doc Rivers is acutely aware of this, telling John Dennis and Gerry Callahan on radio Monday morning that he knows LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will be good, but that he does not want to be beaten by - no offense - the Udonis Haslems, Mario Chalmerses, Mike Millers, and James Joneses of the world.
But, c’mon, it’s all good. We’re talking basketball in June. There are fans in 26 NBA cities who wish they could be doing the same thing.