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.
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.