Author: Matt Moore

Boston Celtics v Miami Heat - Game Seven

Celtics-Heat Game 7: Chris Bosh becomes the ultimate ‘stretch’ four


Tell me you saw it coming. I’ll call you a liar. Chris Bosh, the most maligned of the Big 3 in Miami, the one everyone questions the toughness of, put the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. Eight-for-10, 19 points, eight rebounds and it doesn’t even begin to describe his performance in the Heat’s 101-88 win over the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Bosh, who only returned from an abdominal injury in Game 5, stepped up and had the game of his career. It wasn’t just the shots, major, huge, boulder-stone threes that he dropped in on the Celtics when they left him on the perimeter, it was the defense. Twice, Bosh intercepted passes intended for lobs to Kevin Garnett. Finally, finally, finally, the Heat had figured out a way to combat the Celtics’ lob to KG. Stick the big long athletic guy in there and have him mess things up.

It was maybe the finest moment of Bosh’s career. The player most often criticized for a lack of toughness and an inability to contain his emotions came through with a huge game fueled by smart play and passion. Bosh played through his recovery and nailed huge shot after huge shot, making play after play. Bosh, as cerebral a player as you’re likely to come across, famously sobbed walking off the floor in last year’s Finals. Now he’ll have another chance to make amends, and finally turn the lasting image of him into a winner.

In a lot of ways, the injury to Bosh was the best thing that could have happened for his career. No longer was he the irrelevant member of the Big 3. He was the missing piece, the player they really needed, the reason they would lose. His return was gifted with low expectations and he surpassed them by miles. He gave the Heat a lift in Game 6 and put them over the top with Game 7, this final frame against the Celtics standing as his finest playoff performance to date, at least in the minds of most.

Bosh spread the floor, something that none of the other Heat shooters were able to do, and provided them with a weapon the Celtics weren’t expecting. The game, the series, really, had devolved into a series of predictable punches. Bosh gave them something the Celtics had not schemed for. Bosh told reporters late that he’d been practicing threes. Andrew Bynum is thrilled to hear this. But Bosh shot the same way he hits his mid-range jumpers. It was the same flow, the same motion, the same everything. Just a little further out.

So now Chris Bosh has redefined his narrative, as the Heat have redefined theirs. The old story of Bosh is dead for now. And if he plays like this in the Finals, there will be nothing to cry about.

Celtics-Heat Game 7: Chris Bosh will not start

Boston Celtics v Miami Heat - Game Five

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters prior to Game 7 that Chris Bosh would not start but will play in Game 7.

Bosh played more minutes in Game 6 than in Game 7, and it’s difficult to see the advantage in feeding Udonis Haslem to the KG lions, but maybe Spoelstra’s “riding the hot hand” or whatever. Regardless, Bosh will have an opportunity to close out the game, and maybe saving him for the second half is a better plan anyway. If Spoelstra continues to ride Haslem when Garnett is working them over inside, that could be the ballgame. This is not about Haslem being a bad player, he’s tough as nails and the heart of the team. But he’s completely outmatched.

Bosh will play in just his third game since returning from an abdominal strain that sidelined him in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Pacers.

Stan Van Gundy thinks people should back off of Erik Spoelstra

Orlando's Stan Van Gundy shouts during an NBA playoff basketball game in Indianapolis

Stan Van Gundy’s unfiltered these days. He’s no longer employed by a team, so he’s kind of free to spout off however he likes. He’s not a guy who says things just to say them, like his brother, he has a tremendous amount of respect for players and coaches in the NBA and will want a job back in the league. But you can still tell he’s no longer as diplomatic as he used to be.

Like, for instance, when he lights up a national analyst for comments he made about Spoelstra’s coaching in Game 5:

“Yeah, maybe like the play they ran when Paul Pierce hit the big 3 at the end of the game. There was nothing going on there. It was a step-back, got some space and made a 3. The Heat are doing every bit as much offensively in terms of running plays. Here’s the difference: Doc Rivers won a championship a few years ago, so everyone just gives him the credit of being a great coach — which Doc deserves, he’s great. Eric hasn’t won, so people go into the series assuming there’s a great coaching advantage, which there is not. And because they have LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, it’s on Erik.”

Why do you think Spoelstra is getting so beat up?:

“I would say there’s basically two reasons. Number one is that there’s an expectation level for the Heat to win and if they don’t, people are just going to make an assumption that it’s coaching. To me, what’s confusing about this one though, is that it’s pretty easy. They have one of the 10 or 12 best offensive players in the league in Chris Bosh, who hasn’t been able to play. … The second thing is, quite honestly, is Erik never does anything to promote himself or try to defend himself. He just coaches his team and takes the heat and goes on.”

via Sports Radio Interviews » Blog Archive » Stan Van Gundy Stands Up For Miami Coach Erik Spoelstra.

Get it? He takes the heat? Because he coaches… nevermind.

SVG’s got a point here, but it’s not going to matter, because people will just associate him as defending Spoelstra from the same criticism he was under as a coach. But the point about championships is on target. We’re never going to know if the greatest coaches were a product of their talent or their systems. SVG is never going to coach Jackson’s Bulls, Spo’s never going to coach the Spurs. You can say Spoelstra had the most talent, but I think it’s pretty obvious the fit on this team is awkward and takes a lot of work to make it run.

Either way, it’s kind of notable that SVG is standing up for the head coach of the Heat, who pressured him out as head coach in 2006, and when he has such muted, reserved things to say about Pat Riley. But then, Spoelstra worked under Van Gundy and has never gotten anything but high marks from those who worked with him. Maybe we should all give Erik Spoelstra a brea…


Celtics-Heat Game 7 Preview: Five things to watch

Miami Heat's James and Wade react after a play against the Boston Celtics during the first half in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Finals NBA basketball playoffs in Boston

With so much on the line in Game 7, what are the things that will decide this game? What does it come down to? Here are five things to watch as the Boston Celtics meet the Miami Heat in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals Saturday night.

1. For the love of God, stop trying to front Kevin Garnett with Udonis Haslem. The Heat have stuck with this plan for five games and it’s murdered them nearly every time. Rondo can throw a lob pass in-between two crossing speedboats with his eyes closed. So, no, he has not struggled to find the lob to Garnett underneath, resulting in easy scores time and time again. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has sacrificed Udonis Haslem to the former T-Wolf time and time again, despite Haslem having neither height nor athleticism to challenge the entry pass. It’s like building a fortress wall, but only having it be about four feet high. The Heat had more success in Game 6 with timing their double once Garnett goes into his shooting motion in the post rather than upon the catch (where Garnett is more likely to simply pass out). They need to stick with that. They also need to get some help from the Gods by having Garnett miss his 18 footers on the pick and pop. That’s a primary reason Haslem is out there, to have the speed to challenge those shots. He has not been able to. There’s no good answer for stopping Garnett, it’s impossible. There are, however, less awful ones.

2. Keep with the strategy from Game 6 on LeBron James. Sounds nuts, right? But if LeBron James is hitting mid-range jumpers, you’re in trouble, big trouble, awful trouble anyway. Not a lot you can do. Doc Rivers will live with it day in and day out. You take your chances with the jumper. If he hits it, you’ve been beaten by one of the best players in the history of the game who had himself a historic day. You live with it. The temptation is to send doubles at James. The Celtics don’t really do that. Ever. They’ll challenge you with help on drives, but they’re not going to send two defenders at James in a face-up situation from mid-range unless things get really bad. It’s a bad idea. James is an incredible passer, and you’re setting yourself up for easy looks underneath by doing so.

3. Someone unreliable is going to have to have a day. Shane Batter, Mickael Pietrus, Mario Chalmers, Keyon Dooling. One side or the other is going to get hot from the arc and hit shots that honestly, they have very little chances of making regularly. Chalmers and Pietrus can shoot, but in this situation, with these stakes, against this defense? The odds aren’t with them. So what?! Welcome to the circus! Whee! Someone’s going to start nailing threes and that’s going to kill the other team and their fans who will say “We got beat by THAT GUY?!” Like I said, coin flip, man.

4. Drop the Bass. Welcome to Chapter 2 in “Things Erik Spoelstra has done in this series which makes my skull pound like an early Black Keys album is being played  at excruciating volume.” Spoelstra has stuck Battier on Bass. Battier is better matched up with Kevin Garnett than Bass. That’s crazy, but think of it. Garnett’s not going to slam his shoulder into Battier and score underneath. He’s going to take turnarounds based on muscle memory. Battier is susceptible to the lob, but is much better suited to combat that than Bass’ muscle underneath. Bass isn’t going to bust out any great post-moves. He has two shots. The mid-range jumper, which is deadly, and a muscle-in layup underneath. I get that the Heat have limited options, but they’re going to have to either put Joel Anthony or James on Bass. They can’t live with Battier getting crushed underneath. Boston on the other hand can win this game on Bass’ back, making him a hero and entering him into Celtics lore. Kind of a big deal.

5. The Great Big Bosh question. How much can he play? Will he start? A lot comes down to Bosh. The Heat have played better with every minute Bosh is on the floor. They need him, and they need him to deliver, at both ends. The biggest pressure is on LeBron James. The next biggest pressure is on Dwyane Wade. The next biggest pressure is on Erik Spoelstra. After that, it’s Bosh, and his impact could determine not only this game and this season, but the future of the Big 3 in Miami.

Heat-Celtics Game 7 Preview: The thing about chaos is it’s fair

Miami Heat v Boston Celtics - Game Six

You want to know the truth about this game, the hidden, ugly, “no one will talk about it because it’s like running a news report on the Disney Channel about how Santa isn’t real” truth?

Game 7 between the Heat and the Celtics? All that drama, all the impact on legacies and careers and the huge mega-importance of this game?

It’s a coin flip. Game 7 is nothing but a coin flip.

In reality, Game 6 was as well. These two have battled to the marrow throughout this series. All that talk bout officiating and conspiracies and clutch? That’s a result of two evenly matched teams going down to the wire in nearly every game. The gap in point differential, after the Heat blew the Celtics out of the water in Game 6? 1.7. That’s it. The two teams are separated after six games by less than a bucket. There is no better team. And we hate that.

We abhor the idea of the better team not advancing. It strikes a chord in us that fires off our cognitive dissonance alarms like nothing else. The better team has to win. But what if there isn’t one?

Boston’s offense has overperformed in this series. You can talk about clutch players and experience and rising to the occasion all you want. I think there are times when those cliches hold true. This is not one of them. They’re facing a dominant defense in its own right, and to be honest, they take a lot of pretty terrible shots. I don’t care what’s in your guts or between your legs, you’re not going to hit contested pull-up jumpers at a high rate, especially not from mid-range, and especially not against a defense as good as this one. But here it is. And there are concrete reasons that go beyond luck. Rajon Rondo’s singular brilliance. That play where he tip-passed it to Mickael Pietrus is a great example. But think about what had to happen there. Wade has to block Bass just right. Not so hard that it flies over Rondo’s head, not soft so that a Heat player collects it. He has to tap that ball just right, and that’s on Rondo and his brilliance. But he has to get it just over James also reaching. Pietrus has to have the wherewithal to stand in the corner and be ready for the catch, Mickael Pietrus being known for his heady play and stable mind on the court, and then has to knock down a massive shot. This is part glory of championship teams, and part ridiculousness of chaos. Anyone breathes different on that court and the entire story changes.

Think I’m just bagging on the Celtics? Try this. Miami? Just as much of an outlier. LeBron James has an off-balance jumper. He just does. George Karl has talked about it. David Thorpe at ESPN has talked about it. Coaches and scouts and experts have talked about it. He doesn’t trust his jumper, but he feels the need to go to it. If Michael Jordan never existed, LeBron James is the best player, ever. I firmly believe that, and not because he’s No.2 behind Jordan. He’s not. But having grown up and watched Jordan like so many kids of his generation, the push-off on Russell, the shot over Ehlo, he learned the same thing. You win games by hitting big jumpers. This, from a 6-8, 280 lb. hulking monster of unstoppable force is insane. But it’s what he is. And in Game 6? Every outlier came home to roost. Does that take away from his ability or the magnificence of that game? Absolutely not. Hitting those shots takes a phenomenal amount of concentration, just like Pietrus’. It takes the ability to create those shots in the first place. It takes resolve and determination and God-given ability, all of which James showed in an absolutely brilliant performance from stop to finish.

It’s also not bloody likely to happen again. Can it? Sure. Will it? Again, it’s not probable.

What does this tell us about Game 7? It sets up the same things we knew before. It comes down to who makes shots. Sounds simple, right? But that’s not what a series is about. It’s about adjustments and counter-adjustments and effort and preparation and more than anything talent and execution. But Game 7’s are about who has it that night. The Lakers had it in 2010. The Spurs had it in 2008. The Celtics had it vs. Philadelphia, the Clippers vs. the Grizzlies, the Lakers vs. the Nuggets. It doesn’t always mean both teams are even. But one team will have the extra arc on the ball to tilt it in, the rims will forgive one team more than the other, and that will determine all of this. So much pressure, so many consequences, so many lives changed, and it all hinges on the wings of a butterfly, the temperature in the arena, the bead of sweat trickling down LeBron James’ forehead. Think about that when you compare it to your life’s biggest moments.

We’re all victims and subjects and participants in chaos, and in fate, and here’s really no place better to be.

These teams are incredibly evenly matched and the outcome does not determine who is the better team. They are both great teams. The Celtics can blow them out, the Heat can blow the Celtics out, it can be an overtime or triple-overtime or an ugly or beautiful game and it won’t change what we’ve learned. These teams are both worthy of the Finals. One goes, one goes home. That’s life. That’s chaos.

That’s fair.