After the Miami Heat rolled Boston in Game 6 Thursday, Rivers went into the locker room and told his Celtics not to back for the trip to Miami, but to add clothes so they could head straight to Oklahoma City for the start of the NBA finals Tuesday.
“We’re all packed,” Rivers said in a conference call Friday. “Guys have a lot of luggage and we’re hoping we can use it.”
Luggage has been used as motivation before — in 2006 when Pat Riley took over the Heat and took them to the NBA finals, the Heat to go back to Dallas for Game 6 and Riley said after the game he only packed one change of clothes.
For a veteran team like the Celtics this is just a little reminder what is at stake if they win. But winning will not be about luggage, it will be about generating some offense and hoping LeBron James doesn’t have another superhuman night.
Celtics-Heat Game 6: LeBron crashes his own funeral
I made that remark to my wife Thursday night as the Heat took the floor for Game 6 in Boston when I saw LeBron James, a serious, almost somber look on his face. James is a known “happy-go-fun” guy, often to the annoyance of teammates and opponents. Sure, he tries to look serious during parts of the game, but usually it’s more of a blank look. On Thursday, he looked downright dour, and it was easy to make the jump to conclusions that he had arrived for his own public funeral, the “we come to bury LeBron, not to praise him” event of the century, a Boston Mean Party. I took it as a sign he knew it was over, the series was done, the Celtics had won, he had failed again.
I was wrong. 45 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists. 98-79 Miami over Boston. See you on South Beach for Game 7 Saturday.
It wasn’t a cold-blooded performance. That would imply that he felt nothing. And as much as an exhausted James attempted to downplay any change of motivation, to say he just went back to his habits, this one felt different. He wasn’t seething with anger, he wasn’t rioting against the Celtics’ harassment and mocking of him throughout this series (which James would have been crucified for but what else is new). He wasn’t frontrunning or showing them up. This wasn’t M.J.’s shrug or Magic’s exuberance, or Bird’s fury.
You got the sense as James calmly and determinedly went back to work on defense after every make, every bucket that this wasn’t LeBron vs. the Celtics, or even LeBron vs. the World. He was withdrawn, as if fuming at himself for any moment where he felt happiness at shots going down. “Can’t stop” was the message. And after the game, after dropping 45 points on 26 shots, 15 rebounds, and having left Paul Pierce a shattered, sad, broken mess of the offensive juggernaut he is, there was no smile or satisfaction from James in post-game interviews. He wasn’t talking about what a great win it was. He was cold, resigned. “We had to win this game.” That was the message.
And while I have no choice but to believe James will revert to the pompous, pouting child he comes across as (and make no mistake, I consider this to be a problem in portraying himself to the world; I have no idea who James is on the inside, I’m not sure anyone does), whether the Heat win or lose Game 7. Win, and there’s a risk he could feel that he accomplished something when he hasn’t, lose and he could turn defiant that he can be knocked off his pedestal, the way he was in last year’s Finals after elimination, talking about people going back to their lives.
But for a night, it was there. All of it. Honestly, James could have played better. Those five assists are on the low side. I’m not criticizing. I’m pointing out how insane that is. He scored 45 points on 26 shots against the best defense in the NBA, had 15 rebounds, and leveled Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett defensively and he could have played better. That is insane, but then, his night was insane, his season has been insane, his life has been insane.
There were two that got me, both in the third. He waited for Rondo to reach, spun, and then, instead of trying what he normally does, which is to barrel into Kevin Garnett and attempt a rolling scoop shot around KG, he quick-shot a floater just over Paul Pierce’s outstretched arms. Perfect.
Later in the third, he caught the ball in the shallow post vs. Rondo on the baseline. How many times have I seen him catch that, face-up, and then take five seconds trying to figure out the defense before shooting a face-up fadeaway? Granted, last night he would have hit the fadeaway. Hell, he would have hit the fadeaway if he was on the moon. But instead he immediately caught and spun. It was a fadeaway, but it was in rhythm. It was decisive.
He ran back on defense and went back to work. The game was over. He was not through.
So now we wait for Game 7, and another chance for James to make all of our vitriolic dreams come true or ascend to this next level of greatness he can aspire to. We wait to see how the Celtics respond to being embarrassed, how the Heat respond when they have to help James out, and most importantly we wait to see which LeBron James we get.
I’ll tell you one thing, if he’s not smiling in Game 7, we’re gonna need reinforcements.
Erik Spoelstra once went to Doc Rivers for coaching advice
Coaches like to learn from each other. Not only within their own sport but also from great coaches in other sports — during the lockout the Heat’s Erik Spoelstra spent time with Chip Kelly, the Oregon football coach, trying to learn about space and attacking.
Spoelstra also once sought advice from Doc Rivers.
“While he’s highly regarded in his schematics and X’s and Os, I was more curious about the management of personalities,” Spoelstra said. “That’s really ultimately what it’s about in this league….”
Rivers recalls looking out in the audience and seeing Spoelstra.
“You’re talking to 200 coaches and you see Erik there, you’re like, ‘I’m not going to say this … ATO (after-timeout) stuff, I’m not sharing that,” quipped Rivers.
At the NBA level, management of egos and personalities is a lot of the job. Your role players were the best player on their high school and college teams, now you’re asking them to come off the bench 20 minutes a night and fill a role. You’re getting guys to buy into a system.
Rivers has done that as well as any coach going. Spoelstra… it’s a work in progress.
Fans send Boston off with four-minute “Let’s go Celtics” chant
The way Boston laid an egg in Game 6, not a lot of fan bases would have stuck around to the end. Plenty would have mixed in a smattering of boos.
But Celtics fans did the opposite. The ones that remained at the end of a crushing loss broke into a four-minute long “Let’s go Celtics” chant. The Celtics noticed, reports A. Sherrod Blakely at CSNNE.com.
“Did you hear our crowd the last three minutes of the game?” (coach Doc) Rivers asked to no one media member in particular. “What other crowd in the NBA does that? It’s a terrific place to play. The fans were unbelievable. They did their part tonight. We just didn’t do ours.”
Added Paul Pierce: “We have the best fans in the world. Down 20, at home, in the playoffs, and they cheer us off the court. And that’s just awesome. That’s why we have the best fans in the world.”
It was a fitting send off as those fans may never see the “Big Three” Celtics together again. There is a Game 7 in Miami and a summer of uncertainty with Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett free agents.
By the way, if you thought this gesture was cool by the Celtics fans you can no longer mock “good job, good effort” kid. Boston was the same thing on a bigger scale.
Most of LeBron James 45 points came outside the paint, but when he went to the rim he went hard.
Like this putback near the end of the second quarter where LeBron’s biggest concern was hitting his head on the rim, a shot that had twitter buzzing. LeBron’s whole game had twitter buzzing and carried the Heat to a Game 6 win.