Celtics unable to capitalize on momentum, Miami Heat force Game 7

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The Boston Celtics had an excellent opportunity to close out the Eastern Conference finals Thursday night, setting up a meeting with Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA finals. LeBron James would not allow that to happen, however, and the Heat cruised to an easy 98-79 victory en route to forcing a Game 7 back in Miami on Saturday.

It was an epic performance considering the circumstances for James — maybe not unlike Rajon Rondo’s heroic performance earlier in the series. But this game was a bit more important considering the Celtics would have been on their way to the NBA finals with a win. Miami fans wouldn’t have to fret, however, as James put the Heat on his back  to give Miami all of the momentum.

In a game that would likely feature LeBron-led headlines regardless of the outcome, James was simply the star he’s supposed to be as he finished with 45 points, 15 rebounds and five assists. The most interesting part about King James’ performance was his array of offensive execution as he found several different ways to obliterate the Celtics offense while they attempted to adjust their defensive assignments (Brandon Bass seemed to do the best, but that was only until James started moving without the ball — and faster than Bass, to boot). It was an excellent, clutch performance when the Heat needed it most and, luckily for the Heat, it seemed to rub off on his teammates.

Considering James’ performance, it’d be pretty easy to look at the box score and assume the rest of the team was ineffective. Instead, though, Miami only allowed James to do his thing until Boston forced them to do something different. And, when they needed to do something different, Dwyane Wade was effective, Shane Battier knocked down his jumpers and Mario Chalmers played his role well while knocking down three of his four 3-point attempts.

It’s hard to say exactly what went wrong for Boston on Thursday night, but it’s probably safe to assume the “veteran presence” that has been praised as one of the positives for this team was turned into a negative as they simply looked old, slow and … after giving up 30 points to James in the first half, absolutely bewildered. A couple of the key factors easily found in the box score, though, would be that the Celtics made just 1-of-14 3-point attempts while losing the rebound battle by a 10-board margin.

Rajon Rondo was the team’s leading scorer with 21 points, but his 10 assists were essentially canceled out with seven turnovers. And Kevin Garnett came back to earth with 12 points and a disappointing five rebounds. Neither was as lackluster as Paul Pierce, though, as he struggled on both ends: “The Truth” was the primary defender early on LeBron, allowing him to get into a rhythm, and couldn’t answer on the other end, mustering up just nine points on 4-of-18 shooting. Bass was probably the best Celtics starter with 12 points, seven rebounds and the best defensive effort on James, but the Boston offense simply wasn’t working well enough to make anything effective happen.

It seems like Boston’s had the sort of problem they did Thursday night — stagnant offense, questions of them being too old, a struggling star — at least once in each series thus far in the playoffs (and every so often during the regular season, too). It’s yet to seriously hamper them thus far, though, considering they’re still just one win away from reaching the NBA finals … and will have another chance to close out the series on Saturday night.

It’s going to be tough for the Celtics to rebound on the road following the Game 6 disaster, but resiliency is key for tough teams. Unfortunately, regardless of resiliency, Boston also needs to find an answer for the now-clutch King James.