LeBron James has had games like that before, but not for the Miami Heat. Or at least, not in the playoffs for the Miami Heat. And his 35 points in Game 2 on Tuesday night left the Boston Celtics looking hopeless. And old.
Maybe it'll be a tipping point for what he does for the rest of the series, or maybe it'll be like that Game 3 last year where LeBron had 38, 8, and 7, then disappeared the rest of the series. Either way, he had 24 points in the second half Tuesday, and for the first time all playoffs, we saw the guy that's capable of changing everything all by himself. It was like someone flipped a switch at halftime, he hit a couple jumpers, and after that, the Celtics didn't have a prayer.
Mind you, this series isn't over yet, and I'm the same guy who wrote on Friday that "Boston's a team so irrationally confident in themselves that they could drop both games in Miami and still go back to Boston expecting to tie the series in Games 3 and 4."
We've counted out the Celtics too many times to pronounce them officially dead at this point. But they certainly looked deflated toward the end of Game 2, and it doesn't bode well. Not because the Celtics didn't get enough out of their stars Tuesday, but because they did.
Where Miami jumped out to a huge lead and never looked back in Game 1, Tuesday's edition was more back-and-forth. Both teams traded body blows, and we got a glimpse of the heavyweight fight we'd expected all along. Then something happened, and we all slowly realized that even if Boston's superstars play well, it may not matter. LeBron happened, basically. It began in the third quarter.
After Kevin Garnett hit a jumper to give Boston the lead at 60-58, LeBron hit a three to put Miami back in control. Then KG responded on the other, hitting a jumper of his own to take back the lead, 62-61. Then came another LeBron three, and another Miami lead.
A few minutes later, there was this dunk, and Boston never led again.
There may have been other, more pivotal plays (like this), but those three minutes are the perfect metaphor for this series so far. Even if Boston manages two, LeBron can go score three. Then he can run right through Rajon Rondo for a dunk that demoralizes your whole team.
And even if it looks like a charge, he'll get the benefit of the doubt because he's LeBron, and when everything's clicking for a superstar like that, it all just seems to fall into place. That's life.
As for the Celtics? Not much has fallen in place so far. That's life, too. When you get old, what used to ordinary takes its toll. Watching the Celtics the past two games reminds me of this Pat Jordan essay on aging (that still scares the crap out of me). This paragraph, in particular:
You get old, you set goals for yourself ... They are proof that you’re not that old. Your wife asks you to “call the man” to break up the old sidewalk in the backyard so she can plant liriope. You tell her you’ll do it yourself. She says, “Don’t be foolish.” You get the sledgehammer and begin whacking at the sidewalk in the summer heat like Cool Hand Luke. Then you wheelbarrow the broken pieces of concrete out to the front swale for the garbageman. Two days later, you can’t get out of bed.
With Boston, stuff that used to come naturally is now an accomplishment. It's a big deal for Kevin Garnett to score 16 points in a playoff game these days. If Paul Pierce beats someone off the dribble for an easy layup, that's a major victory for the Celtics. Because they're old.
It's not to say this series is overwith, because the crowds in Boston will be out of control, and paired with the irrational confidence KG and co. bring to the table, that's more than enough to bring this back to Miami tied at 2-2. But it's hard to see them actually advancing here.
Over seven games, Boston's best hope in this series has always been that LeBron James pulls another disappearing act in the NBA Playoffs. If that happens, or if there's a power struggle between he and D-Wade that throws one or both of them into a funk, then it's whole different series, and Boston has a chance. But if not?
There are four major problems.
- Boston has no answer for those runs that Miami can go on with either LeBron James or Dwyane Wade scoring 8 or 10 points in a row, all by themselves. The Celtics to scrape for every bucket they get on offense; when 'Bron or Wade get in the zone, Miami's offense becomes effortless. Even if it's just for a few minutes, those runs add up over the course of an entire game.
With Joel Anthony coming off the bench at center, Miami's finally found a lineup that makes sense for them. Throw in James Jones' contributions, and Mike Bibby's surprising competence, and the Heat role players have looked much better than expected. If Mario Chalmers is seriously hurt, this could change, but for now, things look pretty solid. Meanwhile...
- Boston's bench has been terrible. Big Baby used to be a luxury, but now that Boston needs him to play well every game, he's struggled. Elsewhere, Boston's depending on Jeff Green and Delonte West. Over seven games, that will not end well.
- Miami could struggle in crunch time, but can Boston even get there? Before this series began, one of my friends said, "Miami basically has to 5 out of 7 because you know they'll blow at least one game in crunch time." It's a good point, because we still have no reason to trust Miami in the final minute of a close game. But given all the factors above, do we have any reason to think Boston can get that far in 4 of the next 5 games?
Boston can probably win one or both of their games at home, but in the end, it all comes down to this: they have to work twice as hard to get what comes easily to LeBron James or Dwyane Wade. Unless Wade or James suddenly disappear, that's eventually going to kill the Celtics in this series. They may fight it off a little while longer, but at some point it'll catch up.
Because that's the thing about fighting age. At some point, you lose the battle.