The Miami Heat weren't consensus favorites heading into the Eastern Conference Finals -- at least not prior to the Game 1 victory over the Boston Celtics. It might be time to put some money on LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the rest of the South Beach to reach the NBA Finals once again, though, because Monday night's visitors didn't look like they belonged on the same court as the Miami elite.
It was only the opening game of the best of seven series, but as of Tuesday morning, it seemed safe to say that Boston might be unable to challenge the Heat in this series like the Indiana Pacers did in the second round. Miami actually looked mortal for a spell against the Indiana Pacers, and some even thought that the loss of Chris Bosh would force an early exit in this year's NBA Playoffs.
Following their dismantling of the Celtics in Game 1, though, it looks like the Heat are a much better bet to represent the Eastern Conference in the championship series -- and they'll likely have plenty of time to rest up for their Western Conference opponents if Monday night's game can be considered a solid indicator of the way this series will go.
To be clear, the Heat didn't play nearly as well as they probably would have liked in their series-opening victory: Miami made just five of its 25 three-point attempts, leaving quite a few points on the board (starters Mario Chalmers and Shane Battier combined to make just 2-of-15 from beyond the arc); the Heat lost the turnover battle, giving the ball to the the Celtics four more times than Boston did vise versa; and, aside from an ailing Mike Miller, the Miami bench contributed just eight points on nine shot attempts -- a statistic that isn't exactly out of place this season for the Heat, but one that should definitely be able to be taken advantage of at this stage of the playoffs.
Unfortunately for the Celtics, though, there's a good chance that this rendition of the team (sans Avery Bradley) simply isn't solid enough to take advantage of the multiple Miami shortcomings.
Boston is by no means a bad team, but the Celtics don't seem like they're going to be able to hang with Miami this postseason -- likely the last one that features the Big Three sporting the same colored uniforms. Whether it's caused by the issues of age and lack of athleticism, the "hobbled" but not "hurt" Ray Allen being a shell of what we're used to, or if it's simply a case of LeBron and Wade being too difficult to match up with, the Celtics didn't show enough on Monday night to convince yours truly that they'll be able to make this series competitive.
It's tough to pinpoint the problem of exactly what the Celtics are doing wrong -- or if, despite their shortcomings, the Heat just do too many things correctly -- so there's no telling what exactly Boston needs to change to come out with a Game 2 victory on Wednesday night to even up the series heading back to Boston.
It'd help, however, if the following things were to happen.
- Paul Pierce needs to show that he's still the "Truth." Pierce might not be as good as he once was, but he should be able to be as good once as he ever was -- and this is the series he needs to do that as this edition of the Celtics attempts to make what might be one last run at an NBA championship. Pierce, a well-known rival of King James, certainly didn't make it seem like he belonged in the same category as LeBron on Monday night with his 5-of-18 shooting performance ... especially since four of those missed attempts went into the box score as blocks. He's been known to bounce back before, but this comeback will likely need to stretch the rest of the series as he's relied upon to bring the big guns.
- Doc Rivers needs to show a bit less confidence in his starters, especially if they're struggling. Rivers has been given credit this season for sticking with his guys, particularly Allen through injury, though it looks like it's going to finally come back and bite him because Allen's no longer Jesus Shuttlesworth. The veteran guard made just one of his seven field goal attempts on Monday night and looked like a shell of his former self by short-arming three three-pointers while connecting on less than half of his seven free-throw attempts (he's a career 89 percent shooter from the charity stripe). The bigger problem may have been Rivers' confidence in Brandon Bass, though, considering the one-dimensional big man's shot clearly was not falling. The rest of Boston's bigs aren't great -- though Greg Stiemsma was solid during a second quarter run -- but switching the lineup couldn't have hurt as the Celtics again started to struggle in the second half.
- Find some swagger. There are plenty of people who mistake Miami's moxie as a negative, but the results are hard to argue with: they have fun, get easy buckets and eventually -- when the game is out of reach -- they're able to laugh right in KG's face without fear. Rondo alluded to playing the Heat stars a bit more physically next time out, and while that will help, Boston needs to step up and start playing with some overbearing confidence of their own.
It might seem as though there's an overabundance of overreaction in this column considering it's being written after the first game of a seven-game series, and while that may certainly end up being the case, it'll only turn out to look that way in retrospect if Boston is able to correct their shortcomings.
Miami is able to be beat -- especially without Bosh -- but that won't be the case if the Celtics are outhustled to every rebound (Miami collected 15 more caroms and won the offensive rebounding battle), are unable to take advantage of the Miami misses and can't figure out an offense that'll work while still trying to stick with an obviously ailing Allen playing the third-most minutes on the team.