June 1, 2012; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo (9) drives against Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) during the fourth quarter in game three of the Eastern Conference finals of the 2012 NBA playoffs at TD Garden. The Boston Celtics won 101-91. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE
The Heat and Celtics face off for a Game 7 Saturday night, with a spot in the NBA Finals on the line. LeBron James dominated Game 6, but he's not the only one who could decide things in Miami.
In theory, it could be great. In reality ... half of the games in this series have been foul-heavy disasters, neither offense has been particularly great, and Game 7s tend to be pretty ugly, anyway. So we're not going to jinx things by getting all dramatic and setting the expectations too high.
Instead, as we get ready for Game 7, here are five guys who could decide the whole thing.
Paul Pierce. Toward the end of the third quarter in Game 6, the Celtics were on the brink of closing Miami's lead to single digits, only Pierce and Garnett just couldn't get any shots to fall. They were combined 0-6 in the final three minutes of the third, including three missed layups.
Don't get me wrong. LeBron played as well as we've ever seen him and it came at the biggest moment of the season. But Boston was just a disaster. Instead of closing the gap to eight or 10 going into the fourth quarter, Miami's lead was 13, and two quick jumpers to open the fourth sealed the game for the Heat. The end of that third quarter was the Celtics' night in a nutshell. The shots just weren't falling and, against LeBron playing the way he did, the margin of error was too slim for them survive.
In Game 7? More than anything else, they need Pierce to bounce back from his atrocious Game 6 (4-18) and stay out of foul trouble. This is pretty obvious. He doesn't have to dominate the entire game, but when he's out there he puts more pressure on Miami's defense, and is the Celtics' only player on offense who can create points out of thin air.
(Also, I don't know whether it's the homeless facial hair, the crooked head band, or that move he has where he just backs his gigantic ass into defenders 20 feet from the hoop, but I love Paul Pierce. He's the old guy you love watching in a pickup game, just because it's hilarious that he's out there at all, still trying to make it work. It doesn't work as well as it used to but, if Boston's gonna have a chance Saturday, it's gotta work better than it did in Game 6.)
Dwyane Wade. He hasn't been as spectacularly awful as Pierce was Thursday, but I think over the course of the series he's been every bit as mediocre as all the Celtics veterans put together. He hasn't been hitting jumpers, he dominates the ball and, even if he's not the only Heat player to have lapses in transition defense in this series, he's definitely been the worst. The key for Miami is that he can single-handedly win them the game. If Wade has a great game and LeBron just plays a normal game (which is 30 and 10, but still), the Heat aren't losing to this Celtics team. We've been waiting six games, and there'd be no better time to break out.
Mickael Pietrus and Keyon Dooling. OK, this is technically cheating since we're talking about individuals to watch, but think of these guys as one player. Together, they've made up for the absence of Avery Bradley and given the Celtics a tiny bit of extra feistiness -- just enough to come back and steal three games, forcing this Game 7. They give the Celtics' defense teeth against Miami's perimeter guys, but when they hit big shots -- I'm picturing a blur of inexplicable corner threes -- it's just the injection of life that Boston's anemic offense needs to become truly dangerous. If Pietrus and Dooling can get hot again in Game 7, the Celtics could really steal this.
Rajon Rondo. With or without Pierce and KG playing well for stretches, the Celtics offense is always going to be sort of a wheezing disaster in the halfcourt. The solution to this is Rondo, who's kind of a one-man secondary fast break. This is where the Heat have gotten killed so far in this series -- those plays in transition where Rondo comes down late but never stops and gets right to the hoop. Once he's there he can either score or pass, but either way the points come a thousand times easier than they ever would in the halfcourt offense.
So if you're watching Rondo, watch for those plays, and all the hidden benefits that come with 'em. If he's successful at getting to the rim in transition early and often, the Celtics can at least keep it close, and then all the little plays Rondo makes become that much more valuable -- the rebounds, the steals, the floaters in the lane that always seem to come out of nowhere. Those only matter if the Celtics can keep it close. And hey, while we're dreaming of a close game 7...
LeBron James. Come on. Are you really going to watch anyone else?