Here we are. Games like today are why we watch sports. Everything is on the line. There is no tomorrow for the loser of this game. Legacies are made. Can the Miami Heat handle the enormous pressure they put on themselves? Can this Veteran Boston team pull out one more gutsy performance on the road? Will we as basketball fans even be able to just sit and enjoy a great game? I have no idea, but let’s talk about it.
I’ve intentionally avoided ESPN for the past 3 days. After Lebron’s incredible game 6 performance, I knew the hyperbole would be absolutely unbearable. Here’s what we know: Miami was facing elimination and had to win game 6 in order to force game 7. Lebron James had one of the greatest playoff games in history and his team won. Now, He and Miami need to do it again. As for Boston, they played an awful game at home with a chance to advance to the NBA Finals. The Celtics have already won in Miami though, so they know it can be done.
Now, on to what to look for tonight.
James (probably) won’t have as good of a game as he did on Thursday, but he still has to be the best player on the court tonight for the Heat to have a chance to win. 19/26 shooting performances are kind of rare, but James is certainly capable of taking over again. I expect Doc Rivers to throw some new looks at him tonight. Paul Pierce is having an awful series, due in large part to the amount of energy he is having to expend trying to guard Lebron. And trying is all that he’s doing. It’s time to try and new gameplan. Moving someone else on him will also keep Pierce out of foul trouble, allowing him to be more aggressive on offense. If Boston is able to slow down James, at least a little bit, someone else on Miami is going to need to step up…
A perfect candidate for that would probably be Dwayne Wade. Do you remember him? He won the Finals MVP in 2006, but that player has been MIA (no pun intended) for a while. After his explosive 2nd half in game 4 against Indiana, Wade has play good but never great. Miami needs him to play great tonight. The point of pairing him with Lebron James was the idea that Miami would have two great players. Not one great and one pretty good player. When James and Wade are both playing at their best, Boston should be no problem for this team.
The third piece of the puzzle for Miami is Chris Bosh, and he is beginning to make a mark on this series. In game 6 Bosh played 28 minutes. He shot the ball poorly (3/8) and only grabbed 6 rebounds, but his presence was enough to help stretch the floor and allow more room for James and Wade to drive to the basket. He also prevents Kevin Garnett from playing free safety on defense. The healthier he gets, the more points he’ll be able to contribute. But the Celtics still have to pay attention to him and respect his mid-range game and that is a huge advantage for Miami.
The rest of the players for Miami simply need to do their jobs. Battier, Chalmers, Miller and Jones need to knock down the open shots they will be getting from kick-outs. Joel Anthony and Udonis Haslem have to try and play something resembling defense on Kevin Garnett. Erik Spoelstra needs to ask Pat Riley for some late-game sets in case the game is close at the end.
I almost forgot. The Boston Celtics are playing in this game too.
Doc Rivers and the Celtics have played terrific basketball in this series. In the first two rounds they were inconsistent at best. Following up great games with total stinkers. However, they came to play in these Eastern Conference Finals. Outside of game 1 and game 6, they’ve been the better team. The problem is, the better “team” doesn’t always win in the NBA. The Spurs were probably a better team than the Thunder, Oklahoma City just had much better players. The same thing can be said about this series. Lebron James and Dwayne Wade (occasionally) are simply better than anyone on the Celtics and sometimes that’s all it takes. This is a players league.
That’s not to say the Celtics don’t have any players. Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett are playing at all-star levels right now and Boston is the much deeper team. Ray Allen and Paul Pierce are banged up, but still capable of exploding for big games. Boston needs a total team effort tonight if Miami’s two stars come to play. These guys are veterans and have been through many battles like this one. Even recently, against Lebron James. If we get a game even close to that one, I will be a very happy man.
As always, Rajon Rondo is the key for the Celtics. He has to be aggressive and look to score. We know he can set up his teammates, but the Celtics are going to need points in order to keep up. Kevin Garnett has to impact the game on both ends of the floor. The return of Chris Bosh makes his job much harder on the defensive side but he has to find a way to still give help on James and Wade in the lane. Paul Pierce can hit the big shots, but Boston needs a full game from him. Ray Allen needs another injection of whatever that was he got after game 2. It’s going to take a total team effort for Boston tonight.
And it still might not be enough…
I’m not making a prediction for this game. I could literally see any scenario playing out tonight. James and Wade could go off and Miami wins by 20, or the could both disappear and lose by 20. You’d think Boston has the advantage in a close game due to Erik Spoelstra’s atrocious late game plays, but (despite what ESPN tells you) having the best player in the world on your team helps.
Let’s all just hope for a classic.