BOSTON — Erik Spoelstra called Sunday part of the process and a chance to turn adversity into opportunity. LeBron James called it a disappointment that has no bearing on what’s to come. Dwyane Wade said the Heat have plenty of time to get over their Celtics hump.
Miami cannot beat Boston. Not now. Not later. Not in a seven-game playoff series. Not gonna happen.
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For the Heat to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy this summer — for them to justify pooling their talents and taking on the mantle of most hated team in America — someone else will have to do their dirty work for them.
That’s the takeaway from a depleted and off-target Boston team’s 85-82 win Sunday in TD Garden against Miami: In order for the Heat to be champions, they need Chicago, Orlando or Atlanta to step up in the playoffs and take out Boston.
“We’re disappointed about it,” Spoelstra said. “But the next step is to continue to improve. And I know everybody wanted to really overstate this game and make it probably bigger than it was. We got another 28 games to continue to get better and move along in this process.”
They can move along all they want. But the process isn’t going to involve getting to a point at which they can beat Boston. The Celtics are too tough, too mentally superior and too hungry when these teams match up.
As for those next 28 games, the Heat need to make them about earning the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Then they need to hope Boston gets put on a path that ends before winding its way to Miami.
The best bet for the Heat’s hopes is Chicago taking the second spot in the East, Boston falling to the third, the Knicks acquiring Carmelo Anthony and Orlando stumbling.
Then maybe, just maybe, the Celtics could see Orlando in the first round in a No. 3-vs.-No. 6 pairing and, if they advanced, face Chicago in the second round. And then maybe, just maybe, one of those two teams would knock off Boston.
Sound farfetched? Not as farfetched as Heat fans thinking their team will figure out Boston come playoff time.
That is, ah, exactly what LeBron was counting on Sunday after the game.
“In 2007, when I went to the finals we swept the Spurs (in the regular season) and they swept us in the finals,” he said. “You look into it, but you don’t look too far into it. You guys understand in a playoff series there’s so much time to prepare for a team and it’s a totally different game.”
Yes it will be a totally different game. In that game, Boston’s Big Three won’t combine for 11-of-36 shooting and only 33 points. In that game, the Celtics won’t be listless in the first half and the crowd at the Garden won’t be in a collective cone of silence.
In that game, Boston won’t be so ravaged by injuries that the Celtics have only seven viable players in their rotation.
What could be similar is the Heat’s tendency to shrink against these guys. Mike Miller missed an open 3-point shot at the end of Sunday’s game that would have tied the score, highlighting how tight the bench can be in big moments against Boston.
Just before that, LeBron missed the first of two free throws that would have done the same, highlighting how tight he can be in the same spot.
Wade was off all night, as he tends to be against the Celtics, in a performance that bodes badly for future matchups.
No one can blame LeBron for saying it’ll be different in the playoffs. What else can he say? But being pigeonholed by the truth doesn’t change the truth.
The truth is this: If the Heat couldn’t beat the Celtics on Sunday, they can’t beat them at all. Period.
Shaquille O’Neal, Delonte West, Jermaine O’Neal and Marquis Daniels were out with injuries. Nate Robinson was hurt, too, but he gutted out almost five minutes of play.
Paul Pierce shot 0 for 10 and scored a single point.
No team could have been so vulnerable as the Celtics were. At no time will Miami have a better opportunity to prove it can beat Boston.
Spoelstra said it earlier in the week: Winning against Boston on Sunday would be significant only if the Heat won because they played well, not because of “(Boston) playing poorly.”
What no one expected was Boston playing this poorly and the Heat still finding ways to lose.
No one saw Wade turning the ball over six times, the Heat turning it over 12 times in the first half alone, or 3-point shooters like Miller and Eddie House combining to go 1 of 9 from behind the line.
That’s because everyone thought the Heat had grown into a vastly different team than the one that lost to Boston twice in November. A team finally clutch, more complete, more composed — a team of players in tune with one another, impenetrable to pressure and enhanced by hate. A championship-caliber team.
Turns out, they’re all those things. Just not against Boston.
The Celtics have something over on the Heat. They match up perfectly against Miami, but it’s more. There’s a mental domination that exists here, some kind of disruptive force that thwarts the Heat’s usual greatness in the face of adversity. All that green in the Garden is like Kryptonite for Miami. The Heat’s superpowers and superstars simply wither in its presence.
So Heat fans, start rooting for Chicago to sign a shooting guard and for Joakim Noah to return from injury in top form; for Orlando to fall in the standings and see Boston early in the playoffs; for Carmelo to become a Knick.
Hope someone else does the Heat’s dirty work for them.
Because it turns out the key to LeBron finally being a champion, Spoelstra becoming a celebrated young coach and Chris Bosh getting to wear a ring that deflects charges of him being a fake tough guy, isn’t the process. Or Wade and LeBron learning to play together. Or Miller getting healthy.
It’s Chicago and Orlando.
The Miami Heat are a fantastic basketball team. They can beat Chicago in a playoff series. They would beat Orlando, Atlanta or anyone else the East can throw at them. And all bets would be off in the finals.
But beating Boston? No chance. So start paying attention to the Bulls and Magic, Heat fans.