Celtics Breakdowns: Can't Take Advantage with James/Wade Out; Pierce Risks Suspension
Back during the Bulls' championship run in the '90s, I remember announcers sometimes commenting that Phil Jackson always liked to have either Michael Jordan or Scottie Pippen in the game at any time, to help keep the team organized even with bench players on the floor.
I always think of that when Erik Spoelstra removes both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade from the game at the same time - I'm always surprised by it, especially given the sharp dropoff in talent with the Heat's supporting cast.
As such, I thought that a underrated key point of Game 1 of the Heat-Celtics series came at the beginning of the second quarter when Coach Spo was able to sit his two superstars simultaneously for a full 4:23 and Boston couldn't make him pay for it. Miami ended up a +4 (9-5) during this stretch, with a 9-0 run included in there. The Heat really first took control of the game during this time with James and Wade both out, stretching their lead from 20-14 to 29-19 overall, and they really never looked back.
This just can't happen if the Celtics expect to win, and it shines a spotlight on how poor their bench - which seemed like a major team strength early in the season - has become. I was surprised at how much praise Boston received for its first-round sweep of the Knicks - I thought the Celtics had to work far too hard to dispatch a team hobbled by injuries.
I knew that Boston's bench had been subpar since the Perkins trade, but I was really shocked that they weren't even able to provide solid minutes against the likes of Roger Mason, Jared Jeffries, Bill Walker and Anthony Carter. For the series, Celtics starters Rondo (42 minutes per game), Allen (40) and Pierce (39) had to play at least as much as Melo (39) and Amare (39 in the games other than the one he left due to injury). Considering how bad I consider the Knicks' supporting talent to be after the Melo trade, I was truly shocked by this.
And certainly, in Game 1 vs. Miami, things weren't any better. So, what happened? Well, the contributions of James Jones were obvious, but I thought Mike Miller and Jeff Green were key players in this timeframe, as well. Let's take a snapshot of a few possessions, starting with the score 20-16 Miami at 11:17 of the second quarter, after Big Baby had hit a jumper to open the period, and Rajon Rondo then picked up his third foul and left the game (obviously a big key in this run, as well).
- Miami: Chalmers-Jones-Miller-Bosh-Anthony
- Boston: West-Pierce-Green-Davis-Krstic
11:17 20-16 Miami
Bosh comes up to set a high screen for Chalmers, and Davis flies up for a hard hedge before Bosh even gets there - Baby ends up 3 feet higher on floor than Bosh, who stops short before setting the screen. Chalmers swings the ball over to Miller on the left, who alertly hits a now-open Bosh in lane for a hoop. One could ask if it's really necessary for Big Baby to hedge so hard off of Bosh, onto Chalmers, with this lineup in the game.
11:06 22-16 Miami
Delonte West gets a good look at a 20-footer that goes halfway down and pops out. Bad bounce for the C's on this one.
11:06 22-16 Miami
Bosh steps out of bounds for a TO.
10:38 22-16 Miami
From the wing, Jeff Green drives by his defender, only to be stripped on the way to the goal by James Jones. TO.
10:13 22-16 Miami
Chalmers/Bosh run a pick-and-roll way up on the upper left side. Again, Davis plays the screen extremely aggressively - not sure why he's doing this against Chalmers. West goes over the pick, even though it's way up high, but is still able to mostly recover as Chalmers gets around the screen and drives into the middle.
The bigger question mark is why Jeff Green plays so far off of James Jones to help contain against the Chalmers drive. Yes, it ties into the Celtics' principles off loading up towards the strong side, but this is *Mario Chalmers*, not LeBron or D-Wade. James Jones for 3 is the bigger threat - Chalmers pitches out to Jones for an easy three, his first of 5 on the afternoon.
10:01 25-16 Miami
Pierce drives to the goal, but Joel Anthony provides tremendous help defense just outside the restricted area to force a missed shot.
9:37 25-16 Miami
Miller makes a shot fake from the left wing to draw Pierce into the air, and drives around him. Green is initially guarding Jones out on the right wing, but when Miller drives into the middle, Green totally loses sight of Jones, who drops down to the right corner, yet Green doesn't really provide help defense on Miller, either. He ends up essentially guarding air, and there was no reason for him to leave Jones, whom Miller finds wide open for a corner three and his second assist.
9:26 28-16 Miami
Boston calls time-out, and then Delonte commits an idiotic technical by tossing the ball to Chalmers as he's on the ground. Free point for James Jones. You just can't be committing dumb technicals like this in this series.
And there you have it, 9-0 run for Miami with LeBron and Wade on the bench. Miami didn't score again with them both out - here are the further Boston possessions:
9:23 29-16 Miami
Delonte misses a driving dunk in the halfcourt. Another strong challenge by Anthony may have helped force a miss.
8:45 29-16 Miami
Jeff Green can't convert after a lob pass is thrown in to him to take advantage of a mismatch with Chalmers guarding him. Green can't convert the 4-footer over him.
8:21 29-16 Miami
Pierce draws a double team, drives and collapses the Miami defense, and pitches out for an open corner 3 for Green... who misses. Jeff Green is just repeatedly killing the Celtics on both ends, when they need him to take advantage of Miami's reserves.
8:02 29-16 Miami
Delonte hits a 3, and Spo doesn't press his luck. He takes a TO with 7:37 left and gets James back into the game, after enjoying a +4 stretch with his two superstars sitting next to him.
For the game, Mike Miller was a +13 in just eight minutes despite not scoring a point, as he contributed three rebounds and three assists. Meanwhile, Jeff Green was a -9 in 22 minutes, and it would have been worse if not for some garbage minutes at the end of the game.
Th guy whose +/- was striking was Big Baby, who was -21 in 23 minutes, scoring just four points and playing overly aggressive on D, as described above.
Some conventional wisdom suggested that the Heat would need to play James and Wade 45 minutes apiece to prevail in their tougher playoff series. In Game 1, it was a relative walk in the park, as James played 40 minutes and Wade played "just" 37 minutes - and did so spectacularly.
A quick comment regarding the shenanigans involving Paul Pierce. The officiating in Game 1 regarding flagrant and technical fouls was pretty poor overall.
First, Danny Crawford called a puzzling flagrant foul on Jermaine O'Neal, for bumping James Jones as he cut through the lane. It ended up being a key call, as Mike Bibby followed the two free throws by Jones with a three to make it a 5-point possession and 14-point lead in the third quarter.
Then, Ed Malloy whistled Jones for a personal, and Jones and Pierce for double technicals on a play which seemed like it should have been a flagrant on Jones and a technical on Pierce for head-butting Jones, which - based on NBA rules interpretations and precedents I've seen - seemed to warrant ejection.
Finally, Malloy compounded everything by ejecting Pierce on a double-technical call after some jawing with Wade which didn't seem worthy of anything near a double-T/ejection in a major playoff game.
In any event, the more I think about it, the more I think Paul Pierce is likely to be suspended for Game 2 for his head-butt - again, based on the NBA rules interpretations and precedents that I've seen. The fact that Pierce's head-butt landed as a glancing blow which Jeff Van Gundy called a "face rub" is largely irrelevant - the fact that Pierce attempted a head-butt, and it connected, is all that matters, based on what I've seen in the past.
Who knows, we'll see what happens on Monday. Regardless, it's inexcusable that Pierce put himself in a position in which he *might* be suspended. I will always believe that the Celtics defeated superior teams in Cleveland and Orlando in 2010 due to superior mental toughness. It was really one of the most mentally-tough runs I've ever seen, both in Games 4-6 vs. the Cavs, and also in Games 1 and 3 against a Magic team which couldn't match Boston's intensity and desire.
Pierce never should have launched his head at Jones. Boston needs to be as mentally tough as they were last season if they want to beat Miami, and this was an inexcusable lapse by Pierce. If the league office does decide to suspend him, I'm sure there will be an outcry about whether interpreting the rules like that is justified, but there will be no one to blame other than Paul Pierce, who knows how the rules are called, and should know better, if he wants to win another ring.