Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary – May 12, 2011

Nearly 24 hours have passed since one of the best basketball games I have ever witnessed, and I am still not sure if I can coherently put into words what transpired for me during Game 5 of the Miami – Boston series.  While the game was not outrageously good or historic in any way: it was the most tense I have ever been watching a basketball game

At one point, in the third quarter, with the Heat down six and looking finished I was unsure if I could finish out the game.  It would be too painful to watch, I figured.  Boston will extend the lead, James and Wade will leave their hearts on the floor but they will fall short.  Game 6 would be a forgone conclusion and there is no way a Game 7 would be a good situation for the team. 

Then, incredibly, Lebron and Wade seemed to realize that they are two of the top five guys in the game and assaulted the Celtics so brutally some crimes were definitely committed.  Some thoughts on each of the big three (aided by the highlights…):

Chris Bosh – You can call them “two and a half men” all you want, but Bosh may have ended KG’s career by faking the exhausted Hall-of-Famer out of his nikes before unleashing a dunk that nearly tore the roof off Miami’s arena.  All series long, Bosh has pulled up for jumpers when KG is in his face.  Sometimes he would knock them down, but more often then not, KG would change the shot.  Last night, with the tie on the line, Bosh went for it and slammed the ball with such ferocity that I was able to forget the fact he had been completely outmanned to that point.  Not the best of efforts from Bosh in this series but an important question must be asked: Just how much do you need from Bosh when Wade and James are unstoppable?

Dwyane Wade – Firstly, the fact that Kobe supplanted Wade on the All-NBA First Team is an absolute travesty.  Switch the two of them (as Bill Simmons has suggested) and the Heat would not win 50 games; the Lakers would be a much better team and we would not be envisioning a Heat – Mavs Finals right now. 

Secondly, about last night, Wade played like a man possessed.  As he has done for the entire series, Wade was willing to do whatever it took to win.  He stole the ball; chased every rebound; dunked with impunity and truly played alongside Lebron.   This was not the typical scenario of one of them standing in the corner waiting for some piece of one-on-one brilliance.  Rather, they played off each other brilliantly.  In one stretch, Wade got angry at KG and played some of the best basketball I have ever seen.  It was Jordanesque.   Wade ran down the court, dunked and then knocked away KG’s pass with perfect timing.  He was unstoppable all the way into the final frame.  All the credit may go to LeBron for his final shots, but the lion’s share belongs to Wade.  He rose far above the challenge this time.  The Heat were not going to lose as long as he was on the court. 

Apparently you can beat a contender that traded its best post player; was playing with a one-armed point guard; had more injuries than Canucks defensemen Sami Salo (once ruptured his testicle…); was banking on Shaq playing significant minutes and was led by Jermaine O’Neal.  Let’s face it: you are not beating two of the top five guys with that lineup. 

Although, at times they made a nice run at it.  Ray Allen could not miss in the first three-quarters.  Paul Pierce played hard despite foul trouble (and was torched repeatedly by LBJ).  The venerable KG did his best but at the end they were holding together scraps.  This team was a shadow of itself.  In what playoff scenario did the Lakers / Celtics go a combined 1-8 in round 2?

Lebron James – James saved the best for last.  He shook off a terrible shooting performance in the first half to effectively kill the Celtics Big Three in the second half with some of the most clutch play he has demonstrated.  His three pointer with less than two minutes left sparked one of the best basketball sequences of his entire career.  That three, on the heels of a big stop and Bosh’s career defining slam, killed the Celtics completely (I had wanted to send my buddy, ADub a message saying “I think that just killed the Celtics” but was petrified Ray Allen would come right back and hit some crazy 30 footer with three guys in his face).

At that point in the game, the Celtics were dead on their feet – O’Neal, O’Neal and Rondo were all struggling to even get upright – and truly it may have been Bosh’s thunderous dunk that finished them off, but Lebron’s three was the headshot.  He had Boston in his sights JFK style and this was the kill shot.  This was the moment he came to South Beach for; the moment he dreamed about.

At first, I had a huge feeling of dread and yelled “Nooooooo!” because LBJ loves that shot and hits about 30% of them.  If he missed it would have led to some sort of long / bad rebound to Boston + a soul killing Ray Allen 3 that would have led immediately to Game 7.  But…

Lebron grasped the moment and did not let it go. 

The ball made a faint whisper as it scorched through the net.  After that?  We were watching someone play NBA Jam and Lebron was on fire.  Incredible can barely describe how he played for the next minute.  Another three, over Paul Pierce, then a steal and series clinching jam in quick succession.  LBJ scored 10 points in the last two minutes and turned a close game into a blowout. 

The Old to Young turnover continued: first the Spurs, then the fall of the Mamba (greatest quote ever: Kobe telling writers he is going to remember all the “********” who said he was done.  Quick note to Kobe – without Dwight Howard, it ain’t happening), followed by the loss of the Celtics.  My brother – a Celtics fan – had a great reaction.  He sent me the following messages as the game was going on:

“I can’t even watch Lebron strut around, you didn’t earn ****”

“This conversation is over.”

“Only a Grizzlies win could temporarily cleanse the burning hatred of rage I have for Miami”.

Needless to say, Just Ross did not have a good conclusion to the evening.   

Either the Hawks or the Bulls await the Heat in the Eastern Finals (I am cheering like crazy for the Hawks!!!  Have never cheered for an opponent this hard before, ever).  The toughest test may be next, but LBJ and Wade will be right there to put the team on their backs, and given the rest of the team (imagine how many points the Heat would score if ANYONE else on their team played respectably?  James Jones / Mike Bibby / Mike Miller all gagged on totally open looks.  LBJ would average 10 assists easily.  I cringed every time Wade or Lebron gave up any type of shot to create something for someone else…even wide open.  I would have murdered James Jones if he missed that open three with no one around him for 20 feet).   

The Heat…is rising! 

(Editors Note: Please strike that last, horrific pun from the record, in a season of terrible puns, that was without question the worst yet)


The Changing of the Guard – Death of a Mamba?

The changing of the guard has happened in the NBA. 

For the most part.  Sort of…

The largest question: Is the Mamba done? 

The answer is…complicated.  While the Laker’s flameout sweep at the hands of Dallas (certainly some old guard players there: Kidd / Dirk / Terry) is hilarious, it was also interesting that for most of the time during the leadup to the game, Kobe believed he could still win it.  He continuned to think that all the way until the second half (13 points at half, attempting to put the team on his back).  Then he accepted it.  Sort of (finished with 17 points).  Kobe continued to tell reporters to be careful lest they prematurely write of the Laker’s demise. 

Yesterday during Mother’s Day Brunch when I tried to engage my brother in “Kobe is done” conversations, he kept waving me off.  Just Ross’s take? “You don’t bury the Mamba until he has completely lost.  The Lakers are like a Hydra, virtually impossible to kill”.  When the game started, I believed it for the first little while.  After all, this was the presumptive NBA champs.  The team everyone said only got better during the offseason.  Kobe would never get swept. 

He got sweptHard.

Kobe got beaten just like the Spurs were taken down – and we may finally be witnessing the changing of the guard.  The Duncan / Kobe / Dirk / KG era is coming to a close.  Welcome to the rise of the Rose / Durant / Miami Heat era.  We think.  In his post-game comments, Kobe looked like he in the middle of a dream.  This was not happening.  Somehow, he was going to wake up, like he always does and carry the Lakers through.  He admitted the Mavs were the better team on the day, but still seemed to struggle with accepting the fact that he simply could not carry the Lakers.  It was shocking, he seemed so resigned. 

With Pau Gasol playing like he was lost in the middle of the woods (due to being dumped by his fiance?), Kobe should have stepped up and taken the slack.  In the past, it would have been a forgone conclusion.  He would have carried the team.  Perhaps, in his postgame conference, he finally realized he can no longer be counted on to do that.  This time he could not.  No matter how hard he played, he could not win.  Kobe lost the secret he had so willingly embraced during the past two title seasons, that and his ability to create shots for himself and his teammates. 

Where do the Lakers go from here?  They have to retool in the wake of their classless exit (Andrew Bynum has never truly proved his worth – when does he finally get the overrated tag?) and a couple of contracts will probably be shipped.  One player of note in their sights?  Dwight Howard.  Could Howard help the Lakers transition into the post-Kobe era and help him get one last ring?  The Lakers could throw together a Bynum / Fisher / Artest / Draft picks for Howard + expiring contracts.

In the end the Lakers have two clear areas of need: heart and point guard.