“I guarantee you right now, they’re distracted, our team, in the locker room. But we have to get it out of us and move on.”
–Doc Rivers, after the Celtics lost Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals to the Heat in overtime, 115-111
Celtics fans should heed the words of the coach. Let it out. Your team was the victim of brazen highway robbery on South Beach last night. What should have gone down as one of the all-time great one-man acts in playoff history was unceremoniously ripped from the grasp of Rajon Rondo. Indeed, the non-call on Dwyane Wade’s face-hack of Rondo was quite possibly more foul than the play itself.
But this is not the time to lament the Rondo-robbery, or Paul Pierce fouling out on a questionable call, or LeBron James being whistled for all of two fouls while defending an attacking Pierce all night, or James taking nearly as many free throws (24) as the entire Celtics team (29), or the Heat being the beneficiaries of a 47-29 edge at the line, or Greg Stiemsma picking up four fouls in five minutes … simply for being Greg Stiemsma. I’m out of breath.
No, as Rivers wisely pointed out, Game 2 was not the end of the line, and while it helps to let the disbelief and anger flow in the moment, it’s necessary to quickly put a lid on it and trudge forward.
With the consensus headline around the country on Thursday morning some variation of, Celtics give Heat best shot, still lose, I say fair enough. Yes, the Celtics produced arguably their best effort – particularly at the offensive end – of the postseason, but they were forced to play with one hand tied behind their back.
The Celtics have cause for optimism going forward, though, because unless David Stern wants the conspiracy theories to start flying on the Kings-Lakers 2002 level, the officiating, ahem, “situation” will be rectified as this series drags on, you can bet Tim Donaghy’s right pinkie on it.
As for James and Wade, what’s yet to be rectified is their closing capabilities in tight games. Let’s go to the tape:
Exhibit A: Celtics leading, 94-91, 2:18 left. Shane Battier drains a three to tie the game. On the next trip down, Mickael Pietrus commits a bad foul on LeBron, who hits two free throws to put Miami back on top, 96-94. The Heat get a stop, and with the Celtics clamping down on defense, Wade dishes to Udonis Haslem, who sinks an 18-footer from the baseline to extend the lead to 98-94.
Exhibit B: After a Boston timeout results in a Rondo-to-Garnett lob with 1:05 left to make it a two-point game, Wade drives in and draws Pierce’s sixth foul on a circus layup attempt. With 47 seconds left and Pierce out, Wade can essentially seal the game at the charity stripe. He bricks the first free throw, makes the second. 99-96. A Ray Allen trey knots the game at 99 with 34 seconds left.
Exhibit C: James misses a layup with 20 seconds left, gets his own rebound, and misses a 21-foot jumper at the buzzer with Rondo guarding him. Overtime.
Exhibit D: James misses two free throws to begin overtime. Wade misses one on a potential three-point play with 3:32 left that keeps the game tied. Then, following the Rondo-robbery, the Heat open up a seven-point lead with 18 seconds left, yet the Celtics manage to slice the deficit to three with two seconds remaining thanks to a pair of pure-grit Rondo threes. Wade goes to the line and promptly misses the first free throw before rattling home the second.
So for those scoring at home, Battier and Haslem had Miami’s two biggest field goals at the end of regulation, and James whiffed on a pair of potential game-winners. Compounding that, James and Wade combined to clank five of 12 free throws beginning with 47 seconds left in regulation.
This is nothing new for James and Wade – be it the missing of crunch-time free throws or game-deciding shots. Apart from the playoff series between the two teams last year, when James shook the Celtics monkey off his back with a trio of devastating closes, the Heat’s superstar tandem has consistently wilted in decisive moments – be it the regular season or the NBA Finals. Of course, the Heat win a ton, but most of the time they’ve already run a team out of the building when the clock is ticking down.
But this isn’t last year. Barring a redux of Wade taking out Rondo in Game 3, Boston’s greatest weapon will be healthy for the remainder of the series, which is to say the games will continue to be close-fought wars.
Time to soldier on, everyone. You know the Celtics will.