No one wanted to pick Boston before this series started – they were tired from seven games against Philadelphia and Miami was a matchup nightmare. But this is why they play the games, according to that long-fabled saying, and Boston is nearly past the point of return, that level of failure which would allow Danny Ainge to break up this team in good conscience. But then seasoned and wily Boston does things like this, when Miami’s superior athleticism and skill surrender to cunning. For much of the game, Boston won the battle of loose balls. That’s not okay, I don’t think, at least according to the rules of engagement between the quick and the slow.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why Miami can’t close and Boston can. There’s the tired criticism of LeBron and his lack of end-game prowess, and the equally unsophisticated allusion to Boston’s veteran execution. But that’s the nature of our critical eye, it seems, nitpicking megastars and leaving those in the tier below unscathed. We condemn Kobe Bryant for shooting too much, then not enough. Russell Westbrook should defer to Kevin Durant more, but of course he has to drive it to the basket with his unmistakable, narrow-minded ferocity if he hopes to remain effective. Guys like Paul Pierce, James Harden and such, the underbelly of these celebrities, they get our more endearing selves, when there’s no more criticism left to unleash.
OKC is, by individual and team metrics, quite possibly the better team in its series. Boston is not. Sure, Rajon Rondo’s majestic parading up and down the court seems unstoppable, Kevin Garnett’s rejuvenation is impressive and Paul Pierce’s deliberately sluggish yet precisely calculated pace remains a mystery to us all. But LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, when they choose, are the best players on the court. That’s why, I think, we’re quick to attack the Heat. They must be doing something wrong if Boston is winning, especially in Miami. Maybe it’s just not that complicated, and maybe it’s just that Boston’s best is simply better than Miami’s best, but Boston’s best is harder to come by.
When Paul Pierce drained that three in LeBron’s face to put Boston up four with less than a minute left, I was shocked. Like most others, I couldn’t tear myself away from the notion that Miami just couldn’t lose at home with so much at stake. It was a surreal moment – could this really happen to LeBron again? Forget Wade, who easily skates by public criticism with stretches of brilliance, even if his first half performances have been abysmal. This was a LeBron moment. My favorite part was the typical whiplash postgame basketball analysis – that, because Pierce drained the shot, it was a good one. On SportsCenter, Tim Legler praised Pierce for rising up just as LeBron went on his heels – even though the contest was nearly a block. No doubt it was a great shot, and one that essentially clinched the game. But it was paradoxically great, and a quintessential illustration of this megastar double standard. If he misses and Miami escapes with victory, they’ve merely taken care of business at home, as they should have.
I’m glad the series is going this way. It’s more fun to watch, plain and simple. I have a friend who enters my March Madness pool every year, and he picks nearly all the favorites in every round because, as he puts it, “it gives him the best chance to win.” He’s probably right. But, as the rest of us always note, upsets are fun. And that’s what we have here. An upset of every kind. Boston refusing to die, even after we suspected their dynastic trio would sizzle out quickly after they were born. LeBron stuck in an unfair and unending pursuit to validate his title of the NBA’s best player. Rajon Rondo, doing Rajon Rondo things, and making us rethink where he falls on the point guard totem pole. It’s taken on this good versus evil mantra, the old guard refusing to yield to the new.
A part of me roots for Miami, even if only because I want LeBron to ward off unwarranted criticism and become universally recognized for what he is: basketball’s best player. But what has taken place thus far epitomizes the moral struggle we so freely ascribe to in basketball, and what other non-basketballers scoff at – that we can get so wrapped up in the emotions of a game, the highs and the lows. Maybe this series hasn’t brought peace of mind, but at the very least it makes for a great narrative.
What chance does Miami have in the rest of this series?
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