Weaknesses already exposed
If LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were disappointed following the Miami Heat’s 88-80 loss to the Celtics last night at TD Garden, they had a strange way of displaying it. There was laughter in the Heat locker room, sounding as if a weight had been lifted.
“This is one of 82,’’ Wade said. “Sorry if everyone thought we were going to go 82-0, it just ain’t happening.’’
The newest Big Three looked extremely mortal last night, finishing a combined 17 for 48 from the field for 52 points. The Celtics’ defense contributed to that dismal clip, but it’s obvious the Heat will need several games, more practices, and many shootarounds to develop offensive chemistry.
Those who expected the Heat to dominate simply because three All-Stars were together are slightly delusional. The NBA is a league of precision. Players have to be in certain spots at exact times to execute plays. Eddie House lamented his placement during the decisive play, a Ray Allen 3-pointer near the Miami bench to give the Celtics an 86-80 lead.
He was just a few feet away, but that was the difference because of Allen’s quick release. The Heat were erratic at best last night. James looked eerily similar to the player who dominated the ball during the Eastern Conference semifinals last year, wowing the sellout crowd with his array of 3-pointers, fadeaways, and bruising drives to the basket.
He scored 31 points, but during his dazzling displays, the rest of his teammates watched, especially Chris Bosh, who did nothing to erase those doubters who believe he is by far the weakest link of the Big Three. His 8 points on 3-for-11 shooting and timid defense against Kevin Garnett was indicative of a player not ready for prime time.
“Well I mean, we know what’s going on,’’ Bosh said. “We know that a lot of people are watching. We know a lot of people are really putting us under the microscope. But we knew it was going to be like that. Dealing with it is another thing. It’s going to be here. It’s not going anywhere. We just didn’t play the way we’re capable of because we were a little reserved.’’
As if the Heat didn’t know already, they learned a valuable lesson in patience and restraint. Opposing teams are going to defend with vigor, exposing Miami’s weaknesses, and there are many. Carlos Arroyo finished with zero assists in 12-plus minutes, pretty near impossible to pull off with three All-Stars running the lanes with you.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra obviously doesn’t trust Joel Anthony in the clutch because he didn’t play in the fourth quarter, as Udonis Haslem filled in at power forward and Bosh slid to center. The Big Three won’t be difficult to figure out unless someone else steps to the forefront. At this point, if Wade, Bosh, and James each score 30 points, they will lose, 91-90. This was a concern the moment they all agreed to play together.
Spoelstra said he doesn’t feel any pressure but his debut as the overseer of this title crusade was average. So average that perhaps Pat Riley made an appointment with a tailor today to get fitted for new suits.
Because of the public scrutiny of how the Big Three was created, there is less leniency for such things as bonding and familiarity. James, Bosh, and Wade should have taken care of that after “The Decision.’’
They are expected to dominate now, and they won’t. It’s not that easy.
“I think right now it’s a feel-out process for myself, D-Wade, for Chris, and the rest of the guys,’’ James said. “It almost felt like we were being too unselfish to get each other into the flow of the game, and the reason we’re here and the reason we’ve been successful is because we’ve put ourselves in a position to be aggressive at all times.’’
Chalk this one up as a learning experience for the Heat. The NBA is much too sophisticated to succumb to these AAU-type all-star teams. The Lakers can credit Ron Artest and Derek Fisher just as much for their Finals victory over the Celtics as Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.
The Celtics wouldn’t have beaten Atlanta in the first round or claimed title No. 17 without James Posey and P.J. Brown. The Heat have to spend the next two months or so not only developing harmony among the Big Three, but developing other weapons. With a limited salary cap following James and Bosh’s additions, Riley had to settle for aging players who would accept minimum salaries for the opportunity to win a title.
A burning desire to win a title doesn’t turn back the clock for an old bench, however. They have weaknesses and the league now has been given a blueprint by the Celtics on how to exploit them.
Back in the Heat locker room, James and Wade were talking how each had lost opening-night games in their past, only to respond with a flurry of wins. A streak could begin tonight in Philadelphia, but regardless of how badly Miami beats the 76ers, the invincibility is gone.
“When we were going through our planning in July and August, we knew it wouldn’t necessarily hit on all cylinders right away,’’ Spoelstra said. “[Boston is] a very good defensive team, a veteran team that didn’t make too many changes, and so they’ve been there. I mean, they’ve been to the Finals, and it was a tough game.’’
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.