Unanimous decision for their three
MIAMI — Yes they can.
Can three great players, or two really, really great players, plus one pretty good one, dominate a series enough to defeat a very good team in the highest level of competition their sport has to offer? That was the central issue on the eve of this confrontation between the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics, was it not?
Based on what we saw in these five games, the answer is yes.
There are always many ways of analyzing any sporting event, or any series, but as time goes on people have indulged in far too much overthinking. Sometimes the answer to the central question is ridiculously simple. You can parse this, that, and the other thing, but in the end the main reason the Heat eliminated the Celtics and advanced to the Eastern Conference finals was because LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh imposed their athletic skills and athletic wills on the Celtics throughout the series, and perhaps never more so than in the final six quarters, during which the Miami Big Three scored 142 of the Heat’s 162 points.
142 of 162!
Now, there is more to the game of basketball than merely scoring points. There is defense and there is rebounding and there are assorted other acts that come under the heading of playing sound basketball. But three people scoring 88 percent of the points does get one’s attention.
The Heat are not a pretty team built for purists. The basketball does not sing. There aren’t too many nice ball movements. They aren’t the vintage Knicks, the 1977 Trail Blazers, 1986 Celtics, or 1987 Lakers. They are an entirely different proposition. Offensively speaking, they are what they are, and what they are is the side-by-side spectacular virtuosity of James and Wade, sprinkled with the solid, no-frills play of Bosh, who gets derided by some as “Ringo,’’ but whose rebounding and auxiliary scoring potential is a vital part of the mix.
But Bosh’s somewhat quiet 14-point, 11-rebound performance in this series-clinching game will not be the topic of too many South Florida water cooler discussions this morning.
It will be “Omigod! Did you see what Dwyane did?’’ Or “Can you believe that LeBron?’’
Wade had 34 points on 13-of-19 shooting. He also had 10 rebounds and five assists. James had 33 points on 11-of-20 shooting. He also had seven rebounds and four assists. But it wasn’t necessarily the whats. It was the hows. They each made the kind of shots that break a rival player or coach’s heart.
“They’re a terrific team,’’ said Doc Rivers. “Those three guys are tough, and those two guys are monsters. The drives you can take away, but when they’re making shots . . . ’’
I’m not even sure Doc’s correct when he says you can take the drives away, because it seemed as if Wade, in particular, was going to the hoop at will all night. But he is surely correct about the devastating impact of having these two superior drivers making a ton of jumpers. When that happens, it’s simply not fair.
Wade made five outside shots. But James was the real killer. He got off to a very slow start. He looked confused and almost disoriented in the first quarter, when the Celtics grabbed a 24-16 lead and Wade was the only Heat player showing signs of offensive life. But once James swished a 3-pointer a little less than two minutes into the second quarter, it was as if someone had turned on the proper switch. That would be the first of seven successful James jump shots, the biggest of which was a left side 3-pointer that made it 93-87 with 40.4 seconds to go.
That came in the midst of a devastating game-ending 16-0 run, by the way.
While the clear story of the game and series was the play of the Big Three, let the record show that the single biggest basket of the game was made by someone other than a member of Miami’s Holy Trinity. The score was 87-82 Boston, when Kevin Garnett missed a turnaround, and on the subsequent transition James Jones, who had made three baskets in 93 minutes of play following a 25-point Game 1, drilled a pull-up three to reduce the deficit to 2. They were the only Heat points not scored by one of Those Guys in the game’s final 16 minutes.
Rivers lamented the missed opportunities in the final three minutes, but he had little choice but to salute the great Miami trio, especially Wade and James, who each made a number of shots not available to mere mortals. “It’s a make-miss league,’’ Rivers said. “It always will be. If you’re taking good shots and they’re taking bad shots, but your shots aren’t going in and theirs are, you lose.
“I respect LeBron,’’ Rivers continued. “And I’ve known Dwyane since he was in high school and I was trying to illegally recruit him for Marquette.’’
Doc had a final thought about the Heat.
“I’ve never seen a team so heavily criticized in my life, and a guy [James] criticized for doing what was legal. The preseason parade may have been a little much, but other than that, I just told him good luck and keep going.’’
Doc also said he wished people had eased up on the relentless Heat-bashing. “I said all year that I wished you guys [the media] would leave them alone because it allowed them to go through something and it prepared them for the playoffs . . . I thought you guys gave them the assist, so thank you.’’
You’re welcome. But none of us had anything to do with developing LeBron James and Dwyane Wade into the transcendent players they have become. A higher power must have had something to do with that.
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.