Monday, February 14, 2011

Thirteen of Fourteen

That's the Miami Heat's record in games played in Boston. It's also the record of LeBron James when he visits Boston, either with the Heat or Cavs. And it's the single biggest reason why the Celtics have to be considered the odds-on favorite to repeat as Eastern Conference champions, and go to the NBA Finals for roughly the 666th time. (Note: the writer is a Sixers fan. And hates life, or at least, Association Life.)

Today was supposed to be different. Miami has been a much better team in the past three months. Boston has suffered the usual injuries that old and older teams suffer in February, in the middle of the part of the schedule where everyone just seems interested in making it to the All-Star Game without getting hurt or getting embarrassed. For today's nationally televised grudge match, Boston basically had eight healthy players, and one of those was the fairly useless Nate Robinson. That meant that newly reinstated center Kendrick Perkins had to go 30 minutes, and the other starters all went 36 and beyond. Against a Heat team that thrives in the open court and finishes as well as any team since the Showtime Lakers, this looked like a recipe for a drama-inducing win for the Heat, and an inside track on the home-court advantage in a second or third round series that's pretty damned critical.

Or would have, had Miami decided to, you know, run.

Instead, the Heat played right into the strengths of the Sith Celts yet again, slowing the tempo and trying to show the world that they can win Real Man's Basketball. With a good shooting night from Chris Bosh, they actually stayed in it for once, not that I'd count on such things happening in the playoffs, when Kevin Garnett can bring his vast repertoire of defensive skills and lack of morality to bear. But what is far more telling about this three point loss for the Heat is that it happened despite an 0-for-10 -- no, seriously, 0 for 10 -- night from Paul Pierce, who finished with one point in 40 minutes. (If you are wondering how the Celtics won, well, you aren't alone. But Rajon Rondo's triple double, along with Dwyane Wade going 6 for 17, should give you a bit of a clue.)

If and when the Celtics meat up with the Heat in the playoffs, everyone will talk about how the regular season means nothing, and how the Heat are going to break through at some point, if not now, then next year, or the year after that. And that's certainly how you'd bet, given the relative ages involved, and the fact that Boston can't be expected to import a top 20 talent in a steal trade every few years, as they did with Garnett and, to a lesser but still significant extent, Ray Allen.

But when Miami can't break through with all of the breaks going their way... and they can't execute a rudimentary strategy like running against an older team with no bench... or take advantage when a 20-point a game scorer is nearly bageled... well, if not now, when?

Or, perhaps, never. No one beats the Celtics in a playoff series without winning in Boston. And the Heat, and James, never wins in Boston. Simple game, really. Simple, irritating, mind-numbingly frustrating game...

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