Hey, Chris Bosh is back! I know, I don’t really care either.
Imagine the pressure on the Miami Heat at this moment. After sweeping the final three games of their semi-final series against a tough Indiana squad, they looked poised to run past the ageing Boston Celtics to advance with relative ease to the NBA Finals.
And then, after two solid victories in their first two games against Boston, they seemed set not only to cruise through the Eastern Conference, but perhaps through the Finals as well. That’s how strong they looked.
LeBron was playing like a basketball god, Dwyane Wade was filling any conceivable gaps in scoring duties, Mario Chalmers was running the show like a veteran, their bench players were contributing here and there, and their defence was seamless. They looked good, man. Like, really good.
But now, just three games later, Miami is sitting on the brink of elimination as they head back to the hostile environment of TD Garden. The turnaround has been astonishing. But just as the Heat have suddenly hit a serious, season-jeopardizing rough patch, it will mean nothing if they are able to rally and win two consecutive games to advance. Such is the magic of playoff basketball. The lows, while you dwell in them, are bottomless, but once you’ve climbed up from those lows, they seem never to have existed.
Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics was played last night in Miami, with the series tied at two games apiece going in. The Celtics headed in carrying all the momentum after consecutive wins at home, while the Heat surely felt confident playing back in front of their home crowd. Although they would have loved to steal a game in Boston, the Heat still needed to do nothing more than play solid playoff basketball and hold their home court.
They came out firing in the first quarter, pushing to a modest early lead and giving the sometimes half-hearted Miami fans something to cheer about. Boston had difficulty connecting on many shots, but stayed in the game through their usual combination of gritty play and hard-nosed defence. Perhaps the quarter’s most intriguing moments unfolded as Chris Bosh entered the game after missing the past three weeks with injury.
Besides being greeted with one of the most lackadaisical standing ovations ever performed, Bosh actually looked pretty good in his first few minutes back, hitting on a tough turnaround jump shot and scrambling in the post for a big and-one, which pushed the Miami lead to ten. He was clearly excited to be back on the floor: his celebration after scoring the hoop was both demonstrative and awkward. But after his initial flurry of productivity he was mostly invisible, finishing with just nine points in under fifteen minutes of playing time.
In the second, the Celtics began working their way back into the game. Despite being down double digits at the 8-minute mark, and despite LeBron James playing MVP basketball in the first half, Boston chipped away at the Heat’s lead on the backs of Rajon Rondo, who didn’t score well but controlled the floor masterfully, and Kevin Garnett, who looks entirely rejuvenated (a frightening thought for fans of any team besides the Celtics).
The second half started tightly, as neither team was able to build a substantial lead. Dwyane Wade remained conspicuously silent, as he had in the first two quarters, while Michael Pietrus managed to knock down a couple of jumpers. KG also busted out a throwback highlight when he crowned James Jones after being allowed to wander unmolested through the lane. He put some real mustard on it too, made sure all of Miami was listening.
The fourth started with Miami down five after consecutive big shots from Boston role players Pietrus and Keyon Dooling, but Wade finally woke from his stupor and managed to put the Heat on his back. LeBron, who played strongly through the first three quarters, went silent in the fourth, as he has developed a reputation for doing. But despite Wade making tough shot after tough shot, Miami wasn’t able to compete with the dogged persistence of the Celtics. Paul Pierce hit a massive step back three over LeBron’s outstretched hand, and KG hit some timely jumpers before icing the game with a pair of stone-cold free throws in the final ten seconds.
So after Oklahoma City ended a string of eight straight victories for home teams by winning in San Antonio on Monday, the Celtics stole a road game as well, beating the Heat 94-90 to take a dangerous 3-2 series lead back to Boston. The pressure to perform at home has now shifted to their shoulders, especially considering the fact that they have no desire to return to Miami for a game seven. And while the Celtics have been good in close out games in Boston, the Heat will be ready to pull out all the stops and play for their lives.
LeBron James, in particular, will be wanting to show why he was named season MVP, as his tendency towards quiet fourth quarters has drawn more and more of the national spotlight. While he’s proven before that he is more than capable of putting on breathtaking performances during the post-season (including a certain game 5 against Boston not so long ago, when he still called Ohio home) the fate of this Heat team will always be a major part of his legacy, and as long as they fail to find true success in the playoffs, his spot amongst the greatest of all time is in peril.