Its official, the Boston Celtics have taken up permanent residence in the Miami Heat's heads. The wannabe Big 3 is oh-for-three against Team Ubuntu this year, and despite steamrolling over the rest of the league, they really aren't showing much progress toward figuring out the Celtics.
Up to this point they have had excuses to lean on. In the first couple of games early in the year it was "unrealistic to expect them to gel together" while the Celtics had years of experience together. Wade was coming off an injury, Bosh was trying to figure out his role in the offense, and so forth.
This time they even managed to make things interesting in the 4th quarter ...against a team that is missing most of its bench and who's starting small forward was limited by injuries to one point of production. The Heat had the firepower and opportunity to win this game handily, yet they couldn't.
The Miami Heat needed a "statement" win over the Celtics and Boston really didn't have much else to prove. Yet the Celtics continue to play with pride and show how well they can play when faced with a challenge. The Heat only showed that the Celtics still own them.
The roots of this tree are deep. The Miami Trio's nightmares have been tinted green for years now. Each one has a history with the Celtics they'd love to forget but can't get out of their heads.
The King himself has had his crown handed to him on multiple occasions by the Celtics. Not only did he lose his shootout with Paul Pierce in 2008, he lost his will to stay in Cleveland before last year's playoff series was even over. On this occasion he couldn't take advantage of a hobbled Paul Pierce and the diminutive Rajon Rondo picking him up full court.
Dwyane Wade was also knocked out of the playoffs by the C's last year - though that was much less of a surprise. Still, he hasn't sniffed a deep playoff run since Shaq left and had to recruit 2 All Stars and hand over the alpha-dog role in order to hope to compete with Boston. O'Neal's presence on the other bench can't help but remind him of that fact. Oh, and has anyone noticed that he's only averaging just over 13 points per game against Boston this year? He even admitted that chasing Ray Allen around the court wears him out. Perhaps that is why he let himself get baited into a flagrant foul on KG.
Chris Bosh? Well, all you have to do is watch his body language when he's on the same court as Kevin Garnett. He had a strong game today but he's never in a comfort zone and never really is against KG.
Amusingly it wasn't Garnett pulling the physiological warfare routine this time (aside from a hard pick at the top of the key). It was Rajon that walked over to the Heat huddle playfully taunting them. It was Rondo getting tangled up with LeBron and yelling in his face with a slightly unhinged look in his eyes. Somehow that stuff seems a little more innocent coming from a guy half Garnett's size with a baby face, but make no mistake, these are tricks pulled from the same deck of cards that Garnett deals from.
It also helps that the Heat are not built to match up well with the Celtics. They have absolutely no answer for Rajon Rondo on either end of the court. They have nobody that can chase Ray Allen around for 4 quarters - leaving the job to Wade. Aside from Bosh, they have no presence in the paint so even when Glen Davis is the only sub over 6'5" he was really all we needed. Wade and LeBron are two of the greatest talents in the game, but when the Celtics defense gears up to take away your best options (like they did on the last play) the Heat have to rely on guys like Mike Miller and Eddie House to make the big shots. Some days they'll go in, but not as often as when Ray Allen (the greatest shooter of all time) takes them.
But it wasn't silly antics that won this game. I would even argue that it wasn't the gameplan or in-game adjustments. It was simply swagger. The Heat have fake-swag. Like they are trying to convince themselves that they have what it takes. But you can tell they just don't know. There's still that element of doubt. The Celtics are swagger. It helps define them and more importantly it helps them win.
The Heat played less like a team that was determined to win and more like a team that was scared to lose. When that happens, the game is already half won for the Celtics.