June 5, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra during the second half in game five of the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics of the 2012 NBA playoffs at American Airlines Arena. Boston won 94-90. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE
We live in a world largely devoid of nuance. Political figures promote and attack one another in 30-second T.V. ads. News organizations rarely provide reflection or context, only description of what happened in one particular fleeting moment. Even our high school teachers cover World War II in just two class periods. And although Twitter certainly has its benefits, the 140-character limit doesn't allow users to add in many qualifying statements.
Perhaps it should come as no surprise then that in the aftermath of the Miami Heat's 94-90 loss to the Boston Celtics Tuesday night, many took to Twitter to blame their frustration on Erik Spoelstra. Respected writers and regular fans agreed that he's just not ready or that he didn't have an answer for Doc Rivers' changing defenses.
One could make an argument that Chris Bosh should have played in the fourth quarter or that the Heat still haven't found a way to stop the Rajon Rondo-Kevin Garnett pick-and-roll (Although one could also fairly argue that Bosh didn't move well on defense or that the Celtics' small-ball prevented the Heat from putting two big men -- like Bosh and Joel Anthony -- on the floor together to switch off each other in the pick-and-roll). But solely blaming the coach largely ignores a good deal of what happened in this game. We all want that one sound byte to explain everything to us. But the Celtics won Game 5 for a variety of factors; the answer is more complex than we like to think it is.
For all the talk of the Celtics' impeccable ball movement and the Heat's isolation-heavy sets, Boston scored decisive points on a lot of broken plays. Miami held a 78-72 lead with six minutes left when Dwyane Wade blocked a Brandon Bass dunk attempt. A few players scrambled for the loose ball, and Rondo tipped the ball to a wide-open Mickael Pietrus for a 3. Another late Pietrus 3-pointer came after several players dove on a loose ball before Pierce found a wide-open Pietrus. Two possessions that could have easily resulted in Heat transition opportunities instead become six points for the Celtics. And the biggest shot of the night - the Pierce 3 with 53 seconds left - came with the 2008 NBA Finals MVP isolated against James. No one came over to set a screen or make a hard cut to the basket. Pierce just made a contested 3 over the outstretched arm of James.
In between those two Pietrus 3s, Rondo attempted a layup on one side of the court, went out of bounds and came back onto the court to grab his own rebound and make a put-back. These kinds of defensive lapses are inexcusable in a crucial game. In one third-quarter possession, Bosh and Mike Miller both went to guard Paul Pierce. Garnett sprinted down the middle on the floor for a dunk that tied the game. In the fourth quarter, Rondo only had Mario Chalmers to beat in the open court on a hook shot that pulled Boston to within 77-78. Wade had just missed a shot, but somehow nobody forced Rondo to stop in his tracks.
The Celtics included zone and man-to-man defenses in the fourth quarter, but the Heat scored 30 points in that stanza against a great defensive team. Spoelstra ran a great play with misdirection to get James a layup with nine seconds left, as the Heat perfectly executed a play to get a "quick two." Why doesn't anybody talk about that? In waning moments of the fourth quarter in Game 2 of this Eastern Conference Finals, James made a nice slip screen for Wade and dove toward the basket. Pierce was stuck guarding Wade, and James simply missed the layup over Garnett before grabbing his own rebound and missing that jumper over Rondo at the fourth-quarter buzzer. Spoelstra put James in a position to make a layup over Garnett, which is oddly what many observers wanted him to do just seconds later when Rondo guarded him.
People don't talk about that because they don't want a complex answer. They want a 140-characters-or-fewer answer. That's the same reason why many people dissected James' missed shot over Rondo in Game 2 but not his crucial tip-in or his assist to Udonis Haslem in the subsequent overtime period.
Some could say that I am making a hypocritical argument. After all, I speak of nuance and complexity but only analyze a handful of plays. But parsing every single possession in this Game 5 would probably take up an entire chapter in a book on the Heat's 2012 playoff run. As easy as it is to blame Spoelstra, coaching isn't the Heat's problem. Boston won Game 5 for a plethora of reasons, chiefly among them getting a couple fortunate bounces and attacking a Heat team that looked disjointed and lethargic on the defensive end at times. One can come to vastly different conclusions simply by broadening one's scope.