BOSTON, MA - JUNE 07: Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat drives against Paul Pierce #34 of the Boston Celtics in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on June 7, 2012 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
1) The Heat head back home with the momentum and the crucial home court advantage for Game 7. Does any of that matter to a playoff-tested veteran team like the Boston Celtics that has already shown they can win at the AmericanAirlines Arena?
David Dwork: As far as the Celtics are concerned, I'm sure it doesn't matter to them where the game is played. However, I still think its an advantage for Miami to play the game in their home building with all those fans behind them. For a veteran team like the Boston Celtics, their temperament should be the same no matter where they play, especially in a game of this magnitude, but a young and exuberant team like the Heat that is already riding a high should feed off of their home crowd and be able to overtake the Celtics.
Surya Fernandez: The Celtics don't strike me a team that gets rattled easily, but they've had games where they've played flat during the regular season and this trend continued at times in both previous rounds. Their lack of energy on their own home court was surprising and there was too much of LeBron's individual brilliance on display for the Celtics to withstand it. They will definitely be motivated at the outset of Game 7 but it remains to be seen whether they can keep up with the Heat's Big 3 intact.
DIego Quezada: Home-court advantage matters, but the Celtics won't go down without a fight. Home teams have a couple of built-in advantages -- role players tend to perform better, home teams get a friendlier whistle -- but that hasn't mattered in the last two games of this series. With that being said, the Heat would prefer to play Game 7 at home just because Miami has had so much success there this season. If the Heat get timely contributions from everyone, they should win this game. It's important to note that in the 2010 NBA Finals, the Celtics won Game 2 in Staples Center and came back to L.A. up 3-2, but lost the next two on the road. In Game 7 of that series, Kobe Bryant didn't play well offensively, but Pau Gasol had a great game and Derek Fisher and Ron Artest each hit timely 3s.
2) Why does Wade continue to have slow first halves and what can the Heat and the coaching staff do to get him going early?
DIego Quezada: Some have said that Wade is hurt, but he's played well for the second halves of these games. I don't know why Wade has had these slow starts, but it's important to keep in mind that Wade had a bad conference final series last year against the Chicago Bulls. It is certainly plausible that he'll have a great, complete game Saturday night. The Heat should start Chris Bosh in Game 7 to prevent Kevin Garnett from committing those hard double-teams off of pick-and-rolls, and Wade should have an easier time with Bosh on the court with him. Starting Bosh (with Udonis Haslem as the four) will also give Joel Anthony a spot in the rotation so he can defend Garnett with his quickness.
David Dwork: In order for the coaching staff to get Wade more involved early it would probably end up taking away from LeBron James getting off to such good starts. Wade has been slowed by his knee injury but has still been productive, and as long as he and LeBron can find a balance where they are both contributing to Miami's success, I'm not overly concerned with who starts out hot and who finishes the game hot.
Surya Fernandez: If the Heat continue to win because LeBron has kept them afloat the entire game and Wade picks up his production in the second half, the team will gladly take it. Ideally, the offensive load will now be distributed equally with Bosh likely playing a bigger role. Usually, the Heat try to get Bosh going early and I expect the coaching staff would like to see at the outset what he can give the team tonight. Having Wade handle the ball, working in tandem with Mario Chalmers, could get him going earlier in the game where he could look for his own shot as well as find LeBron and Bosh in prime scoring positions.
3) Where does LeBron's game rank in all-time Heat playoff performances?
Surya Fernandez: It's obviously one the greatest all-time playoff performances in Heat and, indeed, NBA history but Wade's performances in the Heat's four straight victories of the 2006 NBA Finals culminating in Game 6's masterpiece are the most crucial to the franchise because the stakes were higher. Perhaps a top ten all-time Heat list to be compiled during the offseason is in order. Hopefully there's more games from these playoffs to choose from.
David Dwork: By far one of the biggest and most dominant games in Heat playoff history. The last time I can remember someone on this team taking a playoff game over like that is back in the 2006 NBA Finals when D-Wade just absolutely dominated the Dallas Mavericks. Since LeBron James is possibly the most popular player in the world, his game will get a ton of a attention, and rightly so.
DIego Quezada: Just because of the stakes, it automatically sits behind Wade's performances in Game 3 and 6 of the 2006 NBA Finals. I'd rank it as number three for now. If the Heat win the championship and LeBron James wins MVP, perhaps people will look at Game 6 of the ECF as a turning point. It may end up eclipsing Wade's 2006 Game 6 Finals performance. But for now, I would put it over Tim Hardaway's 38-point performance in Game 7 of the Heat's 1997 series with the New York Knicks. It should also rank higher than Wade's 46 points against the Celtics in Game 4 in a first-round series in 2010. Those games were eerily similar because both players took and made difficult shots -- Wade made 3-pointers, and James made 20-footers -- and basically won those games by themselves. But the fact that James had a bigger stage and more pressure lifts that performance over Wade's spectacular game just two years ago.
4) How has Chris Bosh's return impacted the Heat overall since he returned and in Game 6 with a bigger role?
David Dwork: Bosh's presence on the court can only help the Heat, and that showed in Game 6 when he was able to keep Kevin Garnett covering him on the perimiter, which opened up the paint a bit more for the rest of the team. Miami is a team that does a lot of scoring in the painted area and with Bosh out there helping to spread the defense, it's a huge advantage for the Heat.
DIego Quezada: Many people criticize Chris Bosh for his perceived lack of defense, but he's helped Miami a lot on the defensive end so far. He blocked a Garnett attempt right at the rim in Game 6 and has done well on the boards considering his limited minutes. It was good to see him hit a couple jumpers in Game 6 -- and it was wise for LeBron to get Bosh involved late in a blowout game to give him confidence. People who said that Miami hadn't missed Bosh during his nine-game absence were totally wrong. I mentioned this statement in my recap to Game 6, but it's worth repeating. Which other Heat big man can convert on a lob pass with consistency, as Bosh did once in Game 6?
Surya Fernandez: Losing their third best player and an All-Star was a huge blow to the Heat's system. Just his physical presence in the paint on defense alone has made an impact on several key Celtics possessions. Combine that with a few midrange jumpers, rebounds in traffic, and effective picks that he's set to free up LeBron and Wade. Even with him shaking the rust off, his return has the Heat playing more to their usual standards and that's because Bosh's versatility gives the team another weapon in their arsenal but just as importantly means the Celtics defense can't just zero in on Wade and LeBron as the Heat's only legitimate and consistent scoring threats.
5) Putting aside LeBron's masterful performance, what was the next biggest factor that contributed to the blowout?
DIego Quezada: The Celtics certainly helped Miami out, but the Heat's defense worked well. Rajon Rondo seemed to come into the game expecting a win and showboated a bit too much. He had seven turnovers -- including one unnecessary behind-the-back pass that sailed out of bounds -- and even tried to do a few knuckle push-ups. Paul Pierce also missed a few open 3s. But I liked Miami's defense even while ignoring LeBron's contributions on that end (he did defend multiple players throughout the night). Erik Spoelstra put Wade on Rondo and Chalmers on Allen for the vast majority of the game. Spo had gone to it at times, but not as much as he did in Game 6. Allen didn't have a good game, and Rondo had only two points after halftime. But more importantly, the Heat managed to force Garnett into having his worst game of the series. He did get one alley-oop, but the Heat did deflect a couple of those entry passes. He didn't have nearly as much success at the rim as he's had in the past. But in fairness to KG, he did miss a few open 18-footers.
Surya Fernandez: The Heat's overall aggressiveness and energy to win those 50/50 balls, force turnovers and grab rebounds in traffic. During the Celtics' run, they were the ones doing that and were able to either withstand Heat runs because of it. With games ending so closely, those were the types of plays that shifted momentum, added extra points and controlled the pace of the game in favor of the Celtics.
David Dwork: Miami's defense was very strong in Game 6, keeping the Celtics off balance and forcing them to take a lot of contested shots. There were no easy baskets for Boston, and if they weren't trying to shoot with a hand in their face then they were being met at the rim by one or two Heat defenders. That's the kind of defense that Miami hung their hat on throughout the season and that's the kind of defense that will get them back to the NBA Finals.