Peninsula is Mightier/Hot Hot Hoops bloggers Mnelik Belilgne and Diego Quezada answered a few questions about how the Miami Heat fell into this 3-2 series hole and how the NBA's most loathed team can come back.
1. What went wrong in this series and what can the Heat do to win it?
Mnelik Belilgne: Continuous offensive and defensive lapses and a lack of mental focus. The Miami Heat must play with the type of dominating defensive energy and passion that they display only sparingly. Fortunately for the Heat, Chris Bosh is back and must play an integral part of the offense. The Celtics have no answer for Bosh and his presence physically and emotionally take the Heat to another level.
Diego Quezada: The Celtics put Miami in deep holes in Games 3 and 4. Of course, the Heat had chances in Game 4 to win the game in regulation and overtime, but the Heat expended a lot of energy to get back in that game and couldn't quite get over the hump. To some degree, the Heat did this in Game 2. Miami went on a huge run in the third to take the lead, but the Celtics recaptured the lead later in the fourth. Fortunately, the Heat were able to come back and win the game. Unless the series is 3-0, Game 4 is crucial because it decides whether a series is 2-2 or 3-1. If the Heat simply played defense in the first half, perhaps no one would have discussed LeBron James and Dwyane Wade missing shots to win the game. In Game 5, the Heat had a six-point lead midway through the fourth before some broken plays led Mickael Pietrus to get a couple 3s. Udonis Haslem's missed late free-throw to tie the game was huge, as Paul Pierce made a 3 seconds later to turn it into a two-possession game.
The Heat need to commit themselves to defense to win this series. Miami had a lot of defensive lapses that gave away crucial points in a tight game -- i.e. Garnett's open lane to the rim that got him a dunk. If Miami can turn Boston into the bad offensive team it was during the second round and in Game 1 of the conference finals, the Heat should have little trouble winning Game 6.
Surya Fernandez: The Heat have dug themselves into a 2-3 series hole through a combination of factors starting with the fact that the Celtics have hit their stride and are playing their best basketball in the postseason with no sign of wearing down. Lingering injuries that slowed Paul Pierce and Ray Allen in earlier rounds don't appear to be an issue anymore while Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo have been unstoppable working together and on their own. The Heat's defense has been up and down throughout the series, able to put pressure at times on their jump shooters but they still haven't found an answer to Garnett's domination around the rim after he catches those deadly lob passes that sail over Joel Anthony, Udonis Haslem or any other undersized player the Heat throw out there.
On the other end of the floor, Erik Spoelstra seems to have been outcoached so far by Doc Rivers because he still hasn't devised a proper scheme to get Dwyane Wade better looks at the rim like he enjoyed against the Indiana Pacers and the offense overall has pretty much consisted of passing the ball around and simply waiting for the ballhandler to do something with it. This in turn makes the Celtics' defense easy to predict what's to come. Inconsistent outside shooting from Wade, Shane Battier, Mike Miller and the rest along with atrocious free throw shooting has meant that the Heat simply aren't creating any sort of cushion and they've faltered down the stretch of these close games.
2. What are you general impressions of Chis Bosh's return? Did he look healthy enough to start in Game 6 or should the team use him as a sixth man?
Mnelik Belilgne: Bosh's celebration after his and-1 and dramatic fist pumping indicated perfect health. The Celtics have figured out how to defend the Heat but Chris Bosh completely changes the blueprint. Bosh is Miami's best mid range shooter, and much like Kevin Garnett, will force the defense to rotate outward and ultimately open up the lane for Wade and LeBron.
Surya Fernandez: Bosh moved around pretty well for someone who has done little work on the floor for three weeks and suddenly is thrown into a playoff game. He was much slower than usual, which is to be expected, and was caught off-guard more than once on defensive rotations. However, his length alone was enough to disrupt the Celtics offense in the paint on a few occasions and good for a few rebounds here and there. His shot didn't even look all that rusty. I'm not sold on starting him just yet, but I do think Spoelstra has no choice but to give him more extended minutes off the bench.
Diego Quezada: For a player returning from an injury, he exceeded my expectations. When I heard that his masseuse passed away, I thought he may have really struggled after experiencing a death. He missed all of his jumpers and had a tip-in layup that I would expect him to dunk if fully healthy, but he did help on the glass and had a few points in the paint. On the defensive end, he didn't look that good in terms of mobility. Whether it was Haslem or Bosh, Kevin Garnett had his way. He can start Game 6 and play more than 14 minutes, but I wouldn't expect him to play 40 minutes either.
3. Who is most to blame for losing these tight games: the coaching staff, LeBron, Wade or the supporting players?
Mnelik Belilgne: Dwyane Wade and LeBron James equally. Role players are rarely blamed in close games because it’s the superstars responsibility to carry and lead the team. Spoelstra can’t walk on to the court and make a basket so in the end, LeBron and Wade share the brunt of blame. Both had chances to win and take control of games late and ultimately failed.
Diego Quezada: A combination of factors have contributed to the Heat's losses. One could say that the Heat have only gotten the real Wade for the second halves of these games, and that forces James to carry the load and helps the Celtics. Miami has had moments of really bad defense, but when will the coaching staff figure out the Rondo/Garnett pick-and-roll that seems to always get Garnett an easy score? Pretty much every team uses the pick-and-roll, so there's no reason why it should cause so much damage. Spoelstra should have played Joel Anthony in Game 5 because he is quick and does defend the pick-and-roll well. But then again, someone could say if the Heat simply made their free throws, this series would already be over in favor of Miami. If I had to pick one factor for these losses, I'd say the overall lack of consistent defensive intensity.
Surya Fernandez: It's hard to put more blame on LeBron James since he's doing so much throughout the entire game for the team to keep pace with the Celtics. Wade's slow starts have translated into slow starts for the team but has generally been quite good in the second half. The role players have been very uneven on offense. Spoelstra has clearly been out-coached this entire series by Doc Rivers. So I wouldn't say one factor has been the only one to blame but unfortunately I have to go with LeBron and Wade as the ones that have the most to blame. Unfairly or not (and Bosh's injury doesn't help matters), the team lives and dies by their "superstar" production during crunch time of all of these tight games. They've had their moments but it's all about those final possessions to win the game.
4. Your general impressions of Spoelstra's coaching this series and overall thoughts on his rotations and lineups he's utilized.
Mnelik Belilgne: Up until game 5 I thought Erik Spoelstra was doing a fine job from an X’s and O’s perspective. However his decision to not play Chris Bosh was more bewildering than the 6th offensive foul LeBron received in game 4. Spoelstra’s substitutions were mind boggling and rightfully brought his decision making to the forefront of media criticism. His in game comments to Doris Burke didn’t help matters either: "The Celtics have our minds twisted."
Surya Fernandez: Uneven. Doc Rivers has forced Spoelstra to react to his adjustments, whether it's using the zone to slow down the Heat's offense or using Garnett masterfully to get solid position in the paint. Certain line-ups have begged the question: "So who's going to score?" He tried to push the tempo on the Celtics like they did against the Pacers and that was quickly abandoned once the Celtics figured it out and started scoring on easy baskets themselves. He hasn't been a total disaster of course and has been doing a great coaching job all season long, but I'm still waiting for him to make the necessary adjustments to get the Heat's offense a more dynamic feel instead of each player with the ball taking turns to try to come up with a play.
Diego Quezada: In terms of rotations, it's a mixed bag. As I said, Anthony, the team's best pick-and-roll defender, should have played in Game 5. Spoelstra also said after Game 4 that Mike Miller could have played in the second half, but I don't know why he wasn't even out there when the Heat needed a 3-pointer. On the other hand, I've liked his decision to go with Norris Cole. He's provided some quality minutes and seems to have come a long way in terms of his decision-making.
In terms of the coaching, I'd give Spoelstra overall a B. As I've said, the Heat should have found a way to stop Garnett on the pick-and-roll. But I disagree with anyone who says that Doc Rivers has his team executing great ball movement in late-game situations while the Heat run isolation. The biggest shot of Game 5 was Pierce taking a shot with James right there contesting his shot. No movement, no passing. Two Pietrus 3s came off broken plays. Even going back to Ray Allen's 3 in Game 2, Miami had Boston defended well until Wade went for a steal and had the Heat play five-on-four.
5. If you had a time machine to go back in time and meet up with the Heat team while they were preparing for this series, what would be the one thing you would tell them?
Mnelik Belilgne: I would have told them that they can’t let off the gas pedal. As simplistic as it sounds, the Heat have just not played with a sense of urgency and desperation in this series. They displayed their killer instinct against the Pacers, after being down 2-1 but for some reason, seemingly jogged through this series. I would have specifically talked to coach Spoesltra and told him that his calling out of Dwyane Wade against the Pacers was the pivotal reason they won that series. If Wade or Lebron tinker off or do not give maximum effort, he must get in their faces and demand more because accountability leads to success.
Diego Quezada: "Commit yourselves to the defensive end. Don't let the Celtics score points early after missed or made shots."
Surya Fernandez: "Ignore the chatter that the Celtics are old and done with and play each game like it's your last game of the season. Because that just might happen if you don't make your free throws or your three-pointers and you fail to consistently defend with a sense of urgency."