Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, June 6, 2012 at 9:31 AM
The Miami Heat - in its wildest dreams/nightmares - never thought its players would be answering media questions when down three games-to-two after copping the first two games of this NBA Eastern Conference Finals series against the "aging" Boston Celtics.
So, you can forgive 'em for appearing a bit out of sorts following last night's 94-90 loss in a pivotal Game 5 bash in Miami - but now the $64,000 question is can the Heat right itself in time for Game 6 tomorrow night in Beantown?
Okay, so we'll have a lengthy Eastern Conference Finals Game 6 preview comin' your way in our next Jim Sez column but let's examine what was truly disturbing about Miami's home playoff loss last night:
For starters, there was zero defensive intensity as the Celtics - albeit far from an efficient team last night on the offensive end (see just 40.7 percent FG shooting on 33-of-81 made field goals) - were able to hit wide-open shooters with passes, deflections and tips in their general direction (especially in the fourth quarter) and rarely was there a Heat player offering much resistance whether Boston was shooting out on the perimeter or in the painted area;
Next, we've been telling you along during these NBA Playoffs that Miami's inability to strike it rich from downtown was gonna catch up with 'em and Exhibit A was last night when the Heat shot a woeful 7-of-26 from beyond the arc and note that included the starting five going 5-of-17 from triple land ... just awful;
Finally, how do you not win a playoff game when you sport a sizeable rebound advantage (see 49-to-39, you take 11 more treys (see 26-to-15) and you hold the likes of Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to a composite 11-of-43 shooting from the floor?
Simply put, the Heat lost most of those "50-50" balls last night and they didn't defend Mickael Pietrus (pair of monstrous three-pointers late in the game) and they never did knock Kevin Garnett around all that much for a 36-year-old who finished up with 26 points and 11 rebs in 36 action-packed minutes.
No one here is claiming that Miami's LeBron James and/or Dwyane Wade "choked" in Game 5 despite some of those post-game rumblings on ESPN (they did combine for 57 points, you know!) but aside from a James triple late and a swirling move-and-hoop by Wade there were times you got the sense that neither one of these guys were all that anxious to take the game on their shoulders. The Chris Bosh "experiment" to have him play 14 minutes off the bench was no big deal either way - although some folks thought Bosh's mere size at nearly seven feet could have effected Garnett's air space but under-siege Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra didn't think it "fair" for Bosh to play the clutch late-game minutes.
Think it's all hands-on-deck now, Heat?
Whatta mess you've created, Miami - now we'll come up with some Game 6 strategy for both sides in tomorrow's Jim Sez.
WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
#1 SAN ANTONIO at #2 OKLAHOMA CITY - Thunder leads series 3-2; Game 6 is tonight at 9:00 p.m. ET
You all know the deal with this year's San Antonio Spurs: For the longest time they just couldn't lose (see 20-game winning streak that bridged the regular season and these playoffs) - and now they cannot buy a win.
Okay, so the critics were howling after the other night's 108-103 Game 5 Spurs loss in San Ant when head coach Gregg Popovich inserted Sixth Man star Manu Ginobili into the starting lineup for a slumping Danny Green - but we don't believe for a minute that switcheroo really had all the much to do with the Spurs' getting beaten at home as Ginobili did pour in a game-high 34 points and the West's top seed did shoot a decent 46 percent from the floor (that's 34-of-74 FG makes).
The major problem for San Antonio - losers of three games in the past six days - is that it couldn't make the key stops:
Not only did three-time NBA scoring king Kevin Durant (team-high 27 points in Game 5) make some unbelievable twisting shots but point guard Russell Westbrook (23 points and 12 assists) was too quick for Tony Parker and his Spurs mates on a slew of drives to the rim and what can you say about lefty James Harden who canned a critical triple with 28.8 seconds left that opened up a two-point lead to five points. Harden - who finished Game 5 with 20 points on 11 field-goal tries (he went 3-of-4 from trey-land and 5-of-6 from the free-throw line) - remains the key here 'cause if the Spurs can't get in his grill and slow down his perimeter jumper than all heck's gonna break loose.
How can the Spurs win here and force a winner-take-all Game 7 this Friday night?
Here's three quick-hitter items that must be addressed:
San Antonio must turn PG Parker loose from the get-go here and bang into his head that he was be a distributor as well as a scorer - there's no reason Parker should finish a game with only four assists (see Game 5 when he also had 5 of SA's 21 turnovers) and so look for crisp ball movement beginning with Parker (or else!);
Secondly, it's no secret that NBA road teams need an "energy guy" off the bench as Oklahoma City had with G Daequan Cook (8 points in just 4 minutes in Game 5) the other night and so either veteran Stephen Jackson (13 points in Game 5) or smooth-stroking G Gary Neal (a dreadful oh-for-6 from the floor in Game 5) must put some pep in San Antonio's step here;
Finally, the Thunder - while maturing by leaps and bounds - still have major problems closing out good/quality teams at the end of games - yes, we blame much of this on head coach Scott Brooks who has to get his guys to settle down with the late-game lead - and so the Spurs need to rattle Westbrook, trap the other ball-handlers and force some miscues and frustrate OKC big men Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins with effective pick-n-roll action.
Count the Spurs out just yet? Not so fast, my friends, not so fast!
Here's how the Spurs-Thunder best-of-seven NBA Western Conference Finals series has gone so far:
|5-27||SAN ANTONIO||- 5.5||Oklahoma City||SAN ANTONIO 101-98|
|5-29||SAN ANTONIO||- 4.5||Oklahoma City||SAN ANTONIO 120-111|
|5-31||OKLAHOMA CITY||- 4.5||San Antonio||OKLAHOMA CITY 102-82|
|6-2||OKLAHOMA CITY||- 3.5||San Antonio||OKLAHOMA CITY 109-103|
|6-4||SAN ANTONIO||- 5||Oklahoma City||Oklahoma City 108-103|
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