The Miami Heat’s pursuit of history was nearly derailed in Beantown on Monday night as the Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett-less Celtics turned in an admirable performance against the conference’s top seed.
In the end, a late surge from LeBron James proved too much for the Celtics just as it would for just about any team. Finishing with 37 points and 12 assists, James notched his 33rd double-double of the season on a night that his team had to overcome a 17 point deficit and adapt their game plan as they went along.
That’s what good teams do; adapt. To win an NBA title, a team has to be able absorb an opposing player having an incredible night like Jeff Green did on Monday finishing with 43 points. A championship team has to be able to overcome deficits like the the margin the Heat clawed their way out of on Monday. And most of all, they have to be able to rely players not considered stars to step in and provide some backup with good buckets at key times.
Despite James and his amazing ability, it’s somewhat of an accepted fact that he can’t carry the team by his lonesome in games like Monday in Boston. It’s not a knock on James, just a fact of NBA basketball as even Michael Jordan couldn’t do it on his own, relying on Scottie Pippen and a 20 point per game average during their six championship seasons. Jordan, for all his greatness, didn’t win those championships without crunch time baskets and significant performances from guys like John Paxson and Steve Kerr. Now, we are seeing the Heat take shape to be similar to those Bulls teams in some ways.
(Note: this is not a comparison of James to Jordan or of the modern day Miami Heat to 1990s Chicago Bulls, just a mere observation that Jordan needed help and got it and now James is getting the help he needs. That’s it.)
The Heat have been collecting victories with ease along their historic streak, but this one had all the makings of a playoff outing. Along these 23 games, just more than half have come against non-playoff caliber teams, which partially explains why only five of those games has been decided by five points or less. Of those five victories, however, perhaps none shows the ability of a lesser name making a key contribution for the Heat than this one.
On most nights, James can rely on Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh to help carry the load, but on occasion the depth of the Heat lineup has to shine. On Monday, it was Mario Chalmers chipping in with 21, a contribution no less vital to this victory than he and Shane Battier combining for 30 points in their narrow Feb. 24 victory over Cleveland. It was no less crucial to the team’s success than Chris Anderson and Ray Allen coming together for 22 points and 7 boards in a four point win over Philadelphia last week. But that’s what good teams can do.
While James and his nightly averages and game winning plays impress on a Jordanesque scale, the difference between his teams that couldn’t get over the hump in Cleveland and the Miami teams that appear a shoe in to be heading to their third straight NBA finals is all the little pieces that you put around stars to make a championship team.
On Monday, those pieces arrived with timely buckets, solid defending or an extra rebound when the team needed it. They were all the support the world’s best basketball player needed on the night or has needed over his last 23 nights. That’s why the Miami Heat now own the second longest winning streak in NBA history and that’s why they just may break the 1972 Los Angeles Lakers record win with their next ten wins. Credit James with greatness and a MVP award, but it’s still the Miami Heat that has to bring home the Larry O’Brien trophy and right now, it looks like no one can stop them.