MIAMI — For the sake of this story, we will airbrush Chris Bosh from the picture. Just to make an argument. Nothing personal to Bosh, but the Miami-Boston series is really about a Terrific Two, as in LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. And, as in 2-0, Miami’s lead on Boston.
Their harmony and chemistry really is something to behold. The way they connect on the floor, and their knowledge of each other’s strengths and weaknesses and tendencies makes you surprised that they’ve only played 83 games together (not counting USA Basketball). They appear to be basketball twin brothers.
“Well, we go back, even before this season,” said Wade. “When we played them, I’d go to Cleveland to his house. We got criticized for that. Back in the day, the Lakers didn’t do that. Boston didn’t do that. Well, today, obviously that worked because we’re here together. We started this bond eight years ago.”
They even conduct interviews together, sometimes answering questions meant for the other. That’s not to say Wade and LeBron always connect. They insist they’re not afraid to take issue with each other.
Wade: “He’ll get on me when I’m not doing something right, and I’m not afraid to get on him. When we’re away from the court, we speak conversational. When we’re on the court, sometimes it’s heat of the moment. It’s like a different tone.”
LeBron: “And it’s a different language.”
Let’s just say, however, they understand each other perfectly right now. Wade scored 38 points in the Game 1 win over Boston. LeBron had 35 in Game 2. And it’s not just points. It’s starting and finishing the break, playing defense (LeBron’s block on Kevin Garnett in Game 2 was monster) and setting up teammates.
LeBron and Wade, quite simply, are the best tandem in the postseason right now. The difference between them and others? There’s no leader and sidekick. They work as one. LeBron is averaging 25.4 ppg in the playoffs to Wade’s 25.3 ppg. The rebounding: 9.4 to 7.3, assists 5.4 to 4.9, all impressive given the amount of defensive attention paid to both.
The Terrific Two’s chemistry and dominance is what the Heat had in mind when that whole “Decision” thing went down last summer, writes Yahoo.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski:
Everyone else feared this is how it would play with James and Wade together. Privately, the Celtics prayed they would have one more season until these two stars learned to play without the ball, learned to defend every trip, learned to give of themselves for the greater good of championship basketball.
“That is the vision I had during the free-agent period when I decided to come here,” James said. “It’s all coming together at the right time.”
This has been jarring for the Celtics. The Heat are beating them in the way the Celtics used to beat everyone else: smart, efficient offense in the fourth quarter, with the ball in the hands of their best players; and suffocating, unrelenting defense that takes away an opponent’s best players. The Heat’s will is unmistakable and their belief is brimming. They’re younger, stronger, and they smelled blood in the shimmering green waters on Biscayne Bay.
2. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City: Second to LeBron-Wade on the funky scale. But it’s close. They’re averaging 56 points but don’t create as much defensive chaos as ‘Bron-Wade. After getting happy with the ball in the first round, Westbrook needed to be reminded he’s the Scottie Pippen to Durant’s Michael Jordan in this picture.
But as our own Fran Blinebury points out, the key to the Thunder’s success always seems to lie with Westbrook:
If the youthful Thunder are going to fulfill their forecasted destiny and win a championship or six, it will be the splendid splinter of Kevin Durant who does the heavy lifting with his ethereal moves and sweet shooting touch.But for the Thunder to tip-toe through the minefield that is the NBA playoffs, it is Westbrook who is supposed to lead them along the safe path.
3. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, L.A. Lakers: Their body of work, obviously, is superior, because they’ve got the championships. Something’s missing this spring, however, and the locals have taken notice. As Mark Heisler of the Los Angeles Times points out, are things really OK in L.A.?:
It’s getting very near the end for them, too. . . .
If Kobe Bryant and the act you’ve known for all these years have another title run in them remains to be seen.
Happily for the Lakers, they’re no longer looking at beating any great teams in the West.
Unhappily for the Lakers, they have yet to show they’re better, or as good as, Dallas, Memphis or Oklahoma City now.
Kobe has sent a handful of glares in Gasol’s direction that could melt metal. Maybe it has something to do with Gasol’s 43 percent shooting and seven rebounds a night?
4. Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford, Atlanta: In tense moments of games, there’s no guessing about where the ball’s going on the Hawks. Johnson and Crawford trust each other enough that there’s no tug-of-war. Johnson in particular is making up for sub-par playoff performances in the past, and served notice to the Bulls with 34 points in Game 1. Crawford often takes crazy shots until you notice he tends to make them.
The Johnson-Crawford combo is giving the Hawks the confidence they often lacked in playoffs past. Our main main Michael Wallace of ESPN.com explains:
“We know we can beat any team in this league, regardless if we’re home or away,” Johnson said. “Anything is possible. This playoffs has shown that. It’s probably more pressure on them, considering the fact that we’ve come in here, won Game 1 and really turned the tables as far as home court. All we have to do is come out and play and have fun. So there’s no pressure on us. We’re still the underdogs.”
But these Hawks want to show the league that they have a bit more bite these days than the Atlanta teams that were swept in the conference semifinals each of the past two postseasons.
“We’re more confident because we understand we can take a team’s best punch and come back from that,” guard Jamal Crawford said. “I think last year, when we took a punch, it was over with. Now, we counter from that and get even stronger.”
5. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, Memphis: Nobody brings a more punishing 1-2 inside punch than two players who made Tim Duncan look very old. Without Rudy Gay‘s scoring, Memphis must get the max from two guys averaging 21 rebounds, and certainly more than what they gave in the Game 2 loss to Oklahoma City, writes our good friend Geoff Calkins of The Commercial Appeal:
Everything that went right for the Grizzlies in Game 1 went wrong for them in Game 2, and let us count the ways:
3. Post play: In Game 1, Randolph and Marc Gasol combined for 54 points and 23 rebounds. In Game 2, they combined for 28 points and 19 rebounds.
In many ways, Randolph was the night in miniature, though that could be the wrong word when we’re talking about Zach. After Game 1, everybody was bowing before Randolph. He was finally getting the props he so richly deserves. Kevin Durant called him the best power forward in the league. Randolph — and this may have been his karmic error — said he thought that Durant was right. Then he said that Thunder center Kendrick Perkins can’t guard him, that all he can do is foul.
So what happened? Randolph came out and missed the same sort of fade-away jumper he had made all day long in Game 1. Then he missed a longer jumper, one he probably shouldn’t have taken. He finished just 2 of 13 from the field as the Thunder outscored the Grizzlies in the paint, 38-34.