BOSTON – And just like that, the Heat’s advantage in the East finals has disappeared, right along with their playbook and late-game execution.
Miami had a chance to beat the Celtics both at the end of regulation and overtime, with the two players they wanted in those situations. But not the result they hoped for. Here’s the sequence that doomed Miami in a 93-91 Game 4 loss that evened the series 2-2:
Regulation: With 21 seconds left in a tie game, the ball winds up in the hands of LeBron James, which isn’t such a bad thing even with his overblown “history” (circa June 2011, vs. Mavericks) of coming up short in the fourth quarter. But the final shot is ultimately taken by Udonis Haslem, and not a good one at that. Airball. It wasn’t the first time James passed off late to Haslem for a miss.
“I was one-on-one until KG (Kevin Garnett) decided to double,” explained James. “I saw UD circling underneath. KG got a hand on my wrist when I tried to make the pass to UD and we didn’t get off a good look. Hopefully we can execute a little better in late-game situations like that next time.”
Overtime: Now down two points after a Rajon Rondo free throw, the Heat own the final possession. Dwyane Wade is guarded at first by Rondo, then after a screen is isolated on Marquis Daniels. Wade gives Daniels a pump-fake and has a clean look at a three-pointer that hits the back iron.
“That’s a 50-50 shot when it goes up,” said Wade. “I’d do it all over again.”
Was it questionable play-calling that cost Miami in those situations, or great defense by the Celtics, or poor execution by Miami, or all of the above?
Curiously, most of Miami’s late-game strategy boils down to isolation plays for Wade or James. There is very little creativity or surprise coming out of Miami timeouts, and much depends on either player beating his man off the dribble. It’s a safe call, though not necessarily a bold one. For example, given how the Heat run the screen-and-roll almost constantly by using their role players, they almost never have Wade screen for James or vice versa. That would involve both players in the play, with one of them winding up with the ball. It’s a mystery why you never see it.
You could argue that James, at the end of regulation, didn’t react quick enough to the double once the Celtics decided to squeeze him. And also why he looked left for Haslem instead of right toward Wade, who would’ve been the better option. Either way, by dribbling down the clock, James limited his options.
When Wade took the out of bounds pass on the game’s final possession, he never bothered to spot Mario Chalmers, who initially was left wide open for a three-pointer. Obviously, Wade wanted the last shot, and he got a clean look. That’s what you want in that situation. Although it should be pointed out Chalmers (34 percent) is a better three-point shooter than Wade (29 percent), who didn’t score in the final 10 minutes of Game 4. Also, Wade preferred to dribble all the time off the clock instead of going with the first decent shot (Chalmers). Again, Miami took the safe route, letting the superstar decide matters. It just didn’t work.
“We had opportunities slip away,” said Wade. “We have to execute much better down the stretch. We can’t lose games like this.”
Well, they can’t lose two more games like this. Or any other way.