Each game is made up of elements that help formulate the outcome. Monday through Friday, we'll bring you the elements from the previous night's games in our own specialized version of the game recaps. It's not everything that happened, but it's an insight into what led to the results you'll see in the box scores. This is the Game Changer.
THE BIG ONE: IS THERE HOPE FOR THE MIAMI HEAT?Earlier Sunday, I took a look at how the Celtics' 85-82 victory over the Heat had a familiar feel to it, the game playing out as a "same old story" remix of Boston's first two victories against Miami the season.
As much as we all might hope, the Heat aren't going to just fold up shop and cancel the rest of the season because the Celtics continue to stand in their way as a seemingly insurmountable opponent. Instead, Miami will work the spin cycle, focusing on Sunday's positive developments as they head into the All-Star break with the second best record in the East.
Despite their nationally-televised, much-hyped loss on Sunday, there were at least three positive takeaways for the Heat.
First, Chris Bosh got the best of his match-up with Kevin Garnett - both from a scoring and rebounding perspective - a critical component if Miami ever hopes to top Boston. Simply put, each of Miami's Big 3 must play better than their counterpart to overcome Rajon Rondo and the chemistry advantage that Boston possesses because they've played together for so long. Bosh's 24 and 10 to Garnett's 19 and seven earned a respectful backslap from KG as the players left the court. Bosh has rightfully drawn criticism this season for his softness and inability to exert his influence on games this season, but neither of those flaws was an issue tonight, as Bosh stuck a big jumper down the stretch and never flinched from the moment.
Second, the Heat can be proud that they out-rebounded the Celtics while shooting virtually the same percentage from the field. There's a mental hurdle in going against a team with as many big, physical players as Boston, and Miami overcame that nicely, getting big boarding nights from forwards LeBron James (seven rebounds) and Mike Miller (nine rebounds). On the other side, Boston's frontcourt players combined for just five offensive rebounds. Given the makeshift nature of Miami's frontline, these numbers will serve as nice ammunition for the Heat coaching staff if and when a playoff match-up needs to be discussed in the locker room. "Look, guys, you've rebounded with them before, you can do it again." At the very least, we learned on Sunday that the perception of Boston's dominance inside is more pronounced than its actually dominance. (At least as long as Shaquille O'Neal remains out.)
Finally, the Heat can take solace in the fact that Dwyane Wade had a real stinker, scoring just 16 points on 17 shots and committing six turnovers. While Paul Pierce's historically awful shooting night drew most of the headlines, an average night from Wade would have certainly meant a Miami road win. If Wade shows up, things look a lot different. Miami likely would have taken home its ninth straight victory and would be sitting atop the Eastern Conference standings. Over the course of a seven-game series, even against Boston, Wade isn't likely to repeat a performance like that more than once.
Even given all of that, though, you would still much rather be the Celtics waking up on Monday morning rather than the Heat. All the confidence and mental advantages are yours. All the questions and needs for adjustments are Miami's.
GO-GO-GADGET LINES OF THE NIGHT:
Rajon Rondo: 11 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists on five of 10 shooting in 43 minutes in a Boston Celtics home win over the Miami Heat.
- Here's Ken Berger live and direct from Boston, where the Celtics took down the Heat.
- Ray Allen says Michael Jordan texted him after he broke the NBA's all-time 3-point record.
- The latest on the DeMarcus Cousins drama in Sacramento.
- Carmelo Anthony congratulated himself this weekend.
- In case you missed it, the Cleveland Cavaliers finally won!
The Boston Celtics needed to turn things up in the second half against the Miami Heat, and point guard Rajon Rondo led the charge, harrassing Heat forward LeBron James all over the court. Incredible snapshot of two All-Stars sizing each other up.
Western Conference Playoff ChaseDon't look now, but the Western Conference standings are getting pretty insane. Just five games separate the New Orleans Hornets, the fifth seed, and the Phoenix Suns, the 10th seed. To make things even more intriguing, the two biggest wildcards - the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz - are tied for the sixth seed, with their division rivals, the Portland Trail Blazers just a half-game behind. The Nuggets are still in no-man's-land with Carmelo Anthony, the Jazz are dealing with their first coaching change since the Reagan Administration, and the Blazers are, improbably, on a four-game winning streak and expecting to get center Marcus Camby and guard Brandon Roy back within the next few weeks. In other words, we've officially reached the "everyone checks the standings first thing in the morning" stage of the season, and the All-Star break isn't until next weekend.
The real question: Does this flattening affect anyone's strategy in advance of the trade deadline?
It seems to me like more teams than ever rightly feel like they have legit playoff hopes. If that's true, it's reasonable to expect that the sellers will dry up a bit as the teams in the Western Conference's vast second tier would be more inclined not to make a rotation-changing deal, preferring instead to hold down the fort as is.
Additionally, this group is a clear cut below the West's top four, which could also mean that they won't be inclined to make a bold "win now" type move either. Melo obviously remains the biggest wild card, but, at this point, I'm leaning towards this being a relatively quiet trade season out West. The fringe teams would seem to have more motivation to stick with the status quo rather than going for it or blowing it up.