Tag:Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Posted on: May 14, 2011 7:34 pm
Edited on: May 14, 2011 8:58 pm

What's at Stake: Dwyane Wade

What's at stake for Dwyane Wade in the Eastern Conference Finals?

Posted by Matt Moore

It was easier for Dwyane Wade, for his peace of mind, at least. A championship in your third season takes the pressure off of your Build-A-Legacy workshop. The only problem is it robs the player of blissful ignorance. Dwyane Wade has suffered through the past five seasons having tasted championship champagne and never sipping it again. The pressure of watching your career unwind without that ring is greater, LeBron will be the first to tell you that, Garnett's the one who taught it to him.

But Wade remains driven by the memories of 2006, determined not to rest on his laurels. For Wade, this championship drive is deeply personal, but it's not because of some pre-ordained self-concept as is the case with LeBron James. James is incomplete without a title, his self-image not hollow as so many of his critics claim, but incomplete, as if half his face is missing. Wade does not approach winning as a badge to be earned, part of his fashion statement. It's inherent. Wade reflects Kobe Bryant in that regard, the drive a part of his makeup. The difference being that Bryant would never deign to allow a superstar equal in caliber. Things have to be done on his terms. That's Bryant's makeup. Wade's, on the other hand, is to win regardless of ego, within acceptable boundaries. He ceded iconic status to Shaq. He considered joining Rose's Bulls (and though from Chicago and a substantially larger star, refers to Chicago as "Rose's city"). Wade not only accepted but recruited James to join his team, to become the face of the franchise he'd taken to their first title. Wade's ego is considerable, but he manages to shape it around whatever situation is best for him. 

Eastern Conference Finals: Heat vs. Bulls
For Wade, the fashion and lifestyle is a significant part of his life, but he's always been driven by winning, career wise. Wade's never complained much about his exclusion from MVP consideration. The 2008 season was murder on him, watching his team fall apart while he had to sit by injured. Missing out on Rose was the icing on the cake. Wade suffered through two more seasons, trying to grow Michael Beasley and Mario Chalmers. But his patience didn't allow for it. For all the talk of how players should try and "do it themselves," Wade can speak to the frustration of not having the roster to contend, and the experience of getting swept from the playoff seas by superior teams, like the Celtics.

Wade was central to this plan, to put together the Triad. Rumors put he and Pat Riley's machinations back years ago. Wade recruited the other two, sold them on the plan, got them to his city, not Chicago or New York. A failure this season, even with all the promsie of the future, means he sacrificed top billing for nothing. It means he may have been wrong in the plan. That all the criticism, the boos, the hatred, the hits to his popularity, was for nothing. That's a crushing blow, on top of what Wade hates more than anything: losing. 

Wade needs to succeed, but not only that, he has to make his statement known as far as his involvement. If Bosh steps up, it's about how Bosh surprised everyone. If it's James, well, that's a whole other set of issues. Wade has to succeed and yet somehow impress everyone. That's what this series is about. It's going to be difficult for him, heading into his hometown to ruin their hopes. Well, okay, no it won't. Wade knows this is a business. He's got his guys, they've got theirs. 

Wade has quietly had a stunning season, but a quick look at the All-NBA team rosters confirms how he's slipped in James' shadow, despite equal play. Wade needs to rise up beside James, showing their equals. That was the goal when this thing started. Wade has to finish the job, or his latter career will start to override the shine of that ring he received in that third year.
Posted on: May 14, 2011 2:48 am
Edited on: May 14, 2011 7:04 am

Eastern Conference Finals Storylines

As the Heat and Bulls collide in the Eastern Conference Finals, we set the table for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, and the rest. 

Posted by Matt Moore

The Bulls and Heat begin a hugely anticipated series on Sunday. It's full of drama, moreso than the usual ECF, what with the MVP and the Triad and Thibs and the Jordan legacy and everything else. Here then, are the top storylines of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls. 

The Line: Talent vs. Teamwork

The Story: Sounds absurd, but consider how the Heat won the Celtics series. LeBron James drove on several occassions, but he also hit a barrage of 3-pointers, heavily contested.  Dwyane Wade hit ridiculous Dwyane-Wade-shot after ridiculous Dwyane-Wade-shot. The Heat finished off the reigning Eastern Conference Champs, the big bad boogeyman Celtics, in five games, despite not really getting contributions outside of the Big 3 from anyone past James Jones' 20-point Game 1. So there's a narrative starting to take shape that echoes a version of what was discussed in preseason when the Triad got together. Are the Heat really just that much better than everyone else, even if they're not an all-time team in terms of record? That's been the trend. The Heat really are living and dying by the virtue of their superior talent. That's the big clash in this series, because even with Rose, the Bulls represent a more collective team effort.

Is an overload of talent able to overcome a complete team, if the elite team commits to defense? Or is the complete team a more solid option because it's about the collective? The Heat aren't about one guy doing it all, they're about two guys doing it all and a third guy doing a lot, and a few other guys doing a little. Which, when you think about it, has actually been a fair model throughout the NBA considering all the 1a-1b duos we've seen. But it still feels like an abandonment of our principles that say it should be a team "15 strong"... you know, the motto of the 2006 NBA championship Heat. So this series, for all its overblown "good vs. evil" parallels, does have one point where it reflects a "moral" issue. The complete team vs. the top heavy approach is on display, even with Derrick Rose arguably the single best player and the highest usage player in the series. 

The Line: Is destiny held in the Bulls' season?

The Story: It's funny what six championships can do. The Jordan years taught Chicago, normally a pretty cynical sports city, an entirely new paradigm. We've seen the resurrection of the approach from those halcyon days this year as the Bulls climbed to contention, then domination, of the Eastern Conference.  I likened Bulls fans' belief in the 2011 Bulls to manifest destiny. They believe that as the heralds of the Jordan era, the team possesses a preternatural right to the championship. Rose is merely proof of that destiny. 

So what's the story of the Bulls this season, what prompts that claim to greatness? It follows the script, even if the exact times and elements don't line up. Boozer is surely no Pippen. Rose's first few playoff exits don't reek of the frustration Jordan suffered at the end of the 80's. But it is a star who took the league by storm, not riding pre-ordained hype like LeBron but instead making his own greatness. The youngest MVP in the league, strafed by an all-world defensive system created by a tactical genius and surrounded by shooters. The hometown kid takes the MVP, the top seed in the East, and eventually the championship. Isn't that how the dream's supposed to end? If anything's going to strike that spark of magnificence driven by imagination, it's this tale in the Windy City.

The Line:  Tom Thibodeau: the real Lebron-stopper

The Story: Boston failed. But then, was it really the same Boston who shut down LeBron James for three years (twice in the playoffs)? Doc Rivers is a great coach, but the defensive system has long been considered the work of Tom Thibodeau, who took his talents to Chicago and made them the best defense in the league. So did James really chase away any demons that had pursued him, or did different ghosts merely don the same costumes?

The elements that shut down James against Boston in years past are easily recognizable in Chicago.  James will clear the pick and roll and find two defenders cutting off his driving lane with a third covering the roll man. They'll bump him coming around screens enough for the weakside big to rotate. They'll challenge his dribble, challenge his passes, and focus on preventing him from getting to the rim. Thing is, the Celtics did a lot of that in their series against James, and he simply executed beyond them. James' jumper has gotten good enough to where it can force the Bulls out of their comfort zones. When that happens, cutters happen. 

Tom Thibodeau has orchestrated the best defense in the league for years. Instead of Rose vs. James, it's really Thibodeau vs. James we should be watching.

The Line: Which defense will have more impact? 

The Story: The Heat's defense is terrific. It's aggressive, athletic, sound, and consistent. It's just not as good as Chicago's. Chicago is able to make any game into a wrestling match in a trash dumpster. It's principles are flawless, the execution superb, and more important, consistent as clockwork. But this series really boils down to this question:

Will the Heat's great-not-best defense do more damage to Chicago's good-not-great offense than Chicago's best defense will do to Miami's great offense?

Chicago's offense can seem very strong. When Carlos Boozer is working off-ball, Rose is in rare form, Joakim Noah is taking opponents off the dribble, and Kyle Korver and Keith Bogans are nailing 3-pointers, they're a versatile, dynamic, balanced attack. They produce enough offensive rebounds to negate their inefficiency, an advantage that won't disappear against the Heat in all likelihood. But when the pieces don't come together, even when Rose is hot to trot, the total product can be less than impressive. The Bulls were 11th in offensive efficiency. When things aren't clicking, the whole orchestra's out of whack. Against a Miami defense that can shut down an opponent in their own right, the Bulls' offense could freeze solid. 

Compare that with the Heat's offense which is driven by players you can count on. As goos as the Chicago defense is, can it shut down Miami, who don't need open looks to create points? This balancing act will decide the series. The Bulls' defense doesn't need to be perfect, if they can get some production on offense. If not, then their defense and Rose will have to carry them, as they have all season. 

The Line: Is Derrick Rose ready?

The Story: Yes. Next Story. 

The Line: Who's the Underdog?

The Story: It's a fascinating question. All of our experts picked the Heat. Vegas has the Bulls. The majority of people are picking the Bulls, but saying they're picking the underdog. The Heat have the Triad. Chicago has the MVP. There's massive hype on both sides. Both teams will likely play with a chip on their shoulder. Trying to decipher who is really the one facing the bigger challenge is nearly impossible.  This is just two great teams meeting on even ground, with a slight advantage for Chicago in homecourt advantage. 

Who's the underdog? No one. Everyone's the favorite. That's what will make this so fun.

The Line: Derrick Rose/LeBron James is the best player in basketball. 

The Story:
This series shouldn't decide it. It's not reasonable for it to. But it's still going to feel like it. Both guys want it. Go get it.
Posted on: May 14, 2011 1:03 am
Edited on: May 14, 2011 9:55 pm

What's At Stake: Carlos Boozer

What's at stake for Chicago Bulls forward Carlos Boozer in the Eastern Conference finals? Posted by Ben Golliver.

The one good thing about having your reputation ruined when the world thinks you double-crossed a blind man during public contract negotiations is that you have nowhere to go but up. Sure, everyone looks at you sideways and cracks jokes at your expense, but the pressure to be perfect and the expectation that you’ll rise to the moment in big situations is lifted. That’s not a trade-off most people would make, but once it happens things could be worse.

That’s been the situation for Chicago Bulls forward Carlos Boozer. For the past four years, Boozer put up solid playoff numbers for the Utah Jazz, teaming up with Deron Williams to advance out of the first round three times. Never really seen as the centerpiece, Boozer nevertheless averaged roughly a 20/12 over his playoff career in Utah, numbers that are mostly forgotten because they came with the help of an elite point guard and, frankly, because they took place for a small market team.    

Eastern Conference Finals: Heat vs. Bulls

After joining the Bulls this past summer, Boozer got a taste of the big-city spotlight and it hasn’t gone over perfectly. He broke his hand mysteriously before the season, forcing him to miss 20 games, and has battled turf toe during the playoffs. His playoff numbers scoring number is way down – he’s averaging just 11.8 points per game while playing roughly the same number of minutes as he did during the regular season. Despite the fact that he continues to keep his rebounding near double figures, he’s a running punch line and punching bag for Bulls fans, who obviously expected more from their $80 million man.

Whether he actually views it this way or not, Boozer should approach the Eastern Conference finals as if he has nothing to lose. If the Bulls are eliminated he will be at or near the top of the scapegoat list regardless of how he plays. That much has already been cemented. Should the Bulls win, however, he’s got a chance to soak in some of the Derrick Rose media glow sunshine and rehabilitate/recast himself as a hard-working veteran who hung around long enough and played his game long enough to get his shot at a ring. That’s not a bad trade-off.

Even better, Boozer isn’t enough the most highly-paid, disappointing and unreliable power forward in this series. That honor goes to Heat forward Chris Bosh, of course, who will be crucified and buried should Miami not advance. Boozer should have a physicality advantage and he certainly has a more physical frontline surrounding him. Bosh enters the series with a tougher personal assignment given Miami’s thin center rotation and the Chicago’s commitment to hard-nosed defense and rebounding.

So what’s at stake for Boozer here? Given that this is Chicago’s first playoff run together and doubts are already high, he just doesn’t have much to lose. If he throws together a big series, the United Center fans that were booing him earlier during the playoffs will surely rally around him. If not, he was the bad guy anyway.

Posted on: May 13, 2011 8:07 pm
Edited on: May 14, 2011 9:54 pm

What's At Stake: LeBron James

What's at stake for Miami Heat forward LeBron James in the Eastern Conference finals? Posted by Ben Golliver.

What’s at stake for LeBron James in the Eastern Conference finals? Only the world, Chico, and everything in it.

James played two of the best minutes the NBA has ever seen to eliminate the Boston Celtics, stopping only long enough to kneel on the court, to take a moment to appreciate all that he had accomplished in overcoming his bitter rivals. The only problem, of course, is that he is still just halfway to a title. Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls are capable of evaporating everything James has earned in the past 48 hours – confidence, peace of mind, a feeling of accomplishment, validation for his decision to leave Cleveland, a rush of popularity – by defeating the Heat. If James doesn’t emerge from this summer with a ring, he’ll be back at square one, hearing the same old boos and answering the same old questions he dealt with all season long.

This all-or-nothing conundrum probably isn’t fair to James but he should be used to it by now. He has demanded attention since he was in high school. He has ascended to the pinnacle of his sport, the undisputed best all-around player in the NBA. He’s even made it to the Finals before. None of that has mattered to his critics. And, we came to find out last summer, to him either.

Winning his first championship -- with others to follow -- was his stated goal. He’s reiterated multiple times over the past week that the Celtics helped inspire his decision to team up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. He couldn’t beat Boston alone, he admitted. Securing the best shot to climb the mountain won out over hometown loyalty, the biggest paycheck and any other factors. That’s the narrative he’s crafted, that's the script he's reading from.

Eastern Conference Finals: Heat vs. Bulls

The Heat envision themselves as the future of the NBA, the axis that everyone else spins around, the epicenter of both cool and success, a dynasty in the making. In James' mind, he's the protagonist always.

A loss to the Bulls, then, would amount to an identity crisis. Being beaten by a team with just one All-Star? A team that had won one playoff series in the past 12 seasons combined? It would be not only an embarrassment but also worrisome. Chicago’s core is set in place for the foreseeable future. Their coach is one of the most widely respected in the game. They’re deep, disciplined and hard-working. They’ve got big city cachet and an instant likeability among both casual fans and basketball purists. The Heat would be set back, back to being the villains, back to being the foils. 

Wade already has a ring to console himself. Bosh has admitted to being in a bit over his head already during the playoffs, so he would be able to rationalize away such a loss. Coach Erik Spoelstra has demonstrated an ability to maintain a long-term perspective through adversity, so he’d be alright in the event of a loss too. He would beat himself up but then realize that there are plenty more opportunities ahead. Pat Riley has so much hardware and such a great tan nothing really matters at this point of his career, at least not comparatively.

But James? James would be out of excuses for another year. Left to walk off the court in defeat, his team’s roster-building ability in the hands of the NBA’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement, his reputation as a player that can’t get it done extended for at least another 12 months. Self-doubt would be back in a big way, the team's top-heavy approach would be questioned, he would have to hit the recruiting trail hard, hoping that the league's elder statesmen could be convinced to sign up at the minimum salary to help him win his ring. Would James have the stomach for all that? The patience? The composure?


He’s been the best player in this year’s playoffs, averaging 26.1 points, 9.4 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.3 blocks and 1.3 steals while playing more than 43 minutes a night. He’s been clutch. He’s been steady. He’s even been newly flexible, allowing Wade to carry the load when he has it going. He’s shown an admirable commitment to the boards. His level of focus this year is as laser-like as we’ve ever seen, his intensity the exact opposite of what it was a year ago. 

To imagine all of those things wiped away by four losses, just as the vast majority of his previous playoff heroics have been forgotten because he hasn’t secured a title, is a difficult proposition so soon after the triumph over Boston. But that’s what happens if the Bulls win. The pendulum swings that hard. It's happened before, and it’s inevitable.

This might not be his best shot and it certainly won't be his last shot. But, given the remaining teams left in the field, this is a very, very, very good shot. Once Game 1 tips, he, more than anyone else, will be expected to deliver. 

And that’s why the Eastern Conference finals – and the NBA Finals too -- mean more to James than anyone else. His career, reputation, personality and trajectory are subject to a total redefinition and reevaluation with eight more wins. That's why James has the most at stake. Nobody else is a close second.

Posted on: May 13, 2011 5:17 pm
Edited on: May 13, 2011 9:49 pm

Bulls-Heat Preview: Clash of the you-know-whats

Posted by Royce Young

I. Intro:  No. 2 seed Miami Heat (58-24) vs. No. 1 seed Chicago Bulls (62-20)

I'd say the people are getting what the people wanted. The starpower of the Heat versus the excellence of the Bulls. Dwyane Wade and LeBron James versus the MVP, Derrick Rose. No matter what happens in the West -- not even if the Lakers somehow resurrect themselves and rematch the Mavericks -- the Eastern Conference Finals are the focus.

Really, if you're not giddy about this series, then you're either a Celtics fan or not reading this.

II. What Happened:  A look at the season series

The Bulls took the season series 3-0, but that's a bit deceiving. In one of those games, LeBron didn't play. And in all three, the margin was just a total of eight points in favor of the Bulls. All the games were close, and all came down to the Bulls basically stopping the Heat from executing in crunch time.

III. Secret of the Series: Officiating

Officiating? Seriously? With all the talent and matchups and storylines, that's what you're going with?

Here's the reason: Between Rose, Wade and LeBron, you've got three of the most difficult players to officiate in the league and three guys that can get to the line 15 times in a game. In key moments against the Celtics, Wade was able to get the whistle and get to the line. Will the same thing happen against the physical, rugged Bulls interior defense? And what about Rose? Can he count on getting calls?

These are two of the very best defensive teams in the league. I'd imagine every game will be finished in the 80s, meaning every point is vital. Baskets will be hard to come by, making free throws worth gold. He who gets to the line the most will have the edge.

IV. The Line-Item Veto:  Who wins each match-up?

PG: I'm pretty sure we won't be seeing too much Mike Bibby or Mario Chalmers on Derrick Rose. Most likely Wade gets the call and there's an adjustment for both coaches at shooting guard to try and take advantage. But, regardless, this is where the Bulls trump the Heat in a big way. Rose is far and away more talented than any point guard on the Miami roster and the Heat don't have to guard him. They'll have to adjust, meaning the Bulls have an early upper hand.  Huge advantage, Bulls. 

SG: Keith Bogans is a very good defender. He's physical, strong and can even hit an open 3 if given the opportunity. But, um, Dwyane Wade. There's no contest here. Bogans will do a good job at times checking Wade, but like the Rose matchup, this is a big edge for Miami. Huge advantage, Heat.

SF: We're talking the best small forward in basketball versus a solid role starter. LeBron is much better than Luol Deng, but I'm not afraid to say this is actually a semi-close matchup. Deng has the length, size and strength to hang with LeBron. The easy jumper won't be there when he wants it and Deng's long arms will test LeBron's ball-handling. Obviously LeBron is better, but Deng can guard him. Advantage, Heat.

PF: Already, Carlos Boozer is talking some smack, and saying the Heat only have a Big Two. You'd think that would be motivation for Chris Bosh but, at this point, with all that's been said about him, I'm not even sure Bosh cares. Heck, he admitted it himself not long ago. But this is probably the most intriguing matchup and maybe where the series lies. Two underachieving, yet very talented power forwards that need to provide secondary scoring to help their stars. Who gets the best of it? I have no idea. That's why I'm copping out and saying it's a push.  

C: Bascially what you have here is a high-energy rebounding and defensive-minded center versus a lesser version of himself. Joakim Noah is just a much, much better version of Joel Anthony. Advantage, Bulls.

Bench: Against the Hawks, the Bulls proved that their second unit may be the best in basketball. Taj Gibson came up big. Omer Asik's pick-and-roll defense was tremendous. Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, Kurt Thomas and C.J. Watson all gave decent minutes. The Heat on the other hand, don't have much off their pine. Mike Miller is OK, Eddie House is hot and cold, their backup big guys are very meh, and there isn't much offense coming from the bench. Huge advantage, Bulls.  

Coach: I think the coaches are going to play a larger role in this series than one might think. Just deciphering the matchups and figuring out how to counter a move by the other guy will be big. What does Tom Thibodeau do if Wade guards Rose? Does Erik Spoelstra even put Wade on Rose? How does Spoelstra use his bench? Both guys are smart, but young and inexperienced coaches. I don't think either is going to win a game for their team this series, but they could certainly lose one. I just don't know which guy it'll be, so I'm saying push.

V. Conclusion

What we saw from the Heat during the regular season was that, at times, they looked like a machine that was darn near unbeatable. Then, at other times, they were as vulnerable as any team in the league. They had a hard time staying consistent and, thus far in the postseason, they've done so. In late game situations, they've executed.

But the Bulls were a team that gave them major problems during the season. The way Chicago defends, the way the Bulls limit second chance points and the way Rose can dominate, make this a tough matchup. That said, something came out in the Heat during that Celtics series. They looked ready, focused and determined. The Bulls are no doubt prepared for this, but it's two great players against one. And two almost always is better than one. Heat in seven.
Posted on: May 13, 2011 3:18 pm
Edited on: May 13, 2011 4:54 pm

Boozer: Heat have 'two great players'

Posted by Matt Moore


So that's Carlos Boozer, saying what a lot of people think: the Heat have two great players, not three. He specifically calls out LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, obviously, leaving out Chris Bosh. So that's some nice subtle trash talk, even if it was unintentional.  And as far as it being unintentional? That's unlikely, given the amount of attention all three receive. 

Most people will agree with Boozer, after what we saw in the regular season. But it should be noted that Boozer's catching Bosh coming after a strong performance in both the first and second rounds. Kevin Garnett dominated him in one game, but Bosh got the better of Garnett in the others, and even had a few key strong plays at the rim, including a block and a dunk. It's almost like Bosh is playing like a power forward again.

The matchup between Boozer and Bosh is going to be pivotal in the Eastern Conference Finals. Both players have had their effectiveness questioned. Boozer had a strong Game 6 for Chicago vs. Atlanta, but other than that, has been a no-show in the playoffs, and his defensive liabilities have been spotlighted even more strongly. The Bulls' collective team defense is exceptionally strong, but teams have found if you put Boozer on an island, you can go around, over, and through Boozer pretty easily. Fortunately for the Bulls, they'll have Noah guarding Bosh and limit Boozer's liability by having him guard Joel Anthony. The same weakness was thought of Bosh entering the playoffs, but his part in stepping up for the Heat has been substantial in their ability to hit the next level.

This is the matchup that will probably decide the series. Boozer has already made a statement, obvious or not, of what he thinks of the player he'll be going against.  Now we just need Bosh to say the Bulls only have one great player, and we're set. 

This is going to be fun.

(Via the Miami Herald on Twitter.) 
Posted on: May 12, 2011 1:50 am
Edited on: May 12, 2011 2:42 am

Series Grades: Heat defeat Celtics 4-1

Grades for the Heat and Celtics after the Heat's 4-1 series win to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. 

Posted by Matt Moore

The biggest series of the playoffs is over, and the juggernaut created by "The Decision" in free agency 2010 downed the UBUNTU machine. Grades seem like they don't do this series justice, but we've got to get some perspective. 

Miami Heat:

LeBron James: If the 2007 series against the Detroit Pistons was when LeBron James truly announced to the world that he had arrived, the 2011 series against the Celtics may have been the one where he showed how much he's learned. It wasn't the mos impressive series from a statistical standpoint, but the way James closed, especially Game 5, makes it feel like it. James didn't hog the ball, didn't go ISO too much, hit big shots, worked with his teammates, and became the emotional leader the Heat needed him to be. He had a rough Game 3, but responded to close out the Celtis. And, oh, yeah, this time no one will say he quit in a Game 5. 

Grade: A- 

Dwyane Wade: Wade struggled in the playoffs last year, and especially this regular season versus the Celtics. They were a plague on the game of his house. But in this series, Wade wiped it all away. Never scoring fewer than 23 points, Wade was a beast. He dominated Game 1 and Game 5. His Game 5 was particularly brilliant. For three quarters, LeBron James couldn't get his scoring on track. Wade kept the Heat in it with timely play and amazing score after amazing score. He blocked Kevin Garnett. He made a wild reverse over his head for the and-one. He did everything you need your franchise player to do and eventually contained Ray Allen. LeBron James may have won the game for the Heat, but Dwyane Wade put him in a position to do so. 

Grade: A+

Chris Bosh: Is this the series where Chris Bosh starts to make himself into a known player? Before the series, I was dangerously close to writing a post called Shark Bait: Chris Bosh and detailing all the ways Kevin Garnett would destroy him. After a surprisingly strong Game 4, Garnett came out swinging in Game 5. Bosh looked overrun, again. Bosh finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds, one point less than Garnett and tied in boards. He made huge plays, kept the ball alive, and hit a few open looks. It wasn't a great series from Bosh, but he definitively wasn't the weakpoint. He was good enough to get the Heat a win.

Grade: B-

Heat supporting cast: This series proved that you really can beat the Celtics with three guys. Mario Chalmers didn't play consistently enough to get time, Mike Bibby continued his disappointing play, Mike Miller still couldn't hit a barn door with a shotgun, Joel Anthony had a few nice moments but also dropped passes and failed to capitalize on opportunities, James Jones had a hot start but then faded back into the background (though his 3-pointer in Game 5 was huge). There's a million ways we could call into question if the Heat can win with getting such little support from the rest of their players... but they just beat the Celtics.

Grade: C (passing only in that they did not prevent the Heat from winning)

Heat defeat Celtics 4-1
Erik Spoelstra: Spoelstra's insistence on giving minutes to Bibby over Chalmers, and Ilgauskas over Anthony continues to perplex. It's one thing for the starters, but post-half, the Heat kept getting out in sluggish starts and having to overcome them. Spoelstra does get credit for keeping the Heat's focus and getting them to stay together and play to the end, but with how much the Triad run things, it's hard to see him getting the majority of the credit. But beyond the offense, Spoelstra does get credit for the Heat's defense, and that's what was the backbone of the series win.

Grade: B-

Miami fans: In the name of all that chants "D-Fence," are you going to show up at any point, South Beach? You're embarrassing us as sports fans at this point. Go to the game, already!

Grade: F-

Boston Celtics

Rajon Rondo: Rondo played through the dislocated arm. Rondo wasn't playing terrific prior to that. Rondo made huge plays with that busted wing. Rondo was also such a defensive liability that he had to be benched at the end of games due to the injury. Rondo's no-show in the first two games helped put Boston in an inescapable hole. Rondo's effort in Games 3, 4, and 5 was good enough that if healthy, you could have seen the Celtics taking the series lead, let alone avoiding a gentleman's sweep. We'll never know what Rondo would have been like if he hadn't been injured. But based on what we saw, we got all sides of Rondo, the good and the bad. 

Grade: B

Kevin Garnett: Garnett was owned in three and a half games of this series. He had a brilliant Game 3, but never really established himself against Bosh as he should have. He came out gangbusters in Game 5, determined to make his mark. Then he completely vanished after the first quarter. Garnett had to take over in order to keep his legacy as an impact player alive. He didn't. And now he's headed home, with people struggling to understand how Chris Bosh outplayed the great Kevin Garnett. He probably yelled a lot, too.

Grade: D

Paul Pierce: If any player showed his age in this series, it was Pierce. Pierce continually tried to put the team on his back, and continually found himself being outdueled by James. He put the effort in, but the ability just wasn't there. Turnovers were a huge problem. He scored under 20 points three times in the series. The Celtics needed a hero. They got the Half-Truth. 

Grade: B-

Ray Allen: Allen clearly had significant problems with communicating with Rondo in the second half of this season, and the problems only increased in this series.  Allen would go long stretches getting no shots, then heat up, then disappear. Allen finally warmed up in Game 5. He was the one Celtic to really go down swinging, but Dwyane Wade's defense was just too much for him.

Grade: B+

Glen Davis: Glen Davis was a sixth man of the year candidate for much of the season. He was an outright disaster versus the Heat. He rarely drew charges, bobbled passes, too often settled for his jumper, failed to commit defensively, and didn't finish at the rim. All the Celtics lost on this series. Bug given Davis' free agency status, he may have lost more.

Grade: D-

Jeff Green: Hey, nine points and three rebounds in 23 minutes! That's pretty good! ... Okay, yeah, Green had two huge turnovers at the end of the game and was a huge reason the Celtics fell apart down the stretch. Green is destined to be ruined by the scrutiny of the Kendrick Perkins trade. Which is a shame, because he shouldn't have been asked to take on the responsibility of being the next great Celtics this early, at midseason. But them's the breaks. And it broke bad for Jeff Green. 

Grade: D-

Celtics supporting cast: The Celtics' supporting cast wasn't terrible. It really wasn't. It played fine. But no one stepped up enough to make an impact except Delonte West, who inevitably tried to to do too much eventually. 

Grade: C

Doc Rivers: You can't coach your players younger. Rivers made smart adjustments, tried different players, different rotations, the works. Rivers did his job. There just wasn't any way to coach this team up to where it needed to be. 

Grade: B

Danny Ainge: Sorry, Danny. Trading Perkins may have been right for the future financials of the Celtics. Green's future may be bright. But you traded Perkins, the heart and soul of the Celtics, and though he may not have helped at all versus the Heat, we'll never know. That's how history is judged, unfortunately. 

Grade: D-
Posted on: May 11, 2011 11:15 pm
Edited on: May 12, 2011 2:43 am

LeBron James apologizes for "The Decision"

LeBron James apologizes for the way "The Decision" went down.

Posted by Matt Moore

In his post-game comments following the Heat's 97-87 win over the Celtics to win their series 4-1, LeBron James apologized for the way "The Decision" want down.  James told reporters that he was sorry for how the one-hour special occurred, but felt that teaming up with Bosh and Wade in Miami was necessary to get past the Celtics. As CBSSports.com's Ken Berger reports, James told reporters:
"I knew I had to go through Boston at some point. I went through a lot signing to be here and the way it panned out. I apologize for the way it happened, but I knew that this opportunity was once in a lifetime."
James will continue to receive condemnation over the event, for his attitude, approach, and behavior. But after the game, he spoke candidly to TNT's Craig Sager about how much of a demon the Celtics represented to him:
"First of all thanks to the Boston Celtics, coach Rivers, that coaching staff, those player, they make you fight for everything. You can never take a second off. "
James was tortured by the Celtics, who swooped in after his 2007 Finals run and took over the Eastern Conference. Their own version of the Big 3 raised the bar for rosters, leaving James frustrated with how his Cavaliers team compared. Right or wrong, James felt compelled to raise the talent around to him to a higher level. He did so, and on Tuesday night, that decision, "The Decision" proved to be the right one for his career agenda. 

How he did it was wrong. It was always wrong, and somewhere inside him, James knew that, despite refusing to apologize for it in Cleveland earlier this year. It may seem easy to apologize now that he's made the Conference Finals and gotten past the Celtics, but for someone who has made so many P.R. gaffes over the last year, it's a step in the right direction, this humilty. This is the LeBron James Reclamation Project now. It started with beating the Celitcs in Miami.  It will only truly end with a championship ring.
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