Posted May 3 2011 11:01PM
MIAMI -- The higher seeds are having their problems in the NBA playoffs, except the team that might be soaring higher than anyone.
They don't give out championships after two games of the conference semifinals. And no team is ever in jeopardy of losing a series until it drops a home game first. But the Heat are taking a 2-0 lead to Boston and you wonder what the Celtics can do, if anything, to draw even or pull ahead, based on the evidence so far.
In summary: Miami's Big Three are playing better than Boston's, which was driven home with authority in the fourth quarter of Game 2 Tuesday night when LeBron James took over from Dwyane Wade and cemented the 102-91 victory.
Yes, too much LeBron and Wade, who combined for 63 points, with a heaping of Chris Bosh thrown in, and Miami is looking like the team to beat not only in this series, but the postseason. So far, we stress.
Just take a close look at the playoff landscape and judge for yourself where the Heat fit. The Bulls were beaten at home by the Hawks, who were 6-18 during the regular season against 50-win teams, and who are without Kirk Hinrich, their best defender for Derrick Rose, the just-minted MVP. And anyway, the Bulls looked less than formidable in their first-round series against Indiana.
The Lakers are down 0-1 to the Mavericks and may get the urge to send out a search party soon for Pau Gasol, now the lesser of the Gasol brothers. That's because Marc helped the Grizzlies surprise Oklahoma City in the opener of that West semifinal, which is weighed in the Thunder's favor, given the Grizzlies are without Rudy Gay, their leading scorer.
As for the Heat? True, they were sloppy against the Sixers. Their first round was hardly inspiring; too many slow starts and gruesome-looking finishes. But two games against the defending East champion Celtics in American Airlines Arena have lacked much suspense or doubt. Miami is the only team in the conference semis not to drop a game at home.
"We're aware of what's going on around the league," James said. "At this stage of the season, everybody's good, and anyone can beat anyone."
Well, the Celtics haven't yet figured out the Heat, especially Miami's defense. Boston shot 37 percent in the first half of Game 2 and never really recovered. A 14-0 run after an 80-80 deadlock with 7:10 left, fueled by LeBron's 12 points, put the Celtics to bed.
"Our mindset in Game 2 is to be desperate," said Wade, prior to tipoff, "that this game is as important as the last."
Celtics coach Doc Rivers: "They've played well. We can't let them play that way in Boston."
• LeBron scored 35 points (14-for-25 shooting), following up the 38 by Wade (14-for-21) in Game 1, giving the Heat the two best players on the floor in this series so far. They've been especially hellish on Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, who are offering little defensive resistance against the quicker Miami players. LeBron played a clean game, with no turnovers in 44 minutes.
"They're going to get points," Rivers said, "but we can't let them be so efficient. If they're taking the shots we want them to take, I can live with that. But it's when they get to the basket, creating fouls, driving and giving guys other shots, that's where it hurts."
Each had a signature play in Game 2: LeBron putting a spin move on a flopping Rajon Rondo for a dunk, while Wade zig-zagged past Garnett for a swoop layup.
"They were terrific and used every bit of their talent for us to win," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Every time (the Celtics) had a run, we had some sort of emotional basket, whether it was a dunk or a big shot. LeBron was physically and emotionally and mentally tough."
• The Celtics look old. They can't catch LeBron and Wade streaking downcourt for baskets. Pierce hardly atoned for his Game 1 ejection, offering a mild 13-point performance and will go to Boston looking to recapture his first-round touch, which was blistering against the Knicks. Just the same, Garnett hasn't looked dominant, getting only six rebounds in Game 2 after managing only two baskets in Game 1.
Allen, Pierce and Rondo all left the game with various ailments, not a good sign for Boston.
"Rondo's back was bothering him," Rivers said. "He asked to come out of the game, said he got tight."
• Jeff Green was productive, getting 11 points off the bench. But unless the Celtics win it all, or at least reach the NBA Finals, there will always be a lingering question: Was the Kendrick Perkins trade helpful or hurtful here in the short term?
The answer in this series so far is a shrug. Jermaine O'Neal, now starting in place of Perkins and Shaquille O'Neal, has been functional through two games and damaged Miami on the offensive glass (five) in Game 2. And did anyone see Perkins with his new team the other night, when the Thunder were destroyed in the paint by Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph? While Perkins was certainly useful for the Celtics, helping them to two trips to the Finals, he was never an All-Star and did have his flaws.
Still, the Celtics traded a starter for a backup, a big man for an undersized power forward, a player who was making an impact now versus a player whose time is tomorrow. Maybe the Celtics wouldn't have been able to sign Perkins in the offseason, but they're built to win now and worry about tomorrow well, tomorrow.
• Next up is Game 3 at TD Garden, where the Heat played the Celtics tight, losing by eight points in the season opener and then by three right before the All-Star break. The atmosphere at the Garden will be more of what Miami endured all season, to the point the Heat are immune to the poison.
"When we go on the road and don't hear boos," Bosh said, "that's when we'll lose focus."
• Pierce left the game briefly in the first quarter with what was announced as a sprained left foot, which didn't appear to affect him initially. And with three days' rest, the Celtics don't expect it to be a problem. But Pierce had left foot issues during the season.
"The rest for us is good," Rivers said, "because we're a little banged up. But we'll be ready."
• The Heat unfurled a large American flag for the national anthem, but instead of having a featured singer, they asked the sellout crowd to supply the vocals this time. Even Pat Riley, the Heat president, joined the team on the floor instead of remaining in his customary seat.
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