Supporting Cast Delivers for Heat

BOSTON – As great as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are, they’re probably not going to beat the Boston Celtics by themselves.

They didn’t need to during Game 1.

Turn the television or radio on Tuesday morning and you’re guaranteed to hear praise being given to James and Wade, who combined to score 54 points against the Celtics Monday night. James and Wade played at an otherworldly level, making 21 of their 35 combined shots, but they aren’t the only reasons why Miami leads this best-of-seven series 1-0.

Shane Battier

Shane Battier harassed Brandon Bass all night long and wound up notching a double-double.
Mike Ehrmann/NBAE/Getty

Boston scored 79 points during Game 1. Do the simple math and you’ll find that the Celtics beat James and Wade by 25 points. However, as the final score of 93-79 in favor of the Heat would indicate, James and Wade received plenty of help from their supporting cast.

Let’s start out with Shane Battier, who as a life-long small forward is playing out of position as the Heat’s starting power forward. He is filling in for the injured Chris Bosh, who remains out indefinitely with an abdominal strain.

Battier is known for his lock-down defense and long-range shooting, and he provided both of those characteristics in Game 1 despite playing at a new position. While banging around with Brandon Bass, Battier limited Boston’s starting power forward to just eight points and two rebounds in the game. At the other end of the floor, Battier stretched Boston’s defense with his outside shooting.

This was the coup that Miami believed it received when Battier signed his name on the dotted line back in December. This was the Battier who has the ability to alter a playoff series. Batter may not have altered an entire series Monday night, but he sure did alter Game 1. His superstar teammates loved watching it all unfold.

“Shane is everything, man. He does it all for our team,” said Wade. “I know me and LeBron, we love Shane Battier on this ball club. Not only his defensive effort, he does all the little things.”

He did a lot more than the little things Monday night. Battier shut down Boston’s power forwards and finished with a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds while also kicking in two assists and two blocked shots. His activity was a consistent factor. When he put points on the board it was just icing on the cake.

Even with Battier excelling as the third wheel, the threesome of James, Wade and Battier scored just 64 points for the Heat, which was still 16 shy of beating Boston’s output. So who else stepped up? Just about everyone.

Mike Miller stepped in off the bench to contribute eight efficient points in just 12 minutes of playing time. Mario Chalmers played well across the board, scoring nine points, grabbing five rebounds and dishing out four assists. Even Ronny Turiaf (four points, five rebounds) and Joel Anthony (three points, six rebounds) got into the mix with momentum-swinging plays.

This was Boston’s worst nightmare. Everyone knew that James and Wade were going to get theirs. That’s just the reality of playing against two superstars during the playoffs. The rest of those guys, though? That just can’t happen if the Celtics wish to have any chance at becoming the 2012 Eastern Conference Champions.

“They have two sensational players, but we gave them both tonight, in my opinion,” said Rivers. “We let Wade, we let LeBron, play in extreme comfort, and we gave the other guys everything they wanted as well.”

For the Celtics to be successful, they must take away the three or four players who surround James and Wade on the floor at any given time. Making James and Wade play uncomfortably would be the next step in the progression.

Rivers summed it up perfectly after Game 1 when he gave the following statement about the open looks his team allowed Battier, Miller and Co. to take.

“Those are the baskets we have to take away,” he said bluntly.

The Celtics knew that before they took the floor tonight just as well as they know that now. James and Wade are great, but they aren’t going to win the Conference Finals by themselves. Not against this Celtics team.

The problem was that they didn’t need to on Monday, and that’s something Boston will need to change as this series moves forward.