Celtics 77 - HEAT 100 Recap

MIAMI – The natural inclination is to downplay the Miami HEAT’s 100-77 victory over the Boston Celtics, to say it’s just a regular season game, that it means no more or less than Miami’s previous three losses to Boston, that the HEAT have to immediately move on as they fly to face the Atlanta Hawks.

This is all true, but this was still a game, a performance, a win that they absolutely needed.

Just two days prior, LeBron James had characterized the Boston Celtics as the hump the team needed to get over. But instead of merely getting over, the HEAT conquered, beating Boston with a greater point differential than in their three previous losses to them combined (16), doing so while playing some of the best, most disciplined basketball they’ve played all year.

And however muted the HEAT may try to make the statement, finally accomplishing a goal, having that memory to use as a visual foundation for future success can be a psychological boon.

“For us, what we pulled from it is for one game we got over the hump,” Dwyane Wade said. “Once you finally see it work, you continue to go to it.

“We beat them. That’s it. For us as a team that’s our first time together beating them. We move on. You need to see that you can play well against a team, perform against a team.”

The HEAT performed incredibly well by any measurement. Miami scored 114 points per 100 possessions while holding Boston – suffering through a late-season offensive slump that went beyond this game – to 87 and winning the offensive-rebounding margin by 12. They assisted on more than 60 percent of their field goals (24-of-38), had nine players score at least five points and just four turnovers in the second half.

But this is one game statistics cannot properly illustrate. You can’t assign a value to Miami enduring an 11-2 burst by Boston to open the game, then coming out of a timeout and closing the gap to one by the end of the quarter.

Nor are there numerals for how the HEAT responded to a second-quarter fracas, with technicals on LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Paul Pierce and a flagrant foul on Jermaine O’Neal, of the sort that has typically ignited a Boston team which thrives in adverse situations. Miami held a seven-point lead before that sequence, and going into halftime four minutes later, following multiple scrums for loose balls at midcourt, was still up seven.

Mental toughness would again be tested in the fourth quarter, when Boston mustered a 12-0 run – the only stretch of the game where Miami shaded towards hero ball – and closed the lead to 10. But Miami was so together, so unshakeable that four minutes later, they were again up by more than 20.

The All-Stars can be commended for leading by example, as Chris Bosh was diving for loose balls, Wade sprinting full court to block a Ray Allen layup and James’ 27 points on 19 shots paling in comparison to the sheer defensive chaos he was able to create. And the team trust that Spoelstra has pursued all season long was ubiquitous. Nobody second-guessed themselves as the sprinted to make a defensive rotation, and nobody hesitated to hit the open man.

Even Joel Anthony.

Oft-maligned for his difficulties finishing around the rim, the first few of Anthony’s 35 minutes featured some same-old possessions as passes from James trickled out of bounds. But with the Celtics playing off, the ball kept finding Anthony and he rewarded his team with seven points on 3-of-5 shooting.

This was primarily a bonus to floor spacing, however, because whether or not the offensive trust bolstered his confidence, Anthony was a defensive tornado. Credited with no blocks and just four offensive boards (of 10 total), Anthony was involved in every loose ball situation, tapping rebounds out to teammates, contesting shots at the rim from the weakside all while sacrificing little in isolation as he stymied Kevin Garnett on a number of occasions.

“Joel was terrific off the bench, doing his best Matrix impersonation,” Spoelstra said. “He was in two places at once.”

Mario Chalmers deserves credit, too, for his defense in 20 minutes, as well as Zydrunas Ilgauskas for six quick points to open the second half, Juwan Howard for filling in with six points in 12 minutes when Bosh got into early foul trouble and to James Jones for late rebounding, but eventually the shine from this game fades into tomorrow and the HEAT, with every mental reward that only they can experience, will move on.

“I’m not going to overreact to one win,” Bosh said. “Just like if we would have lost today, it’s one game. I’m not going to read into it too much.

“This is cool and all, but we still have two more games. We need to close out the season strong to be where we need to be.”

And that, Bosh’s sentiment, may be the most honest takeaway of all. It was a significant win, but in both winning and losing, the HEAT have remained even-keeled, always concerned more with their performance, their process, than standings and results. Results matter when the playoffs begin in one week, but Sunday afternoon, sample size aside, the HEAT proved they will be a better team once they get there.