LeBron James is going to get his. And if Game 1 against Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals was any indication, he'll have an easy time of it. James scored 32 points on just 22 shots; he drove the lane with power and ease and created offense for his teammates as well. That is the biggest threat the Celtics face in this series: allowing James to score himself is one thing, but allowing him to make plays for others is a death sentence.
The main problem for the Heat all season long has been getting consistent production from its ancillary parts. In Game 1 though, it got a terrific lift from Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller, who scored a combined 27 points. Boston coach Doc Rivers is faced with a huge decision moving forward in defending Miami. He can either try and stop those three or try and stop Dwyane Wade. In other words, assume LeBron is going to get his 30, but Wade scoring 22 points on a mere 13 shots and allowing Battier, Chalmers and Miller to go off is unacceptable.
"We gave in to them both tonight, in my opinion," Rivers said after the game. "We let Wade, we let LeBron play in extreme comfort."
As a team, the Heat shot a season-high 77.8 percent in the paint during Game 1 (a 93-79 Miami victory), per ESPN Stats & Info. James and Wade combined to shoot an absurd 16-18 from this range. Michael Pietrus was no match for James, and without the injured Avery Bradley, the Celtics had very little options in defending Wade. To be certain, corralling Wade away from the basket is a tremendous challenge, but his penetration into the teeth of the defense almost guarantees Miami a quality look.
Perhaps even more damaging than his scoring total in Game 1 were his seven assists. Batter, Miller and James Jones -- Miami's best 3-point shooters -- are all lethal, but they are also catch-and-shoot guys. One option for the Boston defenders is to stay home to prevent clean looks on the kick-out, rather than fully committing to helping on Wade (or James). A perfect example of this not happening came early in the second quarter Monday night. Wade drove baseline and was doubled with presumably nowhere to go. Kevin Garnett, however, overly rotated to the ball and left Miller for a wide open three, which he buried.
Let's be perfectly clear here: Miami is an overwhelming favorite in this series for a reason. For all its faults and criticisms, the Heat is a tremendous defensive unit. The Celtics, meanwhile, ranked just 24th in the NBA this season in offensive efficiency, otherwise known as the number of points scored per 100 possessions. And with Ray Allen clearly laboring, points have now become even more important. Boston shot under 40 percent from the floor in Game 1, and that includes its amazing 35-point second quarter output, which appeared to be more of an anomaly than anything else.
The one thing that has propelled Boston this far has been its ability to protect the rim along with its efficient rotations in the half-court. According to Synergy Sports Technology, the Celtics ranked first in the league this year in half-court defense, holding opponents under 40 percent shooting. To give his club even the slightest glimmer of hope of advancing, Rivers has to give in to James while choosing between trying to stop Wade or completely eliminating Miami's perimeter options. If it's the former, than the help on defense has to come a whole lot faster and if it's the latter, than the guards must stay home at all times to avoid the drive-and-kick.
Even so, it may be too late for Boston. In the 10 most recent postseasons, teams with 1-0 leads in the conference finals have advanced 15 out of 20 times. More concerning for the team is the improving health of Chris Bosh. The Celtics have to act quickly and decisively, or this series will be over very soon.
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