We are living, at least until Thursday night, in Panic City.
The Miami Heat is on the brink.
Whether it’s the brink of resuscitation, freefall or makeover — we shall find out at the conclusion of Game 6 in the Eastern Conference finals.
The Heat and its ballyhooed Big 3 trails Boston and its elderly Big 3 3-2. Boston is one game from a return to the NBA Finals. The Heat must win two in a row to have a chance at starting that promised ring collection.
Celtics fans in Boston are licking their chops, ready to eat Heat CHOW-dah.
Fans in Miami are flummoxed, disappointed, really irate.
They are calling in sick, suffering from insomnia, driving with even more road rage than usual. It’s 91 degrees here and mosquitoes are swarming like so many Boston defenders named Keyon Dooling and Marquis Daniels. Heat fans are white hot.
“Spo must go!” is the most common rant, as criticism of Miami’s young coach, Erik Spoelstra, reaches the boiling point.
“Trade Dwyane Wade and sign Dwight Howard!” demand those who just weeks ago were proud to say they lived in Wade County.
“LeBron is LeGhost when it counts most!” is the refrain from 2011 about how LeBron James turns deferential in the closing minute.
What was supposed to be a championship run has turned into a stumble. But the Heat’s ordeal is a fascinating one. The ancient Greek dramatists would have loved this material. As the playoffs lurch from ecstasy to agony, we have a jumbotron window on “the human condition,” as Spoelstra would put it. (If he does get fired, he would be perfect for giving self-help talks.)
The last time this Heat team faced elimination it unraveled against the Dallas Mavericks in Miami during Game 6 of last year’s NBA Finals. James, the most dynamically imposing athlete in the league, treated the ball like a hot potato.
It gets worse: Chris Bosh fainted afterward on his way to the locker room.
Soft. Chokers. Superstars do not make a team, scolded Heat detractors who took glee in James’ failure.
But Heat players and Spoelstra like to say they perform best when their backs are against the wall. Right now, their backs are against the wall in one of those mirrored funhouses, where everything is distorted. Kevin Garnett is 10 feet tall. Ray Allen is swishing 40-foot shots. Paul Pierce is faking players out of their sneakers. Rajon Rondo has eyes in the back of his head.
The Heat has more firepower, more talent, but gets outwitted by the Celtics at critical junctures. It outrebounded the Celtics in Game 5, limited Pierce, Allen and Rondo to 24 percent shooting, but still lost 94-90. In Game 4, it allowed the Celtics — the Celtics, who would have trouble scoring against the Washington Generals — to score 61 points in the first half. In the last five minutes of games, the Celtics are shooting better and in the last 24 seconds of these playoffs, the Heat is 0 for 7 on game-winning or tying shots.
The Heat desperately needs more defensive stops. In fact, Miami is too dependent on them to get its offense clicking. When Wade and James are in sync, it’s poetry in motion. When they are not, it’s messy. It’s one-on-one playground basketball.
The Celtics, on the other hand, have a game plan, a half-court offense, defensive stratagems and creative ideas in the huddle.