Bring on Boston.
The Heat will rekindle its long-running rivalry with the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals on Monday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. Boston defeated the 76ers 85-75 in Game 7 of the East semis on Saturday night. Last season, the Heat defeated the Celtics in five games in the second round, but this time around the winner of their playoff series gets a shot at the ultimate prize.
“I’ve played Boston enough with Doc Rivers at the helm and those guys around,” LeBron James said. “They don’t change. They shouldn’t change. They’ve been successful. They won’t change.”
But the Celtics probably will change after this postseason, which makes this East finals that much more intriguing. This is likely the final go-around for Boston’s “Big 3” of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. Allen and Garnett are both in the final seasons of their contracts.
While the Heat had no problem with the Celtics last season in the playoffs, the same can’t be said for the Heat’s record against Boston during the regular season. Over the last two years, the Heat is 2-6 against the Celtics. The Heat went 1-3 against Boston this season. Miami lost to the Boston three times in the month of April.
“We’ve made great progress in the last 3 ½ weeks since this second season started and hopefully we’ll have an opportunity to do that in the next three to four weeks,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
By the sound of it, the Heat isn’t expecting forward Chris Bosh back anytime soon. The open-ended timetable for his return remains unchanged and Bosh hasn’t been able to do any rehab except ride a stationary bike to prevent his body from falling completely out of shape.
“The timetable is still open and whenever he’s ready, hopefully we continue to take care of business and he’s back in uniform for us,” LeBron James said.
Spoelstra offered nothing new about Bosh’s condition on Saturday, a practice day for the Heat, and Wade said he wasn’t even thinking about Bosh’s return.
“Right now, my mentality is not to think about that. It’s to think about what we have and after tonight, who we play,” Wade said. “So we go with what we have. Whenever we get Chris back it’s going to be an added bonus, but we can’t sit and watch our clocks and wait and see.”
Relatively speaking, the Heat adjusted quickly to the loss of Bosh during the second round. Bosh went down in Game 1 and the Heat fell behind in the series 2-1, but James and Wade credited Spoelstra for making the proper adjustments from there. The Heat won three consecutive games with a steady diet of pick-and-roll plays and a resurgence of the Heat’s three-point shooters. The Heat averaged more than 107 points per game during the three-game stretch with Wade scoring 99 points and James scoring 98.
Whenever Bosh returns, and it’s beginning to seem likely that he will miss the entire Eastern Conference finals, the Heat will have to readjust to his presence on the court.
“I’m sure it will change something,” Wade said. “Do we know what? No. But it will be an adjustment that we have to make whenever that time comes.”
Mike Miller’s gutsy performance in Game 6 was no surprise to Udonis Haslem, who said on Saturday that Miller “has been a warrior sense I’ve known him.”
Suspended for Game 6, Haslem watched the Heat close out the Pacers in a hotel room in Indianapolis.
“The first time we met, we were playing at UF and he tried to dunk on me and I clobbered him and he got up and came right back,” Haslem said. “I was a lot bigger back then. I was 270 and we all know who lost that battle.
“At that point I knew he was a tough guy. He’s been battling through injury but he goes out there and gives us everything he can and I was just happy to see him play big.”
Miller played 22 minutes and contributed four three-pointers in Game 6 despite several nagging injuries and an aching lower back.
“It’s that time of year and a lot of guys are doing the same thing on this team,” Miller said. “It’s a matter of being able to play through it.”
The NBA is being a little too heavy-handed, says James. The Heat’s reigning MVP said on Saturday that he disagreed with the NBA’s action to fine Spoelstra and Pacers coach Frank Vogel for comments related to officiating during the second round.
Vogel was fined $15,000 before the series even started and Spoelstra was tagged with a $25,000 after it was over. Vogel called the Heat’s players floppers and Spoelstra said the NBA’s wasn’t doing enough to prevent opponents taking shots at the heads of Wade and James.
“It’s the rules, I guess,” James said. “The league made their claim and Spo’s got to go into his pocket now.”