The Heat's Big Three began a new era by beating the Celtics and their Big Three in five games.
MIAMI -- The score was 87-85, with the Boston Celtics ahead of the Miami Heat with three minutes left.
Kevin Garnett hurried to meet Chris Bosh as the Heat power forward received a pass off a pick-and-roll with LeBron James. As Garnett approached him, Bosh faked a jump shot and Garnett bit hard. Momentum carried the 34-year-old in one direction, and the 27-year-old went the other.
And just like that, Bosh blew by Garnett off the dribble and dunked the ball uncontested. Garnett, tired and beaten, could only watch Bosh’s ascension from below.
It was in that moment that the torch was effectively passed from one Big Three to the next.
In those final three minutes of Game 5, the Heat’s famed trio scored 12 points while the Celtics' accomplished trio scored zero. As a result, the Heat went on to win the game, 97-87, and the series, 4-1. James, Bosh and Dwyane Wade had finally beat Boston in the playoffs for the first time in their careers.
This is the matchup the Heat wanted all along. They wanted to face the Celtics, the team that three-and-a-half years ago laid down the blueprint of three superstars -- Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce -- coming together for the common goal of winning a championship.
“If we would have went through this playoff series without playing Boston at any point, it wouldn’t have been right,” Wade said after Wednesday's Game 5 victory. “The Celtics laid the blueprint for us to show us how to do it. Hopefully we can continue to carry on the blueprint they laid.”
In the days leading up to Game 5, James said Boston provided the inspiration for him to join forces with Wade and Bosh in their summer of free agency. On Wednesday, they left no doubt who was worthy of moving on and contending for the 2010-11 Eastern Conference championship.
For the series, Miami’s Big Three outscored Boston’s Big Three by more than 100 points (355-252). In the final quarter of the series, the dominance was even more apparent -- James, Wade and Bosh combined for 24 points while Allen, Pierce and Garnett tallied just two points. Boston’s three simply were outplayed and outlasted by Miami’s.
“We have the ultimate respect of them as champions,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They have inflicted so much pain on us. From afar, we’ve been able to monitor and see how those guys sacrificed. There are a lot of examples in this league where players let their egos and other things get in the way. Boston didn’t. Those three guys really set the tone and paved the way for other teams to fall in line.”
But for all the talk about the blueprint, Miami’s Big Three is different from Boston’s. Sure, it wwas built from the same mold in number and star power. But stylistically? It's a different breed and, this season, a superior breed.
The Celtics' trio of Allen, Pierce and Garnett complement each other seamlessly without overlap. Allen is the tireless sharpshooter. Pierce is the elbow virtuoso. Garnett is the man on the block. They fit together perfectly like puzzle pieces, with distinct lines separating their roles on the court.
But Wade, James and Bosh are not puzzle pieces, because they have no defined shape as basketball players. The lines are blurred and, most of the time, nonexistent.
Those who said they couldn’t work together because Wade and James were redundant missed the point. Wade and James work together because their only redundancy is versatility. They do not have specific and defined roles like the Celtics' trio did, and their unpredictability makes them almost impossible to stop consistently.
“A lot of people doubted [us],” James said. “We knew [it would work]. We’re two unselfish guys; we knew for the better of the team that we were going to make it work. It was just going to take time.”
To make it work, the Heat took the blueprint and made it their own.
Their versatility is why Bosh said after the game that no one can defend Wade and James.
“They’re so multidimensional,” Bosh said. “You can hit them in the post, off catch-and-shoots, in the open court, in the fast break, 3s, pick-and-rolls. ... I mean, there are so many different ways that we use them and so many different ways that they’re dangerous that you can’t pay attention to everything.
“It’s great. I play with the two best players in the league.”
In the Boston series, the Heat’s versatility ultimately made the difference, allowing them to go small and play big with their best three players on the court. James took turns guarding every position 1 through 5, guarding Celtics center Jermaine O’Neal and Garnett on one end of the floor while running the Heat’s offense on the other. At 6-foot-4, Wade played like a big man, averaging 6.8 rebounds and blocking shots while dunking putbacks on the Celtics' defense.
And Bosh? He’s the most rigid of the Heat’s trio, but even he stepped out of his comfort zone and played the center position when the game mattered most. He’s the rare power forward who can play on the block, put the ball on the deck and shoot anywhere inside the arc. He’s inside-out, left-to-right and up-and-down, as Garnett found out on that fourth-quarter dunk.
James’ 33-point performance marked the 39th time in his career that he has scored 30 or more points in a playoff game. But Wednesday was the first time a teammate did too, as Wade scored 34 points of his own.
“You are not beating a team like the Boston Celtics with one guy as the focal point of the offense,” Wade said. “At the end of last season last year I knew that. That is why I said, ‘Next year I am not going to put myself in this position.’ I am going to go out and recruit help.”
In this series, Boston couldn’t keep up. The Celtics showed their age, looking completely gassed in the final minutes of each of their four losses. But as outdated as they looked in this series, they are established. They set the standard by which the Heat measure themselves.
“They’re at 17 championships, and we have one,” Wade said. “We have a long way to go. They’ve done a lot of work. They can rest now.”