The Miami Heat finished their Eastern Conference semifinals series in a swift, efficient manner. Taking a page from their leader and 4-time MVP LeBron James, the two-time defending champs were efficient in their offensive and defensive execution and only needed five games to advance to their fourth consecutive Conference Finals. For Brooklyn, it was the classic ‘be careful what you wish for’ scenario. They were 43-34 and on pace to be either the fourth or fifth seed in the East. However, they chose to tank their way into the 6th seed (Jason Kidd can deny it all he wants). The Nets wanted their shot at LeBron and Co. sooner rather than later, and now the most expensive roster in the league is the first to exit the conference semis.
LeBron James has the biggest burden to carry of any single player left in the postseason. Miami is shooting a playoff-best 67.1% from five feet or less from the basket, and 53.1% with shots between 5-9 feet. Who is leading the playoffs in FG% with shots five feet or less from the hoop (minimum 50 attempts)? That’s right, King James (47-59, 79.7%). He only has a total of 86 shots from 10+ feet, showing his relentlessness attacking the basketball, as well as his recognition of his physical advantage against the Nets (or any team for that matter). His efficiency continues to be staggering. He averaged a series-high 30.0 points per game but did not have more than seven FGA in a given quarter this series. The only game where he had multiple quarters with more than four FGA was his 49-point domination of Game 4, where he took seven shots in both quarters 1 and 3, as well as six shots in the 2nd. Most impressively, LeBron ranks just 16th in postseason touches per game with 79.9 but ranks second in points and FGM with 9.8.
Off the bench
Ray Allen had a rough start to the 2014 postseason. He averaged a mere 3.3 PPG in the Heat’s 4-game sweep of the Bobcats, only making 1.3 FG/GM. But in the series against the Nets, his shooting has rebounded beautifully; perhaps seeing his ex-teammates Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett on the opposite side of the court gave Allen the boost he needed. Everybody knows what Allen does best; his offensive versatility is limited at this point in his career. Out of the 60 shots Allen has attempted this postseason, 45 of them have been jump shots, including 36 3-pointers. His reliance on jump shooting lends for slumps like his poor opening round performance. But like all great shooters, Allen shot his way out of it.
He is third (minimum 24 mpg) in the conference semis in true shooting percentage (67.0%) behind LeBron James and Serge Ibaka.
In LeBron and D-Wade’s postgame press conference, when asked about Ray’s big shot, James simply said, “I’m glad he’s on our side,” which drew a slight smirk from Wade. The Heat-Celtics/Nets tension was clearly still simmering even after the series had ended.
SWING MAN – BIG SHOT BOSH
Despite another all-time great playoff performance from LeBron James, the Heat were staring at heading back to Miami with a 2-2 split late in the fourth quarter of Game 4. In that quarter, there were only two members of the Heat who made a shot from the field: James and Chris Bosh. With 2:30 remaining in the game, KG sank two free throws to tie it at 94-94. The next three possessions for the Heat went as followed:
Bosh missed 27ft 3-Pt, 94-94
Bosh missed 26ft 3-PT, 94-94
Bosh made 23ft-3PT, Heat lead 97-94 with :57.3 remaining.
Bosh’s ability to stretch the defense allows for Miami’s offensive versatility to flourish, but it’s his willingness to take and make big shots that was the difference for Miami in pivotal moments, specifically in Games 4 and 5. Heading into the fourth quarter of Game 5, the Heat trailed by nine; their two leading scorers in the final frame? James (14 pts, 8-10 FT-FTA) and Bosh (6pts, 2-3 3-PT). With 8:12 remaining in the game, the Nets went on a 7-1 run to push their lead to 82-73. In the next two possessions for the Heat, James hit two free throws, and Bosh hit a 3-pointer, cutting the lead to a manageable 82-78. Minutes later at the 5:20 mark, Joe Johnson, who played out of his mind (15-23 FGM-FGA, game-high 34 points), nailed a free throw to finish a 3-point play, giving Brooklyn another nine point lead with the score 89-80. Chris Bosh again came to his team’s rescue with another timely three. He didn’t dominate the 4th quarter like LeBron, or hit the go-ahead bucket like Ray Allen, but he managed to keep his team afloat with timely buckets.
Kevin Garnett almost earned the “least valuable player” distinction for this series. The Big Ticket only managed 4.8 PPG, including only one game in double digits (Game 3 – 10 Points). But in all honesty, anybody who had been paying attention to KG’s drop in production knew this was coming. In his last season with the Celtics, KG was still a viable fantasy option, providing position versatility as a forward, power forward and center. His numbers were solid (14.8 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 49.8 FG%), and he managed to play in 68 games; not bad knowing that he would miss a few due to rest. But towards the end of the 2012-13 season, it was clear his body was beginning to betray him. In his first season in Brooklyn, he posted career-lows in nearly every statistical category and did not average double-digit scoring for the first time in his 19-year career. His defensive intelligence allowed him to remain a productive team and individual defender, but offensively, he was almost as unplayable on the court as he was on fantasy rosters.
But the most disappointing player in this series was point guard Deron Williams. It seems like only recently there were serious debates in NBA circles about whether he or Chris Paul was the best point guard in the league. Those days are long forgotten as D-Will’s production in points and assists were the lowest since his rookie season, dropping him out of the top-15 fantasy point guards.
For as bad as his regular season was, his postseason was worse. In the second round of the playoffs, Williams ranked 7th out of the eight point guards in points and assists, only ahead of Mario Chalmers, and was dead last in FG% (36.7). What compounds the negativity surrounding Williams’ horrible second round is his salary is higher than every point guard in the conference semis except Chris Paul. His $18.4M 2013-14 salary is at least $10M more than the salaries of Mario Chalmers, Damian Lillard and George Hill. The last year of his max deal is for $22.3M in 2017, no other point guard’s contract maxes out in the 20s besides Paul. Needless to say, the Nets would like a better return on their investment.