BOSTON -- An upset is there for Miami to grab, and Dwyane Wade knows it. His Heat were up 61-47 in the third quarter of Game 1 Saturday -- and that was while Kevin Garnett was playing a strong 32 minutes for the Celtics. "Having a 14-point lead,'' Wade told me Sunday, "you could see it on their faces: They was about ready to crumble.''
He was speaking before news broke Sunday night the NBA had suspended Garnett for Game 2 after the cameras captured him elbowing Miami's Quentin Richardson in the jaw during a fourth-quarter skirmish near the Miami bench. As badly as the Heat collapsed over the closing minutes of the opener, Wade believes the issues of poise and temperament should be more worrisome to the favored Celtics than to the underdog Heat.
Miami looked horrible while missing 25 of its final 31 shots and surrendering that 14-point lead over the closing 19 minutes. That loss was Miami's fourth straight this season to Boston, and yet Wade is convinced he and his teammates are close to turning the series their way.
"It's not a big adjustment,'' he said. "Coming off the little scrum we had, the biggest adjustment is going to be, how can guys keep their focus on the task? When you talk about just playing basketball, we've been successful. But if you want to talk about bully basketball and rah-rah and that kind of thing, that's more their game than ours. So we can't get into their game if we want to win.''
After their 29-31 start through February, it's easy to dismiss the Heat's season-ending run of 12 wins in 13 games because 10 of the opponents were headed for the lottery. But that doesn't account for the bigger picture of the final standings: The Heat finished but three games behind Boston, despite fielding a less talented roster loaded with expiring contracts. The obvious conclusion is that Miami did more with its talent than Boston this season, while playing at a higher level defensively than the Celtics.
Can Miami control its emotions? It's a fair concern, but the same question should be asked of the Celtics after their Hall of Fame leader threw an elbow that he knew would result in his suspension. "I'm smarter than that,'' said Garnett after Game 1.
One glaring reason the Celtics have underperformed while going 27-28 since Christmas? They've often reacted rashly or passively when under pressure. Coach Doc Rivers was forced to call a 20-second timeout less than three minutes into the second half because he saw the same old, ugly signs midway through a 15-2 run by Miami.
"I just told them I thought we were hanging our heads and we were quitting,'' said Rivers after Game 1. "Whether things are going right or not, we can't be a team that functions only when things are going our way. I think this was a good win for us in that way, that we showed some resolve, something that in the second half of the year we haven't had. When teams have made runs at us, we've been a team that's made one effort and then we kind of [say] it's too hard. Well, [Saturday] we didn't do that. We hung in there long enough, we found the right combination on the floor and we turned the game around.''
Wade credited that turnaround to the bench play of Tony Allen and Glen Davis. "Them guys brought some energy and got them some life,'' said Wade, "and once they got some life they started believing.''
Is Boston's second-half comeback the beginning of a new trend -- and will the Celtics be able to maintain that trend in spite of Garnett's error in judgment? Or will Wade be able to harness his teammates' emotions while hoping that Michael Beasley will exploit Garnett's absence to improve on his woeful Game 1 line of six points and five turnovers?
All four of Boston's victories over Miami this season have come by fewer than 10 points. Wade recognizes that little separates his Heat from the Celtics. "You have to learn from the mistakes in a loss and move on and see the good things you did as well as learn from the bad things,'' said Wade. "We're going to keep fighting. They have homecourt advantage, and so we have nothing to lose in these [first two] games. These are free games for us.''
To put it another way: Guess which team will be feeling the most pressure in Game 2 Tuesday night?