Coming off an eight-day layover thanks to a sweep in the first round, Miami took Game 1 in its Eastern Conference Semifinals playoff series, 107-86, Tuesday night at American Airlines Arena.
• Rested or Rusty? The debate is renewed every postseason: do teams that finish off their opponents quickly benefit from extra rest, or will they “rust” and be at a disadvantage against a team that played a full seven games? The question bore added significance to Game 1 between the Heat and the Nets.
Would the Heat, after eight days off, require a quarter or two to adjust to Brooklyn’s intensity, or come out firing from the tip? I suppose there is no way to know for sure whether Miami felt refreshed or rusty Tuesday night, but the final outcome left a strong impression. In a game that was decided before the fourth quarter, Miami blitzed Brooklyn to seize control of their Eastern Conference semifinals playoff series.
That Miami would win by such a large margin did not seem likely early on. The Nets trailed the Heat by just two points at the end of the first quarter. But in the second half, as Miami continued to dominate in the paint -- Miami would finish with 52 points in the paint -- and LeBron James asserted himself on both ends of the floor, it became clear the Heat would roll to a relatively comfortable victory. Miami ripped off a 24-9 run to blow the game open in the third quarter and the rout was on.
Heat running a clinic. Nets running a sideshow.
— devin kharpertian (@uuords) May 7, 2014
Brooklyn attempted to combat Miami’s abundance of offensive weapons by varying its lineups. While the approach appeared to be working in the early going, and Brooklyn was able to scuttle Miami’s transition game – the Heat totaled just four fast break points – Miami found other ways to exploit the Nets’ coverage and pulled away thanks to peerless offensive execution and a series of breakdowns by the Nets. The Heat rendered moot the rest vs. rust argument.
“We took care of the ball, we didn’t turn the ball over, it just came down to defense tonight,” said Nets guard Deron Williams, who matched Joe Johnson with a team-high 17 points. “Our defensive game plan wasn’t executed at all. We made a lot of mistakes, allowed them to just roam free. I know I got beat on a couple of backdoor cuts. It was kinda the theme of the night – just layup, layup, layups.”
The most glaring discrepancy between the two teams was in points scored in the restricted area. Miami had 52; Brooklyn had 28. The Nets also shot 60 percent from the free throw line to Miami’s 87.5 percent.
Williams was asked after the game whether he and his teammates felt drained after completing a seven-game series in Toronto on Sunday.
“Nah … we’re not going to use that as an excuse,” Williams said. “They came out and they played better than us tonight. It’s simple as that. They were the better team tonight. And now we gotta move on and worry about the next one. Try to get a split – that’s all we can do. Look at the tape, look at the film, see what we did wrong. Like I said, there’s a lot of mistakes out there that we know we made already. And we’ll try to correct those as much as possible”
• LeBron got the better of Pierce and KG. It’s hard to feel confident about the Nets’ chances in this series. Not only are the Heat two-time defending champions, they stormed through the first round of the playoffs in dominant fashion, making easy work of the Bobcats in a year when every other contender slogged through long series. It took the Nets, for instance, seven games to outlast the Raptors.
And while Brooklyn pulled off a 4-0 sweep of Miami in the regular season – the first team to do so since 2010 – a mountain of evidence disputed the predictive value of those games. So the Nets, like any other Eastern Conference team would be save Indiana circa November-December, entered Game 1 facing long odds. But if there was one source of optimism, it was a roster stocked with playoff experience.
Specifically, The Nets had Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, acquired this offseason as part of an expensive roster overhaul, to throw at James. This series marks the fifth time Pierce and Garnett have faced James in the playoffs. The former Celtics veterans got the better of James in the first two meetings, while James won the latter two. The Nets and Heat may not share a rivalry, but the history of intense postseason clashes between James, Garnett and Pierce made for a compelling storyline.
If nothing else, this series would bring out the best of both sides: the best player in the game vying for a third consecutive championship pitted against two wily, playoff-tested veterans nearing the ends of their respective careers. The Nets hoped that Pierce and Garnett, although well past their primes, could at least frustrate James.
His track record against Pierce and Garnett did not seem to matter much, if at all, in Game 1. Pierce and Garnett combined for just eight points on 3-of-10 shooting and labored against James and his teammates. Garnett, in particular, struggled to get going inside, scoring zero points in a postseason game for the first time in his career.
James, meanwhile, embossed his status as the best player in this series, scoring 22 points on 10-of-15 shooting. In the second quarter, James reached 4,000 career playoff points -- becoming the youngest player ever to do so -- and helped the Heat put the game out of reach by converting a layup and knocking down a jump shot while absorbing contact late in the third. When the Nets called a timeout near the 4:30 mark, the Heat had a 14-point lead and people were likening James to The Incredible Hulk.
The way James was attacking Brooklyn's defense, invoking the supernatural seems only slightly absurd. If Pierce and Garnett have any sort of psychological edge on James that will help the Nets in this series, it did not show Tuesday night.
• Ray Allen stepped up. In his first matchup against former teammates Pierce and Garnett in the playoffs, Allen drained four threes and scored 19 points. His perimeter shooting created even more problems for the on defense for the Nets, who were already struggling to defend the paint. What made Allen’s performance so impressive was that it came after he tallied just 13 points in four previous games against Charlotte. Check out his shot chart from Game 1:
If his measly total in round 1 gave the impression Allen would not be a factor for the Heat this postseason, Tuesday night proved otherwise. It doesn’t matter how old Allen is or if his statistics have declined: leave him open, and Allen will make you pay. Nets defenders beware.