With last night’s fourteen-point victory over the beat-up Boston Celtics, LeBron James and his Miami Heat are now on a four-game winning streak that goes back to Game 4 at Indiana. Despite the close halftime score (tied, after a Miami shot was overturned upon later review) the game never felt genuinely in doubt as LeBron coasted his way to a 32/13/3 performance that had his team leading by as many as 17 in the final period. The Celtics are without defensive ace Avery Bradley and might as well be without his partial replacement, Ray Allen, who suffers from bone spurs in his ankle that are so debilitating that he’s now even missing free throws. Obviously, Allen is hurting and the Celtics chances of upsetting a juggernaut look mighty slim.
But before Kenny & Charles fire up that fishing boat for the C’s, let’s at least consider what happened in each of the past two postseasons. In 2010, LeBron’s Cavs won 61 games and made quick and easy work of D-Rose and the Bulls in Round 1. (Won series in 5; lost one game by 2 points.) LeBron’s performance in the next round against Boston is one of the most infamous turned in by a superstar in playoff history. But if you remember how it went down, you know that LeBron’s weirdness didn’t begin until Games 4-5-6. I specifically recall getting together with buddies to watch Game 3, thinking it would be a great game with so much hall of fame talent taking the Boston parquet floor. Only it wasn’t a great game at all because LeBron ripped the Celtics apart to the tune of 38/8/7. His team led by 19 after the 1st Quarter and won every quarter point after that. EVERYBODY had the Cavs winning that series, and the meltdown that ensued after Game 3 was on par with Jean Van de Velde at Carnoustie. But what I sometimes forget when I look back is that Boston quietly took Game 2 at Cleveland. Had that not happened, there’s no way they don’t take the series after going up 3-0 in Boston.
Let’s fast forward to 2011 and last year’s Finals. LeBron took care of business in Game 1, controlling the game with a 24/9/5 that was as smooth as it was efficient. His team won by 8 points and carried momentum into Game 2. We all remember the 4th Quarter of Game 2. D-Wade hit that three in the corner by the Dallas bench to go up 15 and held his hand up extra long for everybody to see. Over the next seven minutes the Heat scored a total of 2 points, losing to some Dirk heroics that had everybody outside of South Beach cheering loudly. You know how it all played out, what with LeBron over-deferring to Wade, looking lost and the series falling apart as Dallas made it rain from downtown. But what gets forgotten, I think, is that Miami took care of business in Game 3 at Dallas, regaining home court advantage. Sure, LeBron had checked out by this point (only took 14 shots, grabbed 3 rebounds, looked very lost) but had his team held on to win Game 2 (and eventually gone up 3-0), they certainly would have closed out Dallas before 7 games were through.
A common quality of each series was that, at some point, everybody had LeBron’s team winning it. In 2010, it was after the Game 3 Blitzkrieg at Boston. In 2011, it was in Game 2 when Wade was showboating with a big lead in the game and soon-to-be 2-0 lead in the series. But in each series, LeBron lost Game 2, dramatically lowering his margin for error in late-series pressure situations.
Maybe if Boston wins tomorrow night, whether it be matter-of-factly as in 2010, or more of a stomach-puncher as with Dirk’s heroics in ’11, the pressure will mount in Games 4 and 5, and our favorite NBA meme will live to see another day.