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May 13, 2011
Playoff Prospectus
The End of Something

by Bradford Doolittle

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at Miami 97, Boston 87 (Miami wins series 4-1)
Pace: 86.2
Offensive Ratings: Miami 112.6, Boston 101.0

By the end, the Celtics reminded me of an aging lothario, with the confidence and swagger of a ladykiller, but lacking the looks to close the deal. Boston may not be done as a solid playoff team. The core four of Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett should all be back. There are rumors that Doc Rivers is about to commit to a multi-year contract to remain on the Celtics' sideline. Despite that, the lasting image we'll have of the 2010-11 Celtics is of a squad that was tired, battered and lacking the kind of athleticism possessed by the other top contenders in its conference. Once that goes, you don't get it back. The Celtics may remain a top five seed in the East, but are their days in the elite over?

The Heat closed out Boston with the kind of outburst of which Miami in almost uniquely capable, scoring the last 16 points of the game. Boston, despite Rondo's ailing wing and fourth-quarter absence, despite Garnett's big fade after a great first quarter, despite Pierce's foul trouble, improbably found itself leading 87-81 after Nenad Krstic's jumper with 4:29 to play. The Celtics didn't score again.

After a Dwyane Wade free throw, Miami got a James Jones three on the secondary break--Wade rebounded a missed Garnett jumper, threw the ball ahead to LeBron James, who pushed down the court and kicked over to a trailing Jones. That cut the lead to two. Rivers took a timeout; Boston then worked the clock down and ended up with Allen missing a three. Miami ran, got the ball to Chris Bosh, who faked and drove the baseline for a game-tying dunk. From then on, it was all James: two three-pointers, a dunk and a running bank shot. The second three was the back-breaker; everything else was gravy. Boston turned the ball over three times in the last minute. When the clock sounded, Miami celebrated like they'd won the title, with an emotional release that was understandable if a little contrived. We get it: You really wanted to get past Boston. Mission accomplished.

Boston played most of the game without its top two centers. Shaquille O'Neal was inactive and it looks like his Hall of Fame career is over. Jermaine O'Neal was limited to 16:33 because of back trouble. That left Krstic, who had barely played in the series, to pick up 15:36 of court time, during which he scored eight points. You have to wonder where he was earlier in the series, particularly given Glen Davis' considerable struggles.

More than that, though, you had to think of Kendrick Perkins, who is currently occupied with flashing his angry face at the Memphis Grizzlies. Perkins was sorely missed in this series, when the Celtics were slow to close down the lane and absent the basket-protecting presence that propped up their defense the previous three seasons. Jeff Green, acquired for Perkins, had his moments and is a talent. But he remains more potential than production and there is no guarantee that he'll re-sign with the Celtics. That would have also held true for Perkins, but KP had a bond with the team and the city that Green has not yet established. Rivers always said that his five (the core four plus Perkins) had never been beaten when available for an entire seven-game series. Would that have held true against the Heat? We'll never know, but Celtics general manager Danny Ainge has done nothing to flip our downturned thumbs, the ones we pointed down after his deadline day dealing.

There was much about Game Five that was emblematic of the series as a whole. Boston shot 49.3 percent from the floor. For the series, the Celtics outshot the Heat (in terms of eFG%) .508-.493. They shared the ball better than Miami and for the most part did a better job of executing its halfcourt offense. But Miami had the edge in turnovers, rebounds and free-throw attempts--all categories directly affected by athletic ability and energy. On Wednesday, the Celtics committed 17 turnovers, leading to 22 Miami points. The Heat scored 10 points off turnovers in the fourth quarter alone. The Heat had a 12-2 advantage in fastbreak points.

Is there anybody doubting Miami's ability to sort things out in close games at this point? Wade kept the Heat close during the first three quarters, scoring 30 points on 12-of-15 shooting. Then James slammed the door, scoring 13 of his 33 points during Miami's 26-14 fourth quarter. Another night, it might be reversed, with Wade taking over down the stretch. For the series, Wade was slightly more productive, averaging 30.2 points to James' 28.0. Wade put up a .616 True Shooting Percentage while using 34 percent of his team's possessions; James had a .553 on 33 percent. When you're talking about two guys averaging over 40 minutes per game (James averaged 44.6 minutes in the series), those are awfully difficult numbers to overcome.

In the end, Boston just didn't have enough. Garnett scored 12 first-quarter points, but managed just three the rest of the way. Garnett increasingly looked like a player whose legs couldn't cash the checks his brain was writing. The Celtics won't have much cash to play with in the offseason, but has to come up with an answer in the middle while also coming up with more energy and athleticism for its second unit. I'll be damned if I know how Ainge is going to fill all those holes with no cap space. Perhaps he doesn't feel like he needs to. But riddle me this: If Miami and Chicago, two teams with ascending cores, are better than Boston now, how exactly is a team with three of its four players in their mid-30s going to close that gap?

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