So I went to my first Heat game of the "Big Three" season last night...and pretty much cackled my way through it. My thoughts on the evening are below. Note that I have not read anything about the game as yet this morning, because I want my views to be original and "untainted"...and then we'll see how it matches up with the experts.
Truth be told, I am not really a LeHater at all. It's a free country. The guy can sign and play wherever he likes, and he is one heck of a athlete. Of course, in this age of media hype, it's sometimes hard to remember that he really hasn't done or won anything, and that he is probably much, much, much less "mentally tough" than all his supposed comparisons, like Magic, MJ, Bird, Kobe, and even The Durantula and DWade. But, whatever...I can easily put my disappointment in LeBron's "decision" (aka, the signature, pariah moment representative of all the frustrations we have with today's spoiled, me-first, who-cares-if-we-win-I-have-a-sneaker-contract-anyway, professional athletes) aside and just try to enjoy the game. After all, the potential for take-your-breath-away moments is off the charts with the 2010-2011 Miami Heat, right? So, rather than focus on LeBron and the whole Big Three distraction, let's just pretend to block out names and faces and storylines and think about last night's contest as between the home team in white and the visiting team in green. In other words, let's just focus on the basketball.
However, when you do that - when you try to put aside the personalities and the noise and the media hype - here's what you are unfortunately left with (last night, anyway): terrible, terrible basketball. The contrast in the teams was striking. Over and over again the Celtics would move the ball, work the shot clock, make the extra pass, and get great shots. And in response on the other end, time and time again, the Heat (invariably either LeBron or Wade) would respond with a rushed, off the mark, terrible shot about five seconds into the shot clock. Just when you'd think, "ok, the Heat are veterans...they will play off one another and try to do what the Celtics did and try to match them pass for pass and execution for execution," the Heat would come down and do something rushed or boneheaded or just...amateur. It was actually embarrassing and a little uncomfortable. I am not kidding. To respond to the Celtics "swing the ball around the horn, final gorgeous touch pass to a cutting guy for a lay-up and the ball never hit the ground once" with the Heat's "dribble dribble dribble one on one move shoot" was just pathetic. And it happened far too often. What were these guys thinking?
Anyway, that's the real disappointment here - it's that the Heat are actually playing crappy ball. Uninspired, I-have-no-idea-how-to-play, there's-no-leadership-at-all basketball. I know LeBron and Wade are more than capable of amazing things, and I assume the 4th quarter had its moments since the game ended with a much closer score than when we left at the end of the 3rd. That ability to explode is what will ultimately make them fun to watch sometimes and dangerous to play all the time. But it just so happens that the moments in between are just...awful. I saw turnovers, air balls, and forced shots that looked like they were out of 6th grade CYO. Again, what are these guys thinking?
I guess I just assumed that I would hate the ballers but really respect the beautiful game they played. But if last night is any indication, we may be left with hating the ballers and hating their game. What a waste that would be. Hey, I expected growing pains. I wrote about it in July and even predicted a 10-10 start to the season. (They're 5-4 as of writing.) As we know, All-Star games are not usually flowing, beautiful events with tons of team chemistry. And Miami's starting five is now basically an All-Star team. It's hard to mesh those styles and egos, for sure. But I never expected them to look like they had never played the game before. I never expected them to be terrible.
Granted, I am also putting a major microscope on one game...and it's very early into the season. I understand that my commentary should be set against that backdrop and that you shouldn't expect to derive too much accuracy from a sample size of one. But it was also a nationally-televised game against the team that beat the Heat in the opening game of the season, and it was at home. In other words, it was a "statement game" nonetheless. "Players" show up for that game. Big Time. I expected a statement from supposed "all-World" guys like Wade and LeBron. But the only statement those guys seemed to be making was "what time is our reservation for dinner on South Beach tonight?" And on the other side of the court, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo made a few statements of their own. To whit: "We made our own 'Decision.' The decision to be the alpha dogs on the east coast. So sit down and shut up." Good for them. The bottom line is that they played harder, better, and smarter. They deserved to win, and they exposed the Miami Heat as the bunch of independent, selfish, frauds...at least at this point in the season. From a purist standpoint, I would love to watch some good basketball down here, rather than a glorified "And 1" pick-up game. So I hope the Heat get it together, I really do.
Let's also talk about the Miami crowd for a second. I have nothing against the beautiful people and celebrities who are now descending on Miami to bear "Quitness" to the Big Three and the non-existent Twelve. After all, it's high entertainment and the buzz in the air is very cool. (Although you can feel the buzz evaporating from the area faster than it left the mosquito splattered on your windshield.) But I do have a bone to pick. In my opinion, the best crowds are knowledgeable crowds, and I also feel that there's a give-and-take between player and spectator in those optimal environments. Meaning: the best crowds actually "participate" in the game at times, and don't just consume the action as pure spectators. This is classic Madison Square Garden when the team is good. Actually, even when the teams are bad in NYC, the crowd participates. Miami falls down flat in that department.
Here's a prime example of what I mean: At one point in the 2nd quarter, DWade drove to the bucket and missed a pretty difficult and pretty well-defended twisting lay-up attempt. When the ref didn't bail him out (remember the 2006 Finals, btw? DWade got more calls than a stripper walking by a construction site), he made a few dramatic gestures (but avoided a "T") toward the ref and hung around the basket for a few seconds to bitch and moan. Of course, the Celtics corralled the rebound, pitched the outlet to Rajon Rondo, and sprinted down the court. Rondo found Ray Allen (Wade's defensive responsibility) spotting up, hit him in stride, and Allen drained a three. It all happened in about 2.7 seconds. Predictably, the crowd groaned and someone nearby said "damn, Ray Allen is killing us." No...incorrect, sir. It's not Ray Allen killing you. Right there, on that play, DWade was killing you. In fact, I could almost imagine the response if the game were in NYC and DWade played for the Knicks. I could almost hear the hypothetical Knick fan a few feet down from me with the Brooklyn accent yell out "Yo, DWade...howzabout you stop bitchin' and run back on friggin' D you friggin' pansy...you guy Allen is killin' us...howzabout you sprint back and guard him in transition?!" See, that's the difference. That's what I mean by knowledge and "participation." Not to mention accountability. Miami fans love the pretty dunks and the fast break lay-ups, but they don't seem to appreciate the development of a play, or the little stuff away from the ball that actually makes the game what it is. It's a shame. Hopefully they get there some day. After all, this team could use a few more people getting in the face of these supposed "untouchable" Big Three superstars. They could use to be dressed-down by the fans now and again. If they just only knew how and when...