2011 NBA Playoffs: Heat-Celtics series breakdown

Left: Rondo in the first half of Game 3, Right: Rondo in the first half game 4. Can you spot the difference?

This was the series that I was the most excited about heading into the second round of playoff action, and to this point, I’ve been decently unsatisfied, but not quite underwhelmed. The first three games were close at points but ended up not even really games at the end. At least it was 2-1 after 3 games, about what everyone would have expected. But everything changed in that third game. Actually, everything changed and no one noticed. Then the world saw the replay. And we all knew that Boston was done for the year.

The biggest story of this series right now is Rajon Rondo’s ability or lack thereof to play basketball with 1.01 arms. Sure it was inspiring to see him finish game 3 and even make some big plays down the stretch. He had some truly remarkable moments that injected a bunch of energy into a team that severely needed it. Rondo even started game 4. He even played a bunch of minutes in game 4. But that injury happened with four entire games to go in this series. Four games is a lot to play with two distinct and separate halves of one former arm basically used as decoration. The momentum swung in Boston’s favor when he came out of that locker room and finished off the Heat in game 3, but does anyone out there really think that momentum is sustainable? I sure don’t.

And that’s exactly what we saw in game 4. Sure, Boston stayed in the game until the end with a one-armed Rondo and a no-armed Garnett, but the endgame showed exactly what is going to happen to the Rajon-less C’s. The offense won’t function.

I mentioned this in my MVP post, but what truly makes Rondo unique is that any night he’s liable to go off for 15 or even 20 assists. In game 4, he had five assists. And I don’t see that number going up in game 5. Sure, he’s gutsy, and it is undeniably remarkable that he has the testicles to keep playing, but he has ONE ARM. He dribbles with ONE ARM and passes with ONE ARM and doesn’t even shoot with any arms. His outside shot was already bad when he had four limbs in tact. Now he literally can’t shoot. Which means Miami doesn’t need to guard him outside of 10 feet from the basket. Or on his left side.

The truth is that no player on the Celtics is better than Wade or LeBron and the Celtics needed their four pseudo-stars to be the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th best players in this series to have a shot. Pierce and Allen have done their parts, Garnett shows up occasionally, but there’s no way Rondo can provide half of what that team needs from him.

I hate to say this, but this series is over. Whatever momentary lift the C’s got from the Rondo-induced injury extravaganza is just flat-out unsustainable.

I like to think that the overall lesson here is twofold, and fortunately both can be represented mathematically:

1) 1 arm + .5 arms + .5 arms ≠ 2 arms
2) Emotional boost of Rondo’s return < Actual loss of ability due to arm removal

Another story in this series is that the Heat are extremely good. The Big 3 (loosely 1.5 of Wade and 1.5 of LeBron) are still difficult to guard and if bench players are going to keep popping up to make threes, then this team is going to be awfully nasty.