Cumberland Times-News

Basketball

May 5, 2011

Big 3 battle? Not yet, with Wade and James rolling

MIAMI — Over the past 20 postseasons, no one has averaged more points against the Boston Celtics than Dwyane Wade, and no one has a bigger scoring total against them than LeBron James.

The numbers show they’ve been individual matchup nightmares.

Putting them together, well, the Celtics haven’t figured out how to handle that yet. They’re running out of time.

Wade is averaging 33 points so far in Miami’s Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Celtics, James is averaging 28.5, and those simply are the two biggest reasons why the Heat are out to a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven. And even the Celtics are tipping their caps to Wade and James at this point.

“You’ve got to give Miami the credit,” Celtics forward Glen Davis said. “They have been playing terrific. Their stars are being stars. Wade and James are willing their way to a win. Point blank.”

This series was originally touted as a Big 3 vs. Big 3 matchup, the Heat group of Wade, James and Chris Bosh against Boston’s longtime core of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.

It’s been one-sided so far.

Wade and James have scored more points (123) than Pierce, Garnett, Allen and Rajon Rondo (114) in the first two games of these East semis combined — and remember, that doesn’t even take into account the 24 points and 23 rebounds put up by Bosh so far in the series.

“At this time of the year, you’ve got to do whatever it takes, honestly,” said James, who has 405 points in his postseason career against Boston. “Like D-Wade, when you’re a competitor, you know you’re going to have to play both sides of the floor. There’s no easy way out in the playoffs. There’s no matchups out there where you can just have a rest.”

Their rest came Wednesday, when Heat coach Erik Spoelstra gave Miami the day off. On Thursday, it was back to work.

“We’re asking quite a bit of them,” Spoelstra said.

And they’re delivering, both on the defensive end — Wade is primarily chasing Allen, James has been matched up with Pierce — as well as the offensive side.

In Game 2, Wade and James had one of their best combined nights of the season. James scored 35 points, Wade had 28, and both had highlight-reel moments. Wade sidestepped a badly guessing Garnett for a layup and then faked his way clear of a falling-down Allen for a 3-pointer late in the first half. James spun past Rondo for a dunk, then twisted on the rim after another slam in the second half.

“They’ve proven that they do this,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “They’re going to get points and I believed that going into this series. But they can’t be so efficient getting them and that’s on us. We have to do a better job of shrinking the floor. There’s things we can do. There’s things we have to do.”

Wade is 7 for 7 against the Celtics — as in, seven playoff games against them, seven games of at least 25 points. Starting with last season’s first round matchup, Wade is averaging 33.1 points in the postseason against Boston.

Something about Boston has brought out Wade’s playoff best, and some Heat opponents saw his postseason surge coming as the regular season wound down.

“He’s probably one of the best athletes the world’s got,” Charlotte guard Gerald Henderson said after seeing the Heat for the final time in the regular season. “His change of speed, his balance, all of that stuff, he’s just a great athlete. ... Combine all of that athleticism with the way he handles a basketball, it’s really tough to guard him. You just have to lock in and just hope he misses.”

Wade missed his share in Game 2, shooting 8 for 20.

But as he’s done plenty of times in the playoffs — think 2006, for example — he compensated by getting to the line plenty of times, going 11 for 13 there on Tuesday night.

The Celtics attempted 40 free throws in the first two games. Wade and James have shot 39, and Bosh has added 13 more.

“The free throw line right now, we’re getting crushed on,” Rivers said.

Boston will be different on Saturday. Rivers said he expects center Shaquille O’Neal, who has missed nearly all of the last three months with leg problems, to be available as a reserve in Game 3. And the Celtics plan to run more for Pierce and Allen, which could tax James and Wade more on the defensive end.

Miami knows Game 3 will be its biggest challenge yet, in a season filled with plenty of tough tests already.

“The series is just starting,” Wade said. “We’ve got to go up there like we would if we were starting on the road, and be like, ’Let’s go get one right now.’ So our focus is on Game 3 and making sure that we’re even better than we were at home.”

Tim Reynolds can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/ByTimReynolds

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