Join us on a stroll down memory lane, would you? Let’s reminisce fondly about the good ol’ days.
Earlier this week , I believe that was.
What the heck happened!?
One minute we’re planning twin championship parades on behalf of the Miami Heat and Florida Panthers.
The next minute, we’re wondering how one goes about returning five tons of confetti. Or at least where to store it until next year.
No. 1 seeded Heat go sailing through the first round of the NBA playoffs past the Atlanta Hawks and then through the next against the Philadelphia 76ers. The No. 1 seeded Panthers do the same in the first round against the Washington Capitals — a watershed, Florida’s first postseason series advance since 1996.
Yes, this is the year!
This is the beauty of sports. Or sometimes the ugliness. Things can change. Fast.
The Heat got dominated at home in Game 2 by the Celtics in a 25-point rout to even the series 1-1 as the Eastern Conference finals headed back to Boston for Games 3-4 on Saturday night and Monday.
The Panthers packed a 2-0 series deficit for Games 3-4 in Tampa back-to-back on Sunday afternoon and Monday night.
Both high-riding top seeds suddenly are in scramble mode. The Heat must try to figure out how to solve a Boston team that, when healthy, has more go-to offensive weapons and is the equal of Miami defensively. The Panthers must try to figure out how not to get swept in four games.
Much can explain the changing look of this postseason that figured as a deep run to the Finals for both South Florida teams. And still could be, to be fair, although prospects have dimmed.
Let’s keep it simple on the biggest reason, and it applies to both teams:
▪ The Heat is getting a monstrous postseason offensively and every other way from star Jimmy Butler — but not enough consistent help from anybody else on the scoring end. Looking at you, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro. A great example was in Boston’s Game 2 win. Celtics got 27 from Jayson Tatum and 24 from Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart. Miami got 29 from Butler; nobody else topped 14.
▪ The Panthers problem has been the opposite. Other players stepping up in the offensive zone, such as Carter Verhaeghe and Claude Giroux. But that cannot make up for the greatly diminished offensive output thus far from towering stars Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov. They have a quiet three goals and seven assists through eight playoffs games, sharply below their regular-season averages.
The reason is a Florida power play that has turned powerless.
Huberdeau feasted on a man advantage to score 38 of his club-record 115 points during the season. Now, he and Barkov have been helpless to extract the Cats from an unfathomably horrific 0-for-25 postseason slump on the power play.
Coach Andrew Brunette acknowledged the power outage on the power play maybe has Huberdeau and Barkov gripping their sticks a bit too tightly and pressing.
”I’m not overly concerned, “ he said on Friday, an off day. But then: “I think the frustration is affecting them, so maybe that’s a little bit of a concern. They haven’t been able to find their groove in the power play and that’s maybe leaked into their 5-on-5 game. It leaks into your overall performance.”
Has he considered big personnel changes on the power play?
“Such a hard question. We’re trusting our best players to make a play,” he said. “Hindsight will be 20-20. I’ll be kicking myself all summer. But we’ll get it going. I really think it just takes one. But what the heck do I know! We’re just trying to get one and go from there.”
Beyond the power play, though better 5-on-5, the Panthers’ high-octane attack has found playoff hockey to be a bog.
Florida was held to one goal only three times in 82 season games. They have been held to one goal in three of eight playoff games.
In trying to explain that Brunette seems to acknowledge Tampa Bay is Big Brother in this rivalry.
“Extremely impressed,” he said of the Lightning’s shot blocking and defense in general. “It’s a great-eye opener for our group to see what it really takes. They will. They [Tampa] know how to win. We’re learning.”
Tough time of year, and on ice, to be learning.
Do not count out the Cats. They led the NHL with 29 come-from-behind wins this season and added three more in the first round.
But NHL historical trends says teams down 2-0 rally to win a series only 18.9 percent of the time. But suffice to say most of those comebacks have not been against a two-time reigning Stanley Cup champion with two home games in a row now to close it out in a sweep.
The Miami Heat’s odds surely are not as long.
But Game 2, with Celtics at full strength including the return of of the Defensive Player of the Year Smart and Al Horford, look like a different team.
Butler needs help. Period. He is averaging 29.7 points this postseason. That’;s on pace to be third all time for the Heat, afer Dwayne Wade’s 33.2 in 2010 and LeBron James’ 30.3 in 2012.
Good company, that.
It’s better company now that Butler and Miami need.
As one man carries the Heat, Herro and Adebayo combined are scoring 12.3 points per game less in the postseason than they did during the season. Couple with Kyle Lowry’s terribly timed injury absence, the burden of Butler has been too much.
So the message moving forward is simple enough:
For the Panthers, Huberdeau and Barkov must step up, big, and right now, and lead a resurgence.
For the Heat, Adebayo and Herro at the very least must step up, big, and right now, to be there for Butler, and for this season.