Playing a game of 5-on-5 with Justin Verrier, Zack Harper and two our friends from the Heat Index (Tom Haberstroh and Michael Wallace) to preview Game 5 of the all-tied-up Eastern Conference finals. A sample:
Fact or Fiction: Rondo is the most important player in this series.
Forsberg: Fiction. He's really, really important, but Garnett is more important. When KG is on the floor in the playoffs, the Celtics are plus-164. When he's off, Boston is minus-116. It's impossible to ignore how important Garnett is defensively for Boston, and Miami tends to score at will when he's not out there. Rondo fuels the Boston offense, but if Boston is a defense-first team, the key cog is Garnett.
Haberstroh: Fiction. As marvelous as Rondo has been in this series, the Celtics don't stop James and Wade without Garnett. Don't believe me? Check that scoreboard again: The Celtics are plus-164 with Garnett on the floor and minus-116 with him on the bench. That screams importance.
Harper: Fiction. I still think it's Wade. If he can figure out how to not crowd LeBron and everything that's happening inside, the Heat can take the next two games. LeBron is the driving force of the team but he needs Wade going nova in stretches to make it all work. We know Rondo is going to be really good the rest of the series, but we don't know if Wade will show.
Verrier: Fiction. Rondo has the rare ability to captivate an audience like few other players, a true feat given that he's sharing the court with the world's best athlete. But for his team, the answer is Garnett, whose plus-34 the past two games doesn't truly emphasize the difference he's made. And for the series, the answer is a familiar one: James, who, despite having 3/4 of a big two by his side, is averaging 32.3 points (52 percent shooting), 9.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.8 blocks per game this series. Who else in the world could provide that?
Wallace: Fiction. LeBron is of equal importance in the grand scheme of things. Miami absorbed a historic game from Rondo in Game 2 and still managed to squeeze out an overtime victory. LeBron put up solid numbers against the Celtics, particularly in Game 3, and it wasn't enough. Both players have a remarkable ability to get their teammates involved. LeBron is the better overall player. But from an importance standpoint, it's a wash.
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