By John Carroll
The matchup of the Celtics and the Heat in the second round of this year’s NBA Playoffs will be one of the most anticipated series in a long time. This is the matchup that everyone has been looking forward to all year. It will be the Big Three of the Miami Heat with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh versus the Big Four of the Celtics with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo.
The Celtics limped into the playoffs again this year, and the question will be whether they can flip the switch again like did last year when they went to the seventh game of the NBA Finals. Miami has home court in this series and it may be the difference maker. These two teams have met four times this year with the Celtics holding a 3-1 advantage. The Celtics won three close games by the total of 16 points while the Heat blew out the Celtics in Miami by 23 points on April 10th.
The Miami Heat are a much younger, and more athletic team. They have developed over the course of the season into a very good defensive team and an extremely explosive offensive unit. They still have a lot of question marks with their roster and continue to be a work in progress. One of their big issues is they do not have a point guard who can defend the elite points in the league. Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem have been banged up all season. And the Heat have had consistency issues, especially when it comes to closing out games.
Five Keys to Series
Point Guard Dominance: The emergence and development of Rajon Rondo over the past two years has been one of the biggest factors why the Celtics are so good. He has become an NBA All-Star with his play and he must dominate this series. The Miami Heat do not have an answer for Rondo. Mike Bibby and Mario Chalmers will have their hands full they are defending Rondo. In the three wins the Celtics had over the Heat this season Rondo got wherever he wanted. His ability to penetrate and get into the paint, will put a lot of pressure on the Heat. When Rondo is extremely aggressive he gets shots for himself and his teammates. In the three regular season wins Rondo averaged 14.3 assists per game. In their 23 point loss he only had 5 assists. Rondo will dictate the tempo of the game for the Celtics, he will draw defenders and create open looks for Pierce, Allen and Garnett. The Heat will probably throw different looks at Rondo. When they go to their bigger lineups Wade will probably have the task of guarding Rondo. The Heat will try to make Rondo beat them with his jump shot. They feel that although he may make shots in a series he cannot beat them with his jumper over a seven game series.
Interior Defense: In late February Danny Ainge traded Kendrick Perkins to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Jeff Greene and Nenad Krstic. Perkins had been the interior enforcer for the Celtics the past three to four years, protecting the rim, and knocking down anyone that tried to score in the paint. He was the consummate, physical big man for the Celtics who have now become a much more finesse oriented team. He took his role seriously and became a very important cog in the Celtics defensive machine. This is going to be a very physical series. Without Perkins the Celtics will be vulnerable. The Miami Heat has two of the best 1-1 penetrating perimeter players in the NBA. If LeBron James and Dwyane Wade can get to the rim and finish the Celtics are in trouble. Currently the Celtics have Jermaine O’Neal playing the center position. He has been a shot blocker and a force inside in years past. But whether he can do those types of things versus the Miami Heat is another story.
Frontline Scoring: If the Miami Heat do beat the Celtics it may not be because of LeBron James or Dwyane Wade. It may be due to the play of Chris Bosh. The Miami Heat desperately need Bosh to have a big series versus the Celtics in order to get to the Eastern Conference Finals. He needs to be a presence in the paint offensively and defensively for the Heat. He needs to be extremely aggressive, taking the ball to the rim and not settling for jump shots. Bosh averaged 18.7 points per game and 8.3 rebounds. When Bosh scored at least 10 points and grabbed 10 rebounds the Heat were 21-7 this season. Bosh scored 15 points or less in 3 out of the four games the C’s and the Heat played this season. Bosh came to Miami to win, it is time for him to step up on a very big stage. He must produce offensively for the Heat. He must command the ball on the block, at the elbow and be in attack mode all series long. If he can be a consistent offensive performer for the Heat it will help them defeat the Celtics.
The Bench Production: Everyone knows who the stars are in this series. What we don’t know is which complimentary players will help decide this series. The Celtics have struggled all year with their bench and it was the same story in the first round of the playoffs. Only in the fourth game of their series with the Knicks did the Celtic bench make a meaningful contribution. The Celtic defense will be challenged in his series with the 1-1 dribble drives of James, Wade and Bosh. As a team gets deeper in the playoffs and begin to play better teams they are more vulnerable to foul trouble and fatigue. It takes more energy to defend and score. Pierce, Allen, and Garnett must be able to play 35 plus minutes a game against a much younger and athletic team. They must stay fresh and stay out of foul trouble. Doc Rivers will need Delonte West, Glenn Davis, Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic to come in, contribute and spell his starters. They will not be required to extend leads but at least protect ones. Meanwhile Eric Spoelstra will utilize Joel Anthony, Mario Chalmers, James Jones, and possibly Mike Miller off the bench. Anthony has blossomed into a wonderful defensive player. He protects the rim, covers up for his teammates and rebounds the ball. Mario Chalmers and James Jones will get a ton of looks from the perimeter due to the emphasis on helping and stopping James and Wade. If they can knock down those shots they will make the Heat tough to beat.
Ray Allen Matchup: This will be a critical matchup to watch in this series. Ray Allen is the NBA’s three point scoring leader surpassing Reggie Miller earlier this season. When he gets it going he is a scoring machine. Dwyane Wade will probably matchup with Allen and although Wade is one of the premier defenders in the league at the scoring guard position, guarding Allen is a different story. Guarding Ray Allen requires attention to detail and complete concentration. He is not going to score running pick and rolls and going 1-1. The Celtics will run Allen off multiple screens in various sets. Wade must run with him, keep attached to him and not allow any air space. Ray has a very quick release and if Wade is not completely attached to him coming off screens he will get a ton of good looks. In Game 3 of the NY Knick series, Allen went for 32 points because the Knicks let him run free off screens and he made them pay. Guarding Ray Allen requires a lot of work on the defensive end of the floor and there is no doubt that it takes a lot of energy to do that. Will all that energy at the defensive end of the floor affect Wade at the offensive end?
Prediction: Celtics in six