By John Carroll | Scouts Inc.
This Sunday’s game between the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat is very important to the Celtics on many levels. They currently have a record of 29-22 and are in first place in the Atlantic Division. The C’s begin a monster schedule in the first ten days of April, playing Miami (twice), San Antonio, Chicago and Philly. Winning the Atlantic would guarantee the C’s a fourth seed in the playoffs. And that is the likely difference between playing the Indiana Pacers in the first round or facing a matchup against either the Chicago Bulls or Miami Heat.
The Heat are in second place in the Eastern Conference, with a 37-13 record. The Heat have been unbeatable at home with a 21-2 record, but a bit up and down on the road with a 16-11 record. They come into Sunday’s game having won two in a row, but only going 6-4 over the last ten games.
Key Injury: Celtics guard Ray Allen is day to day with an ankle injury. Allen has not played in the past five games and including Friday night’s win over Minnesota.
Key Matchup: Celtics SF Paul Pierce vs. Heat SF LeBron James
Paul Pierce was not available for the first matchup between these two teams back in December. He leads the Celtics in scoring averaging 19.0 ppg. In addition Pierce is grabbing 5.1 rpg and dishing out 4.8 apg for the C’s. The key for Pierce is getting to the foul line. This season he is getting to the line 5.9 times per game and shooting .850 from the charity stripe. The Celtics must get him going early, getting him the ball in transition (14.4 percent of his offense) isolations at the top of key or elbow (15.3 percent of his offense) and postups (10.3 percent of his offense). Pierce has always had tremendous success when he can mix his jumper from the elbow/top of key with his ability to drive to the rim. When his jumper is going and he is getting to the foul line at a high rate, he is extremely difficult to defend.
James leads the Heat in four major statistical categories: points (26.5 ppg), rebounds (8.3 rpg) assists (6.5 apg) and steals (2.9 spg). He is having an MVP year for the Heat and he will pose an enormous problem for the Celtics. James is one of the most difficult matchups in the NBA due to his size, strength and explosiveness. The Celtics must be concerned about defending James in three major ways. First is transition where he gets 19.5 percent of his offensive touches, shooting 71 percent from the field. Secondly is pick-and-rolls which comprise 14.9 percent of his offense. In the pick-and roll game James is shooting 51.4 percent from the field. And thirdly is his newly developed postup game which is now comprises 13 percent of his offensive possessions. He is shooting 51.7 percent in postup situations.
Key Mismatch: Heat PGs Mario Chalmers/Norris Cole vs. Celtics PG Rajon Rondo
Rondo must dominate this matchup for the Celtics to beat the Heat. He must put pressure on Chalmers and Cole in transition, in pick-and-rolls and with his offensive rebounding. In addition he must contain Chalmers and keep Cole in check. In their first game in Miami, Rondo scored 22 points, grabbed 8 rebounds and dished out 12 assists. He was extremely aggressive getting the ball to the rim and getting to the foul line 11 times. These numbers were all above his season averages of 12.4 ppg and 10.8 apg. In addition, Rondo must dominate with his defense. He must disrupt the flow of the Miami Heat offense with pressure on the ball, getting deflections and steals throughout the game. Although the Rondo dominated Chalmers in the first game, Norris Cole came off the bench to score 20 points in the second game of his NBA career. It is imperative in Sunday’s game that the Celtics win the point guard matchup.
Key Stat: Turnovers/Steals
The Miami Heat is a tenacious defensive team and they thrive on turnovers and steals. They currently are third in the NBA in steals at 9.1 per game, forcing turnovers at 17.0 per game. Both of these numbers are up from a year ago when the Heat averaged only 6.8 steals per game and forced 13.0 turnovers. In the first meeting between these two clubs the Heat had 16 steals and forced 24 Celtic turnovers. It is imperative that the C’s take care of the ball on Sunday because the Heat are tremendous at converting turnovers into points. They get out in transition and are unstoppable with Dwyane Wade and LeBron in the open court.
Key Play: Defense vs. Offense
The Celtics have one of the top defenses in the NBA but it will be taxed when they face the Heat offense. The Celtics are in the top three in every important defensive category. They are No. 3 in points allowed (90.4 ppg), No. 2 in field goal percentage defense (.423) and No. 1 defending the 3-point shot (.306). Their defense will be challenged by one of the top offenses in the NBA. The Heat are No. 1 in field goal percentage (.480), and No. 4 in scoring 101.0 ppg.
The Heat, who have two of the top ten scorers in the league in James (26.5 ppg) and Wade (22.9), scored 115 points in their first matchup with the Celtics. James and Wade combined for 50 points in that game. They each can create their own shot and carry the Heat singlehandedly. The Celtics have a tremendous team defense, but they do not have great perimeter defenders at the shooting guard and small forward positions and could be exposed again in this matchup.
Key Deficiency: Points in the Paint
The Celtics struggle mightily to score in the paint. They are 29th in paint points with only 34.6 ppg. That is down almost 6 points per game from last season when they scored 40.7 ppg in the paint. Meanwhile the Heat dominated the paint, getting 42.4 ppg which ranks them 7th in the league. The Heat won the battle in the paint in their first meeting with a 52-28 difference in paint points.