Who will win?
BOSTON JUST DIGS DEEP AND FINDS A WAY
There's a more tangible and logical reason the Celtics will ultimately win the Eastern Conference finals -- something like the mismatches they've been able to exploit against the Heat with point guard Rajon Rondo and center Kevin Garnett -- but here's a better reason that's not nearly as easy to quantify: Boston simply refuses to lose.
Maybe it's the experience of having been in these types of situations five straight years. Maybe it's the fear that this could truly be the last rodeo for a veteran core. Whatever the reason, Boston will simply not go quietly this season and, having rallied from a 2-0 hole, the Celtics stand two wins from a third trip to the NBA Finals in five seasons.
Oh sure, the Heat probably have more individual talent, more athleticism, more reasons -- on paper -- that they should win this series. But these Celtics defy all logic. They make things as difficult as possible on themselves and each time you try to shovel dirt on them, a hand comes reaching out of the ground below.
Conventional wisdom suggests the Heat are still in control of what's now a best-of-3 series. Miami will have the benefit of home-court advantage for two of those potential three games and it might even have big man Chris Bosh back on the floor as early as Game 5.
Heck, the Heat might even win Tuesday night and push the Celtics -- and maybe the Big Three era -- to the brink of elimination. It won't faze Boston. A team that was two games under .500 at the All-Star break and seemingly dismissed after two games in this series, the Celtics have never worried much about what probability says about their chances for success.
The Celtics simply dig deep, lean on that veteran core and find ways to win the ones they've gotta have. It's not always pretty, but Boston is still standing among the NBA's final four.
And, for reasons that can't quite be explained, Boston will still be standing when that number is halved again this week.
CHRIS BOSH'S RETURN GIVES MIAMI THE EDGE
The Heat will win the series because Chris Bosh is coming back and Avery Bradley isn't. Granted, we don't know what kind of shape Bosh will be in, but assuming he plays in Game 5 (and all indications are that he's a go), his presence alone will free space for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to work.
The funny thing is that Boston's best defender on Wade isn't Ray Allen or Keyon Dooling or Mickael Pietrus, it's Kevin Garnett. It's been Garnett who has deterred Wade the most on the floor in this series. And if Bosh's dynamic scoring ability can at least make Garnett steer his eyes away from Wade, that'll be more than what Joel Anthony and Ronny Turiaf have provided all series.
If you give Wade just a sliver of daylight in the lane, he's gone. But Garnett's 7-6 frame (Erik Spoelstra mentions this "fact" almost every other breath) has gobbled up Wade like a blanket. Part of the reason Wade has had such trouble getting what he wants in the first half of games is that he can't crack the code of the Celtics' defense. Garnett holds the key and Wade can't force his way through the paint.
Bosh is the decongestant and, if nothing else, he'll help Wade get better looks. Once Garnett is taken out of the picture some, it's up to Allen or Dooling to stay in front of Wade more in one-on-one sets, and that's a dangerous proposition for players their age -- no matter how many 5-hour Energy drinks Dooling chugs before the game.
If Bradley were healthy, I'd feel differently about the ultimate victor. Talking with folks around the league, they feel that Bradley's injury actually hurts the C's more than the Bosh injury has hurt the Heat. But only one of those players is coming back in this series. Think of Bosh as the ringer in the local pickup game.
Not to reopen old wounds for Boston fans, but Avery Bradley is not walking through that door. And Chris Bosh is. We think.