MIAMI HEAT VS. BOSTON CELTICS
So many factors will come into play for these Eastern Conference Finals. Perhaps the most glaring of these factors is the underlying rivalry that exists between these two teams. More particularly, the many times LeBron James has had to go through Boston before going for his first NBA title, even when he was in Cleveland. But this rivalry was even present last year, when LeBron celebrated in liberating fashion after finally defeating the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals. This year's match up has some different features and discrepancies, and while I wrote that Boston was the last remaining legitimate test for Miami after Chicago's major injuries, I fear this Celtics team does not have the juice to beat out LeBron James and Dwayne Wade in four games out of seven. However, there are several things about the Boston Celtics we know for sure, including their championship pride and experience, that will be absolutely necessary for them to win this series.
In my opinion, the most important person on the Boston Celtics roster is Doc Rivers. It takes a collective team effort to even have a chance against Miami. What it ultimately comes down to is having enough weapons to contend with two of the best basketball players in the world in Wade and LeBron. I believe Doc Rivers is critical for Boston because his roster is not as full as it has been in the past. His expertise has helped his team be successful thus far, utilizing extras such as Avery Bradley, Ryan Hollins, Mickael Pietrus, and Greg Stiemsma in ways where they can be useful in the system. With Avery Bradley now out for the playoffs and Ray Allen's questionable health, Rivers is left with limited options outside of his starting five. However, some might argue the same for Miami. Consider how much of Miami's success is dependent upon LeBron James and Dwayne Wade, especially without Chris Bosh. In their series against Indiana, LeBron scored 180 total points to Wade's 157. The next highest point total for Miami was Mario Chalmers with 65. Outside of Miami's big two, the team scored a combined total of 216 points against Indiana, just 36 more than James scored by himself. LeBron took 139 of Miami's field goal attempts against the Pacers, while Wade took 123. The next highest field goal attempt in that series, Mario Chalmers, with just 50 total shot attempts. These are hardly encouraging statistics for Miami. Am I saying LeBron and Wade shouldn't be taking most of the shots? Of course not. But I am staying consistent with what I said when Bosh went down, without a reliable third scoring option, the Miami Heat are vulnerable by definition. What it comes down to for any opponent of Miami is this: will you let two guys beat you? I look forward to seeing how Rivers decides to play them defensively. Taking care of the ball is clearly a major component to keeping Miami from getting easy baskets in the open floor, but in the half court I expect to see different schemes from Rivers, looking to bait others on Miami to make shots and make plays.
Match ups are everything, right? So I'll give my take on the match ups for this series briefly. Rajon Rondo clearly has the advantage at point guard, averaging 15 points and 12 assists in these playoffs. We've seen what Rondo can do against the Miami defense, which is predicated on forcing you to the sideline with their horse LeBron James usually playing center field. Rondo's command of the offense is crucial for Boston to get the shots they want. The Paul Pierce/LeBron James match up is significant because many consider Pierce to be James' kryptonite. But with Pierce just dragging along and LeBron playing at a high level I find it hard to believe “The Truth” will win out this time. In fact, the most consistent players for Boston outside of Rondo have been Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett. Their ability to make shots has been the key for their offense, largely due to Ray Allen's ineffectiveness dealing with his ankle injury. That being said, I don't think Boston can win this series without Ray Allen coming back to life. I think they have a chance because of Doc Rivers, Boston championship pride, Rajon Rondo, and a rejuvenated Kevin Garnett who should capitalize with the absence of Chris Bosh. However, what I saw in the Philadelphia series convinced me of one thing: The Miami Heat will give Boston the same kind of problems the 76ers did, only with much better individual talent. My pick: Miami Heat in 6.