For the second straight season, the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics meet in the NBA’s Eastern Conference Playoffs. This time, the stakes are higher, with the veteran Celtics and high-flying Heat playing for a trip to the NBA Finals in June. Miami has relied on world class performances from stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to offset the major loss to the other member of, “The Big Three”, Chris Bosh, who is sidelined with an abdominal injury. Miami toyed with the New York Knicks, then defeated Indiana in six games, taking the last three, to close out the pesky Pacers. Boston has dropped five games so far this postseason, struggling with a veteran Atlanta Hawks club in the 1st Round and fending off the feisty, up and coming Philadelphia Sixers in the Conference Semis. Boston’s nucleus of battle tested champions are mounting one last run at a championship, before what is likely the imminent break up of their talented, veteran cast this offseason. Here is an in-depth look at the matchups in the series and a prediction:
Rajon Rondo vs. Mario Chalmers
Rondo led the NBA in assists per game this season and has upped that total to a stunning 12.3 assists per game in the Playoffs. He has also bumped up his points from 11.9 to 15.3 per game. Rondo has blossomed into one of the best point guards-and players-in the NBA. Amazing to consider but he may already be the best pro to ever come out of the storied University of Kentucky program. Rondo will do everything he can to involve veterans Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in the action. Chalmers will counter with his ability to spread the floor and knock down the three point shot. He’s hitting 40% of his attempts from long range so far this postseason. Boston has a decided advantage at the 1.
Ray Allen vs. Dwyane Wade
Ray Allen may be the best pure shooter in NBA history but he’s fighting a nagging ankle injury and he’s coming up against one of the best players in the league both on the offensive and defensive end. Wade showed why he’s such a deadly scorer in closing out Indy, pouring in 30, 28 and 41 in the final three games, on 57%, 59% and 68% shooting respectively. Wade will be a load for Boston to handle and comes in as the key player in this series, due to the injury to Celtic Avery Bradley. Bradley is sidelined for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury and is one of the premier perimeter defenders in the game.
Paul Pierce vs. LeBron James
LeBron James, the current NBA MVP and three-time trophy winner, comes off a sensational series against Indiana where he averaged 30 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists per game. The King is doing it all. Can Pierce keep up with James’ transition and improved post-up game? Pierce has struggled somewhat from the field (under 42%) yet he’s getting to the free throw line more often. Pierce must slow down LeBron for Boston to have a chance.
Brandon Bass vs. Shane Battier/Udonis Haslem
Physical, savvy veterans Battier and Haslem will attempt to fill the massive void left by injured Chris Bosh whose return from an oblique injury is not known and unlikely for this series. Battier has averaged four 3-point attempts per game in the Playoffs and will try spreading the floor on offense. Expect Haslem to try and wear down the red hot Bass, who was key in Boston victories in Games 5 and 7 against Philly. Bass has been a very nice addition to the Celtics frontcourt and is averaging 12 and 5 this postseason.
Kevin Garnett vs. Ronny Turiaf/Joel Anthony
Turiaf will likely start but Anthony should enjoy the lion’s share of the minutes at the 5 spot. He will have his hands full with future Hall of Famer, Kevin Garnett, who is averaging 19 points and 11 rebounds this postseason. If Garnett can dominate down low, Boston can realistically advance to the NBA Finals. With the absence of Chris Bosh, Garnett needs to more aggressively attack the rim and rely less on his mid-range jumper.
The Boston Celtics bench is quite thin with the loss of Avery Bradley. The good news for Boston? Miami’s bench is paper thin as well. Mickael Pietrus is the C’s biggest threat off the pine and that’s not saying much. Ryan Hollins and Greg Stiemsma have done yeomen’s work in the paint and defensively for Boston and will spell Garnett and Bass. Miami expects big things out of Joel Anthony, who averaged nearly 30 minutes per game in the Indiana series. Anthony will need to be a force on the boards, as the Heat are desperate for rebounding help. Mike Miller and Norris Cole will hope to spur Miami’s long-distance shooting attack when they spell Wade and Chalmers.
These teams know each other very well, having met in the Playoffs last season and four times this regular season. Each team has veteran warriors that have all played in the NBA Finals. These teams know how to win and no amount of pressure will faze them.
Doc Rivers has once again done a marvelous job with the Celtics and Erik Spoelstra has mostly been successful managing the egos and bright lights that come with coaching LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat. Rivers has more experience but that’s not much of a factor here.
The Heat know Chris Bosh will not be there to help them defeat Boston this season. This series will come down to whether Miami’s role players can sufficiently step up and take some of the burden off of Wade and James, who are easily the two best players in this series. Miami has home court advantage and a chip on their shoulder after falling short in last year’s Finals. Unless Kevin Garnett has the best Playoff series of his career, expect Miami to defeat the aging Celtics once again.
Heat in 6