The Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics will begin the Eastern Conference Semifinal series this Sunday. The real drawback in this series between two powerhouse franchises is that the two teams aren’t meeting in the Eastern Conference Final. Although we have to enjoy it a round too early, there will be many story-lines and a lot of excitement in the clash of these two teams.
The drama began the first game of the season, where the Celtics, the defending Eastern Conference Champions, faced the new dream team in South Beach. Now, six months and an entire season later, the two teams will face off when it matters. The first team to grind out four wins will be surely be a favorite going into the next round.
Season Series Recap:
The first games between the teams came in the first two weeks of the season. The first game was a disappointment from a basketball standpoint as both teams seemed sluggish at the start of the game. The first quarter ended with a 16-9 Boston lead. Boston lead for much of the game and held off a Lebron James comeback to secure their victory
In the second game, the Celtics’ Ray Allen got the best of Dwayne Wade — the Heat co-captain could not hit double-figures and got torched by the NBA’s all-time 3 point leader. In both of these games, the Heat were going through growing pains and the Celtics were on a dominant season-opening run.
Game three between the teams was much more competitive. Both teams battled and scrapped as the Heat closed to within two and James went to the free throw line. After missing the crucial first shot but making the second, the game ended with a missed shot by Mike Miller. Wade wasn’t able to figure out the Celtics tough defense. Celtics win the game, 85-82.
Then the Kendrick Perkins trade happened and everything seemed to change in Boston. The team spiraled down into an end-of-the-year swoon and left many question about how the team would compete in the playoffs.
The Celtics’ starting five before the trade (Rondo, Allen, Pierce, Garnett and Perkins) had never lost a playoff series together. Trading such an integral piece of the team did not make sense to many pundits and opened up the east for the Heat.
Both teams sent that message to Boston with blowout wins in the last week of the season, especially the 100-77 Miami beat-down. The Heat decimated the Celtics with tough defense and quick-paced offense, punctuated by a Wade block on Allen on what looked like a fast-break lay-up for the Celtic guard. It was the statement win the Heat needed entering the playoffs.
Key Match-Up: Heat Defensive Stops:
Each of these teams is familiar with the other’s tactics. The Celtics want to slow the game down into the half-court and make the Heat trio try and break their defense. The Heat are looking for turnovers and bad shots. These tactics play into each team’s biggest strength: the Celtics half-court defense and the Heat transition offense. Both teams’ success will depend on how well the Heat defendes easy baskets and penetration from the Celtics offense.
If the Celtics are able to control the clock and keep the Heat from running forward off missed baskets and easy steals, the Heat offense will find it extremely challenging to make consistent shots. The Celtics would be able to retaliate with runs down the court by Rondo which open Ray Allen’s three-point looks.
If the Heat defense, though, is able to stay disciplined and keep Rondo from penetrating the lane, they can force Rondo to take bad shots or get their big men to try and make long jumpers. That opens up the Heat offense and lets Wade and James run without meeting too many traps. The Heat will get the highlight-reel plays from the fast-break that will fire up the team and fans. When the Heat are energized and play tough, they can beat anyone on the court.
Celtic’s Biggest Advantage: Big Baby and Garnett in the low post:
Glen Davis has a knack for abusing other power forwards with his body in and around the paint. Kevin Garnett, standing at seven feet, is aggressive in backing down his man and uses his height to turn around and drop in easy hooks and banks off the back-board. This has been particularly effective against Chris Bosh, who, for all of his talent, is not a top-tier low post defender. The ability of the Celtics to feed the ball to their big men, especially when matched up against the lanky Heat power-forward will give them easy looks at the basket and then open shots for their three-point shooters.
Heat Biggest Advantage: Lebron’s Facilitation:
The one stalwart force for the Heat against the Celtics has always been James. For all of his history of defeat against Boston, he has been able to get to the lane at will and fill up the stat sheet. It’s been 3 years since the great game seven match-up between Pierce and The Great One. But this is not 2008.
While Lebron has gotten better, Pierce has lost a step, which is why the Celtics have sometimes thrown Rondo to defend the bigger James. Whether he’s matched up against Pierce, Rondo, or Jeff Green, Lebron should be able to get any look he wants and bring in the double-team. When the double-team comes, he needs to find open teammates whether that be Chalmers, Bibby, or Jones. A great play scheme Miami used in its series against the Philidelphia 76ers was James feeding Wade behind him cutting right to left, giving MV3 his best look to get to the rim. If the Heat get caught in the half-court, Lebron will have to bring out his inner Magic Johnson and raise his teammates up another level.
X-Factor: Mario Chalmers:
It is already evident that the Heat’s best line-up includes Chalmers and Anthony. This is because they are both tenacious on defense and allow the Big Three to work the offense between each other. Game Five against Philadelphia was a big step for Chalmers, Kansas alum, scoring 20 points and making 6 threes at 50% shooting. He has had a positive plus/minus differential throughout the first round and sparked the team along with Anthony.
Having long arms, he is a great perimeter defender and has a nose for steals. If he is able to play tough defense on Rondo and let Wade and James disrupt passing lanes and provide scoring from open looks and drives at the rim, he can change what the Celtics defense focuses on and turn the series in the Heat’s favor.
A little known fact is that he actually holds the records for steals in a game for the Heat franchise at nine from back in his rookie year. Playing alongside Lebron has lifted his confidence. In the biggest moment of game five versus against the Sixers, he was fed the ball going to the rim and set up fouls against Joel Anthony. The notion has been that there is nothing after the Big Three. It’s time for Chalmers to earn the nickname Super Mario and help lift the Heat.
Going into Game One:
The Celtics easily dispatched the short-handed New York Knicks, sweeping them out of the playoffs at the Garden. Their series showed that they are hungry and sparked promise in Rondo’s improved play. He is the engine that makes the Celtics go — the offense flows through him.
The Heat were challenged by the Sixers. Philidelphia played hard in every game and made the second-seed work to close them out. However, improved bench play and the growing team chemistry of Miami has them ready for the challenge that the Celtics will bring.
Clear your calendars, folks. It’s going to be a great series.