The Heat and Celtics meet once again in the playoffs, this time competing in the Eastern Conference Finals that begin tonight (RIGHT NOW ON ESPN) in Miami. These teams are no strangers to each other, meeting four times this year in the regular season (Celtics won three of those matches). The Heat also knocked the Celtics out of the playoffs last season in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, so the Celtics are attempting to make that a distant memory and end the Heat’s season this time. With a trip to the NBA Finals on the line this best of seven series is sure to include some intense basketball and maybe a wheelchair or two.
Point Guard — Rajon Rondo (Celtics) vs. Mario Chalmers/Norris Cole (Heat): The point guard position is where the Celtics have the biggest advantage in this series. For all the people who doubt Rajon Rondo, please stop, the kid can flat out play basketball. #9 is averaging over 15 points per game in the postseason and an astonishing 12.3 assists per game so far and he is the quarterback on the floor for the Celtics offense. He’s also a pretty filthy defender averaging over 2 steals per game and annoying the heck out of opponent’s guards. The Heat counter with Mario Chalmers, who is averaging just over 11 points per game and his 3.5 assists per game are not ideal for a point guard (though to be fair LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have the ball in their hands for most of the game anyway). Norris Cole has been largely unproductive in the 10 minutes per game he’s averaging in the playoffs and the Heat shouldn’t really count on him to give Chalmers a break.
Shooting Guard — Ray Allen, Mickael Pietrus (Celtics) vs. Dwyane Wade, Mike Miller (Heat): The off-guard position is the one where the Celtics really need to worry the most about. Whatever was wrong with D-Wade in game three of the Heat’s series with the Pacers is not ailing him anymore, as he scored over 28 points in every game since, including a 41 point performance to finish off the Pacers. The 6’4”, 220 pound Wade also creates matchup problems with the Celtics guards so it will be interesting to see how the Celtics decide to defend him. A key player missing in this series is Avery Bradley, who the Celtics would have used to slow down Wade, but his season is over after having shoulder surgery this past Friday. Without Bradley the Celtics are forced to rely heavily on Ray Allen who battling injuries of his own, and they have no other option than to play zone defense with him in the game. Allen is still averaging 10 points per game in the postseason and is good for at least one or two big jump shots a game. Mike Miller is a shooter for the Heat who is only averaging 5 points per game in the playoffs, but if he is in the game with the Celtics playing zone he may get some chances to knock down jumpers.
Small Forward — Paul Pierce (Celtics) vs. LeBron James (Heat): Small forward is another position that has a key matchup in this series. Arguably both team’s best players play the position, and Pierce and LeBron have had some epic games against each other in the past. Paul Pierce is averaging over 19 points and 3.5 assists so far in the playoffs and he will need to continue to play great basketball for the Celtics to have a chance to pull off this upset. LeBron James is playing even more incredible basketball, averaging 29 points, almost 9 rebounds and 6 assists per game. As much as people hate on LBJ, he is one of the game’s greatest players in history and the Heat need him to step up and be a MAN if they want to win this series and contend for his first ring.
Power Forward — Brandon Bass (Celtics) vs. Shane Battier, Udonis Haslem (Heat): This is “no-pass” Bass’s first season with the Celtics but he has been wicked impressive in his short time here. In the first two rounds of the playoffs he averaged almost 12 points and over 5 rebounds a game and his presence allows the Celtics to use Kevin Garnett at the center position. Bass is a big boy at 6’8”, 250 pounds and he can bang in the paint with the best of them. The Heat have been really hurt with the injury to their “third star” Chris Bosh (who’s status for this series is unknown) and have been forced to play Battier and Haslem more minutes than they probably would like to. Both guys average just under 5 points per game now and are decent role-players, but both of them playing significant minutes is not something that the Heat want.
Center — Kevin Garnett, Greg Stiemsma (Celtics) vs. Joel Anthony, Ronny Turiaf (Heat): KG is playing inspired basketball right now. He is definitely one of the Celtics players to watch in this series as he’s averaging 19 points and almost 11 rebounds per game and is consistently hitting his favorite shot, the 18 foot fade-away. The Celtics as a whole seem to live-or-die by the play of Rajon Rondo, but you could argue that the play of Kevin Garnett is just as important to the guys in green and the Celtics need him to have an excellent series. Greg Stiemsma is a good center to have off the bench, he’s limited offensively but he makes up for it with his shot-blocking presence (almost 1 a game in just 9 minutes) and with his hustle. The Heat counter with Joel Anthony, Ronny Turiaf, and occasionally Dexter Pittman but at this point none of those guys are particularly a threat to Boston.
My Series Prediction: This is MY blog so I won’t tarnish it with my true feeling (*cough* Heat in Six *cough*), but instead I will be optimistic and say Celtics in SEVEN. If the Celtics can limit the damage done by Wade and LeBron and force the rest of the Heat to beat them, I really do like the Celts chances in this series. It’s a big if, but hey, as Kevin Garnett made famous in 2008 “Anything’s Possible!”.
Series MVP: Rajon Rondo. Again I’m hopeful, but if the Celtics win this series it will be because of #9.
Schedule (All Games on ESPN starting at 8:30 PM EST)
Game One — Miami Heat 93 – Boston Celtics 79
Game Two — Wednesday, May 30 – Miami
Game Three — Friday, June 1 – Boston
Game Four — Sunday, June 3 – Boston
Game Five — Tuesday, June 5 – Miami (If Necessary)
Game Six — Thursday, June 7 – Boston (If Necessary)
Game Seven — Saturday, June 9 – Miami (If Necessary)