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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Miami Versus Boston Preview

Eastern Conference Second Round

#2 Miami (58-24) vs. #3 Boston (56-26)

Season series: Boston, 3-1

Boston can win if…the Celtics protect the ball and control the boards, two key factors to prevent the Heat from scoring easy points in transition. The Celtics want to play a low scoring, half court game, while the Heat want to play an uptempo, open court game. Rajon Rondo will have to perform very dominantly in multiple categories--points, rebounds and assists--to help offset the production of Miami's "Big Three" of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh; if Rondo plays well he will distort Miami's defense and thus create opportunities for Boston's "Big Three" of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, three future Hall of Famers who cannot create shots for themselves at this stage of their careers to the same extent that Miami's superstar trio can create shots for themselves. The Celtics will also need to get strong production from the center position (Jermaine O'Neal, Nenad Krstic and Shaquille O'Neal--assuming that Shaq is healthy enough to play and in good enough condition to make any kind of impact).

Miami will win because…the Celtics lost a major advantage over the Heat when the Celtics traded away Kendrick Perkins; the Heat now match up better inside with the Celtics than they did before that deal. Perkins' screens helped to free up Paul Pierce and Ray Allen on offense, while Perkins' physical presence in the paint deterred opposing teams from scoring easy baskets in the paint. Either team is capable of winning on the road in this series but the Heat have game seven at home if necessary, a trump card that has proven to be significant historically.

Other things to consider: Prior to the season, I felt very strongly that the Celtics would beat the Heat if the teams met in a seven game playoff series. The Celtics defeated the Heat the first three times the teams faced each other in the regular season but in the final encounter--the only one played after the Perkins trade--Miami won 100-77; I am the last person who would try to read too much into just one regular season game but the importance of that contest is (1) the Heat dominated the boards and (2) that victory without question gave the Heat added confidence about their team in general and about the matchup versus Boston in particular.

The Celtics will have the edge in any game that is close down the stretch because the biggest question/concern for the Heat is their half court offensive execution; the Heat have had some much discussed failures in the final seconds of close games but "clutch shot stats" are inherently overrated due to small sample sizes and the fact that such shots are low percentage plays by nature: the real issue for the Heat is not so much what they will do in the final two minutes or the final 10 seconds but rather what they will do throughout the game against an opponent that prevents the Heat from repeatedly scoring easy baskets in transition. If the Heat run their "clown car" offense (which consists of LeBron James or Dwyane Wade dribbling aimlessly and the Heat looking as disorganized as clowns piling out of a circus car) then the Celtics will win this series.

I expect this series to go the distance, with seemingly dramatic momentum changes from game to game and within the games; there will be a lot of fodder for idiots in the media to propagate various flawed theories such as "Wade should be the closer" or "Team X (whoever lost the previous game) cannot possibly recover" (except that Team X then wins the very next game, much like what we just saw in the Dallas-Portland series after Portland's big game four comeback win).

Regardless of all of the season-long media hype about Miami being "Dwyane Wade's team," during the regular season LeBron James led the Heat in minutes, scoring, assists and steals while ranking second in rebounding and James led the Heat in minutes, scoring, rebounding and assists during their first round victory over Philadelphia. James is bigger than Wade, there is no skill set area in which Wade is better than James and James is less turnover prone; James is Miami's best player by statistical, skill set and "eye test" reasons. This series will likely be decided by James authoring a signature game seven performance at home in a close Miami victory. If that happens, then some people will undoubtedly say that this triumph justifies James' choice to flee Cleveland to play for Miami but it could also be argued that if James stars during this series then it makes the way that he blatantly quit versus Boston in last year's playoffs even more puzzling and disappointing.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:39 PM

13 comments

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13 Comments:

At Saturday, April 30, 2011 4:52:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

Wasn't Perkins sidelined for some of Boston's wins over Miami?

I agree that the loss of Perkins hurts Boston's chances, but not to the same degree that some are suggesting. Perkins' impact has become a bit overrated. It became popular to suggest that his absence in Game 7 of last year's Finals tipped the series to the Lakers, but I think Rasheed Wallace gave the Celtics more in that game than they would have gotten from Perkins.

Before the season started and before the playoffs started, I picked the Heat. I am going to stick with that pick, but I don't feel very strongly about it. I wouldn't be surprised at all if Boston wins.

I expect the winner of this series to make it to the Finals and lose to the Lakers.

 
At Saturday, April 30, 2011 8:54:00 PM, Anonymous DanielSong39 said...

Series odds:
Miami 0.578
Boston 0.422

Conference odds:
Miami 0.336
Boston 0.228

Championship odds:
Miami 0.195
Boston 0.112

Ah, do or die time for Lebron. It's his first major test as a Heat, and it's an imposing one - as the Celtics look for their 3rd Finals appearances in 4 years. Much (perhaps too much) has been made of his poor Game 5 performance vs. the Celtics last season - and make no mistake, if he has even one such subpar performance in this series, that could be enough to send the series in Boston's favor.

As for Boston, I feel that too much has been made of the Perkins trade. While his locker room influence cannot be denied, he would have been below 100% for this year's playoffs. With the 2011-12 season in doubt due to the impending lockout, the Celtics felt Green was in better position to help the squad in 2012-3 and beyond. In addition, Jermain O'Neal has at least been competent as a fill-in - and it's at least questionable as to whether a limited Perkins would have been that much better this season.

At least on the surface, this looks like an even series that could be decided by the bounce of the ball. Lebron has been magnificent for Miami, while the defense has surprisingly held its own despite its glaring deficiencies in the interior. Boston has been up and down, along with their floor general Rondo, but has been on an up-tick in the playoffs.

On paper, Boston's collective experience, talent, and guile should be too much for the Heat. However, I fully expect Miami to get the lion's share of the calls - perhaps enough to steal the series down the stretch in a closely-contested Game 7.

 
At Sunday, May 01, 2011 3:36:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Vednam:

Yes, Perkins did not play in Boston's first two wins over Miami but in both of those games the Celtics had a healthy Shaq. Now Perkins is gone and Shaq is questionable at best so the Celtics no longer have a size/strength advantage over the Heat at the center position.

 
At Sunday, May 01, 2011 3:45:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

DanielSong39:

I don't think that too much has been made of LeBron's weak effort in game five versus Boston last year. I was there to see it in person, just like I saw most of LeBron's home playoff games as a Cav in person, and I can assure you that he did not even come close to putting forth a normal effort. I have no idea what the problem was--it was not his elbow, though, because he was effortlessly throwing up half court shots with that arm during warmups--but I suspect that someday an insider will reveal what was really going on in LeBron's heart/mind that caused him to become so detached; you could see it in the postgame press conferences during that series, too: Coach Mike Brown kept insisting that the Cavs had to play harder or they would lose, while LeBron was very nonchalant.

What makes you think that Perkins would be/is less than 100% now? He played his normal 25 mpg in the first round and had an impact in the paint. I understand the long term financial/roster reasons underlying the trade but I think that Boston potentially gave up a championship this year in exchange for a very uncertain future; the Celtics should have tried to win one more ring with this current group and worry about the future later, because a new CBA might change the landscape of the league in any number of ways. I just don't see Jeff Green as that big of a building block for the post-"Big Three" Celtics, a squad that will star Rondo but will obviously need many more parts to be a championship contender.

I am not sure how you decide/determine who the referees will allegedly favor in a series but I agree with you that the Heat will most likely prevail.

 
At Sunday, May 01, 2011 5:53:00 PM, Anonymous DanielSong39 said...

David,

Predicting referee bias can be tricky at times but it's been a part of my handicapping arsenal for some time. Usually, I try to gauge the league's best interests when it comes to promoting teams and stars - and also look at how teams and certain players were officiated in previous rounds.

Miami fits the bill as they have Lebron James - the most polarizing figure in the game - and have at least two players in Lebron and Wade who have gotten more than their share of calls throughout their careers. They also received a lot of breaks in their first round series vs. Philadelphia, so it would not be surprising if the trend continued.

 
At Monday, May 02, 2011 4:43:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Daniel Song 39:

Your take on how officiating could potentially influence this series is even more interesting in light of Pierce's game one ejection; the ejection can certainly be justified technically (no pun intended) and perhaps Pierce should even have been ejected after he received the first technical foul but losing Pierce at the stage of the game effectively eliminated the chance--however slight--that the Celtics could overcome that deficit with that amount of time remaining. Of course, the flip side of that argument is that Pierce is a veteran player who should never have allowed himself to be goaded into head butting an opposing player, let alone to then get a second technical for cussing out an opposing player with a referee literally standing right in front of him.

 
At Tuesday, May 03, 2011 5:35:00 AM, Anonymous DanielSong39 said...

While Boston did get the short end of the stick in Game 1, they certainly played poorly enough to lose. If they are going to come back in the series, they will at least have to fight through the distractions and the bad calls.

They may be eliminated either way, but I like to see teams go down fighting - a la 2002 Kings or 2006 Dallas - when the calls go against them. I hope to see some spunk from the Celtics and see them play well enough to the point where the series can be stolen from them.

 
At Tuesday, May 03, 2011 6:44:00 PM, Anonymous Stephen said...

I'll admit I'm too young to remember (in a deeper more analytical way) the 2002 series between the Lakers/Kings, but didn't the Kings get Game 5 gifted to them at the end? Also, didn't Shaq shoot like two FTs in Game 5, so really it shouldn't be a surprise the Lakers got more calls in Game 6?

I'm not saying there weren't bad calls that hurt the Kings but merely that I've never understood why that series is the go to the-NBA-is-fixed series. If there is such a series it was the Mavs/Heat finals.

On subject, I still feel inclined to pick Boston to win this series, though if they do now it will likely have to be in 7 games. The Jones 3 point shooting outbreak is fixable problem for Boston. And Wade shot incredibly. Or to be blunt: Wade hit shots he normally doesn't.

That coupled with the officiating that hurt Boston (that flagrant on O'Neal was huge), it really feels like it should have been a 20 point blowout.

 
At Tuesday, May 03, 2011 9:26:00 PM, Anonymous DanielSong39 said...

Another puzzling performance from Boston. While they were underdogs in this series and have been on the short end of the officiating, they're doing their best Lakers impression on the court.

Mentally, they're not all there, and haven't shown the composure to fight through adversity. Shouldn't they be better than this?

 
At Wednesday, May 04, 2011 5:59:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Daniel Song 39:

I don't think that this is a matter of the Celtics not fighting; Miami is a younger, better team. Before the season began, I predicted that Boston would be better than Miami and the Celtics beat the Heat the first three times that they faced each other--but then Shaq got hurt, the Celtics traded Perkins and it soon become evident that the Heat were peaking while the Celtics were regressing. Those are the reasons that I picked Miami to win this series. If the Celtics are not careful then this series could turn into a passing of the torch a la 1991 when the Bulls swept the Pistons; I think that the Celtics will give a great effort in game three but they have several key players who are banged up and they lack the size/intimidation that they used to dominate the East in recent years.

 
At Wednesday, May 04, 2011 6:07:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Stephen:

Officials are not perfect in any sport but when I look at the many glaringly obvious calls that have been blown in recent seasons in the Super Bowl and in the MLB playoffs I am still confident that NBA officials are the best officials in the three major North American professional sports (is the NHL still considered a major sport?). The Mavs had a 2-0 lead in the 2006 NBA Finals plus a double digit lead in game three, so they have no one but themselves to blame for not winning the title. The Lakers shot more free throws than the Kings in game six of the 2002 WCF but some of that disparity came about because of intentional fouls at the end of the game; the Kings still had game seven at home but they lost that contest in overtime after shooting 16-30 from the free throw line while the Lakers shot 27-33 in a game decided by six points. The Kings, like the Mavs, have no one to blame but themselves for not winning that series.

If you watched the first two games of the Miami-Boston series and if you know the percentage of times a team has come back from 0-2 to win a seven game series then I am surprised that you still favor Boston. I think that the Celtics will extend the series--I originally picked Miami in seven--but I am not even sure about that now.

 
At Wednesday, May 04, 2011 7:52:00 AM, Anonymous Stephen said...

I posted my original comment just prior to Game 2.

I figured Boston would take Game 2 and the split going back home.

The 07 Boston team that won the title seems like a distant memory now. With the game (and essentially the series) on the line early in the fourth quarter, Boston seemed to be relying on Glen Davis for offense.

I am now with you; this could be a short series. For entertainment's sake, I hope not.

 
At Wednesday, May 04, 2011 4:19:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Stephen:

Before the series I also thought that Boston would get the split in the first two games and that then Miami would counter by winning one in Boston.

The '08 (not '07) Celtics were younger and healthier than the '11 Celtics.

 

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