Miami Versus Boston PreviewEastern 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.
posted by David Friedman @ 1:39 PM