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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Miami Versus Boston Preview

Eastern Conference Finals

#2 Miami (46-20) vs. #4 Boston (39-27)

Season series: Boston, 3-1

Boston can win if...the Celtics execute their half court offense efficiently, limit their turnovers and force LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to shoot contested jump shots instead of layups, dunks and free throws.

Miami will win because...the Heat's talented James/Wade duo (which resumes being a talented trio if Chris Bosh recovers from his abdominal injury and is able to return to action) will be too much for the aging and injured Celtics to handle.

Other things to consider: James and Wade both performed at a historically significant level of greatness in the second half of the series versus the Indiana Pacers as the Heat rallied from a 2-1 deficit to win three straight games. James' 40 point, 18 rebound, nine assist performance in game four has been matched in all three categories only one other time in NBA playoff history (Elgin Baylor rang up those exact same numbers in a 1961 playoff game). James averaged 30.0 ppg, 10.8 rpg and 6.2 apg versus the Pacers. Wade struggled early in the series but he scored 30, 28 and 41 points in the final three games; he averaged 26.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg and 3.3 apg overall during the series.

Those final three games represent the best that we have seen from James and Wade as a duo since they joined forces in 2010 but even though they deserve credit for executing under pressure it must be noted that the Pacers helped the Heat by committing what are called "unforced errors" in tennis jargon: the Pacers did not exploit their mismatch advantages in the paint on offense and their unforgivably sloppy ball handling not only wasted several potential scoring opportunities but also fueled Miami's deadly transition game. The main keys to beating the Heat are scoring inside in the half court set--thus slowing the game down and potentially getting the Heat into foul trouble--and minimizing the opportunities that James and Wade have to score easy points (layups, dunks, free throws). According to the data compiled at NBA.com/Stats, 51 of James' 139 field goal attempts versus the Pacers were from less than five feet away from the hoop. Not surprisingly, James converted 37 of those attempts (.725). James shot just 4-16 (.250) on his attempts from five to nine feet but that low percentage can probably be attributed to a small sample size. The significant statistics from a larger sample size show that he shot 16-33 (.485) from eight to 16 feet and 10-26 (.385) from 16-24 feet. James attempted 51 free throws versus the Pacers. Wade attempted 34 of his 123 shots versus the Pacers from closer than five feet and he made 24 of those shots (.706). Like James, Wade fared poorly on his small number of attempts from five to nine feet (7-16, .438). Wade shot 20-46 (.435) on his attempts from eight to 16 feet versus the Pacers and 9-28 (.321) from 16-24 feet. Wade attempted 53 free throws versus the Pacers. Obviously, keeping James and Wade out of the paint and off of the free throw line is easier said than done but the only way to beat the Heat is to focus consistently on proper shot selection and careful ball handling and then play disciplined half court defense. The team that beats Miami will stick to this game plan and will have athletes who are skilled enough to execute this game plan.

This may be the swan song for Boston's Big Three plus Rondo quartet (after Boston's 85-75 game seven victory over Philadelphia, Coach Doug Collins called them the "Championship Four"); Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo led Boston to the 2008 NBA Championship and the 2010 NBA Finals but the Celtics seem to be running on fumes now. Boston struggled to finish off a game but limited Philadelphia team that likely would have been first round fodder versus Chicago if Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah had not suffered injuries. The Celtics are a well coached, veteran squad that certainly will try very hard to execute the anti-Heat game plan mentioned above but the Celtics may not have enough young and/or healthy bodies to do so. Boston's 3-1 head to head regular season dominance against Miami is a bit misleading; not only is it difficult to compare regular season games from a truncated, post-lockout season to playoff games but both teams rested their key players in their final head to head meeting of the season (a 78-66 Boston win).

If Kevin Garnett not only performs at an All-Defensive First Team level but also averages 20 ppg while shooting above .500 from the field, if Ray Allen rediscovers his lost three point stroke, if Paul Pierce plays LeBron James to a draw (or reasonably close to it) in their head to head matchup and if Rajon Rondo dominates Miami's point guards then the Celtics can win this series. Rondo carried the Celtics down the stretch versus Philadelphia in game seven, finishing with 18 points, 10 assists, 10 rebounds and three steals--just the second game seven triple double in the storied history of the Celtics franchise (Larry Bird had 39 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists versus New York in 1984). Rondo now has nine career playoff triple doubles, tying him with Wilt Chamberlain for fourth on the NBA's all-time list (Magic Johnson leads the way with 30, followed by Jason Kidd's 11 and Bird's 10).

The best chance for a Boston upset would be a combination of all of these factors:

1) Proper execution of the anti-Heat game plan.
2) Rondo goes nuts and is the best player on the court for significant stretches of time.
3) James quits.

The Celtics are disciplined enough mentally to stick with the right game plan but I question whether they are physically capable of getting the job done. We have seen the 6-1 Rondo go crazy in playoff games and he can even guard James on occasion; it is remarkable to see Rondo literally go nose to belly button with James but not back down for one second. Rondo outperformed James in key stretches of the 2008 Boston-Cleveland playoff series, so I would not be shocked if that happened again but I am not sure that it will happen for a long enough period of time to completely tilt the series in Boston's favor.

Whether or not James will quit is the ultimate X factor with this series; it would have been interesting to see how James would have reacted if the Pacers had played correctly in game four by pounding the ball inside offensively and keeping James and Wade out of the paint at the other end of the court: if Indiana had taken a 3-1 series lead then James and company might have folded up shop. If James plays hard versus the Celtics then the Heat should win.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:03 AM

9 comments

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9 Comments:

At Monday, May 28, 2012 4:25:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marcel

Its been no Secret I said for years that lebron win multiple titles. Only People whp don't believe it are Cleveland fans bitter ones as well who loved lebron when he was there but said complete opposite when he left.

Celtic have no chance They can't score enough. Can't keep wade and james Out of paint off free throw line and from making dunks and layups. Wade and james get sixty five a game. The others can get thirty thirty five should win in five. I don't expect lebron to quit This year like years past he was going through personal problem both times I don't see it this year that's Boston and san Antonio only hope. Heat in five to me. Unless Boston shoot sixty percent for the game four times not happening.

 
At Monday, May 28, 2012 4:42:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

Yes, your unbridled faith in LeBron James is no secret to anyone who has read your comments over the years--and, as I noted when you made a similar comment to a different article, you have been wrong for years: James has yet to win one title, let alone multiple titles. Anyone who has seen him quit in the 2010 and 2011 playoffs has serious reason to doubt what kind of resolve he will show if he is challenged in the ECF, let alone in the NBA Finals if the Heat make it that far.

I agree with you that Miami will probably beat Boston. I don't like the Heat's chances against either the Spurs or the Thunder but there is a lot of basketball to be played before discussing hypothetical Finals matchups.

 
At Tuesday, May 29, 2012 4:45:00 PM, Blogger $9,000,000,000 Write Off said...

Whether or not James will quit is the ultimate X factor with this series

I completely agree, and I agree that he quit in prior series. But I think he won't quit, he will play with confidence and aggression. His body language seems different, but more important his bouts of passivity are fewer and shorter.

 
At Tuesday, May 29, 2012 11:59:00 PM, Anonymous boyer said...

I don't know, as I said before, the heat can just coast to the finals in the east. None of the 3 teams they've met in the playoffs are contenders by any stretch, and bosh has been out for awhile. Making the finals several times doesn't guarantee a finals win, but the odds of eventually winning go up. Though, the spurs are looking great. I'm also picking the spurs or thunder over the heat, but I think it will be close nonetheless. My question is, what was the spurs problem last year? The grizz weren't anything close to a contender, and gay was out.

A combination of things are happening here: the east is very weak, and the fact that the heat will make the finals without bosh playing much shows just how talented lebron's team is.

I know a lot of people are griping about how lebron's lack of help with the heat last year and this year has hurt him, which is nonsense, but all he had to do was play just slightly harder, not even full effort, in last years' finals, and the heat probably win. Too bad Rose went down. I think the bulls had a better chance this year against the heat. And next year, he probably won't be up to full speed at any pt., when he does come back.

 
At Wednesday, May 30, 2012 7:34:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Boyer:

The Heat trailed 2-1 to the Pacers so they have not been "coasting" the whole time but they do seem to have found their stride now.

I don't see anyone beating the Spurs in a series--and if OKC does not win game three at home it is not unrealistic to suggest that the Spurs could complete the first undefeated postseason in NBA history.

The Spurs' "problem" last year was that Ginobili was hurt and they also did not have quite the depth (and perimeter size with Leonard and Jackson) that they do this season.

You are correct that a player returning from an ACL tear (like Rose is attempting to do) generally does not regain all of his game until his second season of action after the surgery/rehab.

 
At Wednesday, May 30, 2012 7:36:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

9WO:

Last year, James dominated the Bulls and the Celtics before quitting against Dallas. In the previous year, he also dominated for two rounds before quitting against the Celtics. I will not be 100% convinced that he will not quit until he actually makes it through the entire postseason with a consistently high effort level (it is obviously not reasonable to expect him to duplicate a 40-18-9 stat line but it is reasonable to expect him to play hard all of the time).

 
At Wednesday, May 30, 2012 11:25:00 AM, OpenID Hoop Mashup said...

I am a big Celtics fan but I must admit that their time is almost done. However, I still have the spirit that they will make it. Its like the same thing that happened last year. James and Wade were on fire but they were extinguished in the Finals. What I really want to see is a Tim Duncan-Kevin Garnett showdown because these guys don't like each other personally. Aside from that, it is a good match-up since Kevin Garnett is the trash-talking son of a gun and Tim Duncan is more on the quiet side.

 
At Wednesday, May 30, 2012 10:47:00 PM, Anonymous boyer said...

Ginobili only missed 1 game last year. And his playoff #'s were better last year than this year, averaging 8 more MP and 7 more ppg last year than this year.

They had jefferson, hill, and mcdyess last year compared to jackson and leonard this year. I'd say it's more or less a wash in that aspect.

There's really no reason why the spurs lost last year if they were supposedly that good, which they ended up not being that good last year. So, it's hard to really take them seriously this year until they actually prove themselves in the playoffs, which they now have, and they look to be the team to beat right now. For whatever reason, they just didn't have their act together last year.

 
At Thursday, May 31, 2012 5:42:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Boyer:

I don't want to go off on a huge Ginobili tangent in the comment section of a Miami-Boston preview but you are wrong. Ginobili had a broken arm during last year's playoffs and that limited his effectiveness regardless of your opinion about his health and/or his stats:

Did Manu play in the playoffs with a broken arm?

It should be self evident that the players the Spurs acquired prior to (and during) this season are not a "wash" compared to the players you listed from last season; the new players are more effective in San Antonio's system and that, combined with Ginobili's improved health, has propelled the Spurs.

 

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