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Celtics-Heat Series Preview: The Road to the Title Still Goes Through Boston

Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett Copyright 2010 NBAE  (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

There are going to be some great second round matchups in the 2011 playoffs, but Sunday’s game 1 between the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics will kick off the series that everyone will have their eyes on.

The starters for these two teams have combined for 69 All-Star appearances, 10 Championship rings, 5 NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Awards, and 4 NBA Most Valuable Player Awards…

Just in case you thought I was overstating the hype for this series.

The respective two and three seeds in the Eastern Conference met four times in the regular season, with Boston winning the first three and Miami preventing the season sweep with an April blowout. Miami looked like they were finally coming together in their series against the 7th seeded 76ers, but the Boston Celtics also channeled their inner champions to overcome two near-losses and then go on to steamroll the 6th seeded Knicks in four games. They managed the only first round sweep in the playoffs.

There are four things to take into consideration when taking your best guess at how this series will play out: the way they performed against each other in the regular season, the way they have performed so far in the playoffs, their postseason histories, and gut instinct.

Celtics v. Heat in 2010-2011 Regular Season

The Celtics came out of the regular season 3-1 against Miami, but they lost their last game by a landslide; helping Miami to permanently leap them in the standings for 2nd in the East and home court advantage for this long-predicted matchup. The Heat’s last performance against the Celtics should not be overlooked, but it also does not mean that they are any better off against the reigning Eastern Conference champs than they’ve been all season.

The reason that the Heat won their last game was not because of the Big Three’s offense, but because of their bench and improved defensive efforts. LeBron James had 27 points, but he went 0-2 from the 3 point line and made just 5 of his 9 free throws. Wade had just 14 points; going 4-12 from the field, 0-1 from the 3-point line.  Still, their bench combined for 32 points, while Joel Anthony played 35 minutes and had 10 rebounds, and the Big Three came up with 6 steals, 3 blocks and 12 defensive rebounds.

What they showed in their last game against the C’s was that if the Celtics struggle offensively, they have the ability to exploit that with improved defensive efforts. But the Heat’s defense is still vastly unproven in comparison, and the overall snapshot of their regular season series outside of that game swings vastly in Boston’s favor.

Dwyane Wade was ineffective against the Celtics all season. In fact, ineffective is a kind understatement. Wade went just 16-57 from the field and 2-11 from three for an average of 12.5 PPG; and that’s with Paul Pierce focusing most of his defense on James. Ray Allen has had Wade’s number from the first game of the season, making as many three-pointers (16) in the season series as Wade made field goals.

Even with LeBron playing very well, averaging 28.75 points and making significant contributions on the boards and with assists, it took their bench having a huge game and an uncharacteristically efficient defensive performance to finally beat a tired and aged Boston team. And as the Celtics have proven more than once in the playoffs against the Cavaliers, LeBron cannot win his team a series against Boston on his own.

Celtics come away from the regular season with the clear advantage.

2011 Playoff Performances so Far

Let’s go ahead and get the Big Threes out of the way. They have averaged eerily similar numbers as far as points per game, but it looks like the Heat Three have the Celtics Three edged in the other major categories.

P. Pierce 22.3 4.3 2.5 39.0
L. James 24.2 10.6 6.2 42.2


R. Allen 22 4.5 2.3 40
D. Wade 22.2 8.4 5.2 38


K. Garnett 19 11.3 3.5 34
C. Bosh 19.9 9.0 0.8 39.8

But, here’s the thing. These are the numbers without including Rajon Rondo, who is averaging a double-double of 12 assists and19 points per game, along with 7.3 rebounds and 1 steal per game. Rondo also had a triple double in Game 2 against the Knicks with 11 rebounds, 20 assists and 15 points, moving up to tie Lebron James for 6th place all-time in playoff triple doubles, with 6.

For the Heat, the combined point guard tandem of Mike Bibby and Mario Chalmers has contributed an average of 4.2 rebounds, 3 assists and 29% shooting for 10.6 points. In other words, the two of them combined don’t equal half a Rondo.

Additionally, Jermaine O’Neal is averaging 2.5 blocks per game and has been Perkins-like in his ability to set screens and taking offensive charges in the paint.

The Heat’s best blocker so far in the postseason has also been Dwyane Wade, who is averaging two blocks per game. He did this while matching up primarily against Andre Iguodala. While Iguodala is no slouch, Ray Allen gets his shots off quicker and with more precision than just about anyone in the NBA, and has been red hot from the three point line so far in the postseason. Wade will not be able to carry his team.

While the Heat have managed to keep their points per game average up, their shooting percentages from the three point line and the free throw line tell a different story.

In their series with the Knicks, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce shot 65.4% and 50% respectively from the three point line. Ray Allen shot 100% from the line, while Pierce shot 92.9% and Garnett 92.3%.

Contrastingly, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James shot 20% and 25% from the three, and 77% and 82% from the free throw line. Chris Bosh, meanwhile, shot 75% from the line. Going against the best defense in the playoffs, they will have to be much more effective than that if they hope to maintain any type of significant offensive advantage.

While the Heat played very well in their first round, the Celtics played better. Celtics come away from Round One with the advantage.

History in the Playoffs

  • The Celtics Big Three have played in 310 playoff games, nearly double that of the Heat’s Big Three, who have played in 163. The greatest disparity there is between Kevin Garnett and Chris Bosh, which will make the power forward matchup one of the most important of the series. KG has played in 100 postseason games while Bosh has played in just 16, and while Bosh has developed a reputation for being mentally soft and unable to perform in the clutch, KG has a reputation for being emotional and intense; intentionally aggravating and mentally wearing down his more weak-minded opposition.
  • If Bosh is wary or hesitant, he won’t get far against Garnett. He has the talent to match up, but he will have to elevate his level of play and intensity, particularly defensively. The Heat are maybe worse off at the center position than the Celtics, so unless Udonis Haslem returns during the series, Bosh will have to carry a large part of load for the Heat bigs, and it will be tough for him to live up to the big stage of the postseason in the biggest series he’s ever played in.
  • Wade and James have a lot to prove too. The Heat lost in five games to the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs last year. Lebron James played his last game as a Cavalier at the TD Garden in a semi-finals series-clinching loss to the Celtics. That was the second time that James and the Cavs had been eliminated by the C’s in the second round of the playoffs. He played well offensively but gave up an astounding, choke-worthy 9 turnovers.
  • The Celtics have won a Championship and taken the Lakers to 7 games in a second Finals appearance since Wade won his only ring and LeBron and the Cavaliers were swept in the Finals by the San Antonio Spurs. Chris Bosh wouldn’t know what an NBA Finals looked like if he sat on the trophy.
  • Not to mention the fact that whether he starts a game or doesn’t play one minute, the Celtics have Shaquille O’Neal sitting on their side of the court. Not only is he one of the greatest big men to ever play the game, but he has four Championship rings and has played in 214 playoff games. For guys like Pierce, Allen and Garnett who may see this as their last “hurrah” to win a championship with and for one of the most legendary centers of all time, he is a priceless intangible.
  • The Celtics starters (Big Four plus either Shaq or Jermaine O’Neal) have played more combined minutes than any starting five in the NBA, at 174,620 –with Shaq, or 158,693–with JO. They will be coming off their longest playoff rest between series in the Big Three era with a full week to prepare and a knack for winning on the road in the postseason.
  • Celtics go into this series with vastly more player and coaching experience, and possessing the edge in playoff intangibles like legendary Hall of Famers and proven playoff chemistry.

Celtics easily win the playoff battle over the past 4 years.

How the Celtics can Neutralize the Heat:

Ray Allen #20 of the Boston Celtics shoots a jump shot during a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on November 11, 2010 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

The Celtics have to stop them in transition and force them to play half court offense, with Pierce forcing LeBron to take contested jumpshots.  KG needs to remain aggressive on Bosh, not allowing him to getinto a comfortable offensive rhythm. Ray Allen has played great defense of Dwyane Wade all year, and has the ability to shut him down almost completely from the three-point line.

Most important player in the series: Rajon Rondo

If Rondo can exploit the point guard disparity the way he did against the Knicks, the Celtics will be unbeatable. As Rondo goes, so do the Celtics, especially in a series with a team that essentially has no starting point guard. A Big Four will beat a Big Three every time. If Rondo can drive the lane and pull in the defenders, he can help get Pierce or Allen open on the perimeter, or leave KG and Big Baby to find their sweet spots in the midrange. He’s also shown that he can take advantage of the gap in the paint and hit difficult layups and floaters, adding another dimension to the Celtics’ already threatening offensive attack.

Both benches have underperformed in the playoffs, but if either bench has the edge, it’s the Celtics. When Glen Davis gets hot, he is good for about 5 rebounds and 15 points, and Delonte West is capable of scoring and making big hustle plays on defense. Green/West/Baby definitely maintain the advantage over Bibby/Chalmers/Jones/Anthony when they play to their ability.

Oh yeah, and the Gut Feeling….

To not give the Heat the benefit of taking this series to 7 games would be an insult to their talent and the way they have pulled themselves together across the course of the season. My gut tells me the Celtics win a gritty series in 7. Doc Rivers is the best late game coach in the league, and with this much talent and the way they have consistently proven themselves throughout the playoffs, it is clear that the Celtics still have everything it takes to win against the  best in the league.

About Tanya Ray Fox - @TanyaRay18

I am 24 years old, and I work on the sports desk for the premier Boston sports station, Comcast SportsNet New England. My first and lasting love is with the New England Patriots, and then I split my allegiances between the Sox, Celtics and Bruins. I have grown up here and have a passion for all things Boston sports, not just because it is an amazing sports town, but because as a writer we are blessed to always have something to talk about!

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One comment for “Celtics-Heat Series Preview: The Road to the Title Still Goes Through Boston”


    Posted by DUFFDADDY | May 1, 2011, 7:04 pm

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