When this 66-game condensed season came to an end, we all expected the two top dogs in both conferences to reach their respective conference finals. The Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs made that a reality in the West as their series got underway Sunday night. In the East, however, an injury-plagued regular-season, followed by Derrick Rose’s ACL tear in the Bulls’ first-round matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers, all but ended any chance for a rematch from last year’s Eastern Conference Finals. This year we’ll just have to settle for the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat.
The Celtics and Heat met four times in the regular season and Boston took the series. Only in the third game did we see the major stars all together on the court at the same time with the Celtics getting the better of the Heat with a 115-107 victory. We didn’t see any of the “Big Three” from each team in their final regular season matchup as both teams rested their stars before the playoffs began.
Miami cruised through their first-round matchup against the New York Knicks winning the series in five games. Then they seemed to be in trouble in the following series against the Indiana Pacers when Indiana took Game 3 and a lead in the series. But they rallied back to win the next three and take the series. Despite dropping their first game to the Atlanta Hawks, Boston would win their first-round series in six. Boston had their fair share of trouble with the 76ers, who took them all the way to game seven, but they were able to hold on and take the series.
Now the question is this: which team has the advantage in this series to reach the NBA Finals to tango with either the Thunder or Spurs?
The backcourt will be an interesting matchup to watch. Rajon Rondo is the quarterback of this Celtics team and is arguably the best point guard in the NBA. It is hardly news nowadays if Rondo drops a triple-double. He’s averaging just over 15 points and 12 assists per game. Mario Chalmers and Dwyane Wade will switch up covering Rondo but neither will be able to contain Rondo from continuing his success. Dwyane Wade will need to show up every night for the Heat, scoring at least 30 points in each game. The same goes for the struggling Ray Allen, who needs to heat up if the Celtics are going to have any chance in the series. But in the end, it will come down to Rondo’s speed and ability to constantly find the open man.
The strength of the frontcourt will all depend on when and if Chris Bosh makes a return. As of now the time of his return is still unknown. Paul Pierce and LeBron James will cover each other and fans can only hope they’ll go head-to-head again, as they did in Game 7 of the 2008 playoffs Eastern Conference Semifinals. James dropped 45 points to Pierce’s 41. But in the end, James is too fast and too talented and will overpower Pierce most of the time these two are on the court. The Heat have no true center and if Bosh doesn’t return, Kevin Garnett needs to be constantly be down low; no more 17-footers. Garnett needs to be a low-post presence and get the Heat in foul trouble on a nightly basis. Brandon Bass has been a nice surprise for the Celtics in the Conference Semi’s and he needs to continue having success if the Celtics want to move on. Unless Pierce plays lights-out defense on James, James will get his points and be too much for the Celtics. Garnett needs to continue his playoff performance by netting at least 20 points and 15 rebounds per game for the Celtics to move on.
This is easy. The Heat have no bench, as James and Wade account for nearly all of the Heat’s points since Bosh went down with the injury. The bench actually stepped up after the Game 3 loss and was the primary reason the Heat were able to survive and move on. The Celtics don’t have much of a bench, but Rondo will find the open reserve.
If it’s going to come down to Doc Rivers or Erik Spoelstra, hands down Rivers gets the better of his Heat counterpart. Boston’s “Big Three” respect Rivers and will play their hearts out for him. The relationships between Spoelstra and his players have been questionable the past two seasons, with a few small altercations making the sports world wonder if Pat Riley would eventually take over the coaching duties. If it comes down to a final possession out of a timeout, Rivers will come up with a stellar play for the game-winning bucket. With the Heat, it will be in the hands of Wade with James’ poor performance in the final minutes of regulation.
The Heat will have home-court advantage in this series, and Boston has struggled on the road. The Celtics had a few games on the road this postseason where they could have closed out the series, but failed and needed the game at home to do so. Since Game 3 in the Semis, the Heat have scored at least 100 or more points and don’t seem stoppable with James and Wade leading this squad. The Heat haven’t been great on the road but can easily win this series in four as much as they can lose it in seven.
When all is said and done, the Miami Heat will come out victorious in six games and make a second straight appearance in the NBA Finals. I would expect Bosh to return by then and the Heat to easily dominate whomever comes out of the West, with James getting his first ring and the whole city of Cleveland going up in flames.
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