By Charley Rosen, for NBA.com
Posted May 26 2012 11:43PM - Updated May 27 2012 3:13PM
While the Heat seek to initiate a dynasty, the Celtics want to restore one. In several ways, this series pits the past against the future.
The most obvious dilemma facing Boston is how to keep LeBron James and Dwayne Wade from dominating the series. Over the long haul, the by-the-book matchups that have Ray Allen defending D-Wade and Paul Pierce playing opposite LBJ won't get the job done.
For sure, a young Allen had the energy, the chops, and the dead-eye perimeter shooting to give Wade a run for the money. But on the verge of his 37th birthday, with his fail-safe jumpers increasingly erratic, and his lingering leg miseries, there's no way Allen could avoid getting chumped by Wade. The only viable solution here is to use Allen judiciously and have Mickael Pietrus play major minutes opposite Wade. Pietrus is Boston's most effective wing-defender and hopefully his spotlighted role will result in his trademark treys beginning to fall.
At the same time, a healthy PP would be able to go chest-to-chest on defense versus James, and also make the reigning MVP labor mightily on defense. But since LBJ is much more active and forceful with the ball, Pierce is much more liable to be in foul trouble. To keep Pierce in the game, why not have Kevin Garnett take a few turns in defense of James? KG has the length, the size, the know-how, and the sympathy of the referees to do a credible job. However, because Garnett can't be expected to run with James for very long, Pietrus could also be sicced on LBJ.
Another aspect of this strategic cross-matching would call for Pierce to guard Shane Battier, a move that would conserve PP's fouls and energy, while also making his offense more energetic. And, finally, having Brandon Bass facing off against Ronny Turiaf, Joel Anthony, or Udonis Haslem would still favor Boston.
Bass is the X-factor for Boston. He must play with the same kind of loose confidence he showed at the conclusion of the Philadelphia series. That means making his mid-range springers while also attacking the rim.
The only straight-up matchup would have Rajon Rondo operating against Mario Chalmers, which should be imminently favorable for Boston. This would be the case if Rondo can make a few jumpers (like he did late in Game 7 against the Sixers), avoid turnovers, surprise Miami's bigs with his sudden super-quick bursts to the rim, play his usual ball-sniping defense, and successfully engineer Doc River's game plan at both ends of the court.
Because of the mileage on the respective wheels and chassis of Allen, Pierce, and Garnett, Boston's subs have to make major contributions. This means scratchy-bumpy defense from Keyon Dooling, along with rim-protecting defense by Greg Stiemsma and Ryan Hollins.
The biggest problem that could arise from all of the cross-matching would be confusion and late adjustments in offense-to-defense transitions. But if the Heat can routinely activate their running game, then the question of who's supposed to be guarding whom would be meaningless anyway.
Otherwise, the Celtics have to slow the tempo, make their perimeter shots, avoid getting overwhelmed in the battle of the boards, make timely defensive rotations, and employ their collective Einsteinian basketball IQ to generate easy scores in their halfcourt, bump-and-grind offense.
Boston's experience, toughness, versatility, resilience, and ability to make meaningful adjustments should never be underestimated.
Both Wade and James have to stretch Boston's tenacious defense by hitting their outside shots. In so doing, the Big Two can then exercise their other-worldly physical superiority with irresistible ventures into the paint.
Wade can easily post-up Allen, and his quick-stepping, tight-spinning, acrobatic drives should likewise flummox Pietrus.
If D-Wade has been-there-done-that, LBJ has yet to prove that he can be the mainspring of a championship ball club. By exerting his brilliant talents in clutch endgame situations, i.e., making his free throws, avoiding costly mistakes and indecision, and generally playing like a Hall-of-Fame closer, LeBron will advance one huge step toward his ultimate goal.
However, since the Heat's offense tends to stagnate when LeBron has the ball on a string, more off-ball movement is imperative to prevent the Celtics from overloading their defense.
Because Boston is forced to focus their defensive schemes on James and Wade, Chalmers must hit his treys. Chalmers also has the difficult task of keeping Rondo in front of him when Boston has possession.
Battier has to bag his bonus-shots and also marginalize Pierce with his characteristic ornery defense.
Miami's interior defense largely depends on Turiaf, Anthony, and Haslem. At the other end of the court, Turiaf is energetic but can't finish in a crowd, Anthony has only 3-foot range (with his jump hook), and only Haslem's sky-scraping jays are a threat. These guys must block shots, clog the lane, and above all, rebound.
Since James Jones is used sparingly, Mike Miller represents Miami's primary three-point specialist off the bench. As such, Miller has to convert at least half of his shots from downtown.
Miami's team defense is justly celebrated for its quick aggressiveness, but any late rotations or turned heads will be fully exploited by the savvy Celts.
Since their halfcourt offense is entirely predictable, in the absence of total domination by James and Wade the Heat's defense must ignite their absolutely awesome running game. Also, every early offensive situation must be pressed before Boston's adhesive defense can get set.
Moreover, the Heat's frequently sloppy passwork tends to result either in unforced turnovers and/or breakaway scoring opportunities for the other guys.
1) Who will win this particular race, the tortoises or the hares?
2) Offensive rebounds will be extremely critical. Indeed, whichever team can gain the most extra shots might very well emerge victorious.
3) How will the Heat react to the Celtics' well-orchestrated off-the-ball cuts?
4) How effectively can Boston counter Miami's two-timing of the wings and the low-post?
5) If any of the Celtics were to sharply criticize any of the Heat in public, would they be subjected to career-threatening cheap shots?
Charley Rosen is a former pro basketball player and coach and author of 16 books on basketball.
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