Game Preview: Celtics at Heat

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BOSTON – It has been nine days since the Boston Celtics (32-24) dismantled the Miami Heat (40-15) in TD Garden in front of a national television audience. Now it’s time to see if the Celtics can duplicate their dominance on the road when the teams meet at 7 p.m. tonight in Miami.

The Celtics are heading into the most challenging arena in the league to win an away game. Miami holds onto an NBA-best 24-3 record in AmericanAirlines Arena and just had its 17-game home winning streak snapped Friday night.

Boston’s overall road record of 12-15 would cause most fans to be weary of tonight’s game, but the Celtics have been hot on the road (and in general) of late. They have won five of their past seven road games, with two of those victories coming in blowout fashion.

The Heat know all about Boston’s ability to blow teams out, because they watched it first-hand on April 1. It may have been April Fool’s Day, but the C’s were not joking around when they took the court that day.

A balanced offensive attack spearheaded the Celtics’ offense as they scored 91 points on 47.1 percent shooting against the league’s fifth-best defensive team when it comes to opponent field goal percentage. Boston put the ball through the hoop at that rate without the services of its new super-sub, Ray Allen.

Allen, who missed that game with a sore right ankle, has come off of the bench over the past three games and averaged 14.3 PPG in those contests. That average is nearly identical to his season average of 14.4 PPG, and he’s now scoring those points in four less minutes of action per night.

With Allen percolating as a scorer off the bench, the Celtics can continue to rely on Avery Bradley to be a steady defensive force in the starting lineup. Bradley has carved a niche in this league as a ball-hawker, and one man who knows all about those skills is Dwyane Wade.

Wade was limited to just 15 points on 6-of-17 shooting when Bradley harassed him all afternoon long on April 1. One of the highlights of the night was Bradley's monster stuff on Wade as the Heat's superstar drove to the basket for a shot in the paint.

Wade is one of the best offensive players in the league because he has the ability to create his own shot off of the dribble. Bradley, however, has some of the quickest feet in the league and can take away some of Wade’s slashing abilities.

Rajon Rondo

Rajon Rondo, who nearly averages a triple-double against the Heat this season, was Boston's top rebounder during the team's April 1 win over Miami.
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images

As the Heat and the rest of the NBA know by now, Bradley isn’t the only defensive stopper in Boston’s lineup. The rest of the team has excelled at the defensive end, too.

The Celtics lead the league – and by a large margin – in opponent field goal percentage by limiting teams to just 41.8 percent shooting on the season. In addition, Boston is limiting its opponents to the least amount of points per 100 possessions in the league. Boston defense is now unquestionably the best in the NBA. As recently as nine days ago, it showed that it can limit the Heat to just 71 points.

Shutting Miami’s offense down again, this time on the road, will prove to be a challenge for the Celtics tonight. However, this Boston team has been clicking on all cylinders since the All-Star break and is trending up on the road.

Limit Their Assists

Remember when LeBron James didn’t record a single assist in an NBA game? No? Having trouble? That’s because it’s only happened twice in his nine-year career. The most recent occurrence, as you might guess, was that game on April 1 against the Celtics.

Boston’s defense was swarming James and Wade all afternoon and essentially shut the duo down. James’ overall box score of 23 points, four rebounds, zero assists and zero steals may, in fact, be the most empty box score he has logged in his entire career.

If an opponent can limit the assists accumulated by James and Wade, it will always have an opportunity to knock off the Heat. Asking the Celtics to duplicate their defensive performance from nine days ago may be a bit too much to ask for, but limiting James and Wade to less than their combined season average of 11.1 APG is not.

Strong Start

The Celtics played from behind for nearly the entirety of their only game in Miami this season, way back on Dec. 27. Boston’s only lead of the game was 2-0.

Spotting the Heat a big lead early on is not the best way to beat them. Boston fell behind by double-digits less than halfway through the first quarter of that Dec. 27 contest, and although it stormed back to nearly steal the win, the comeback was fool’s gold.

In order to win big games on the road, strong starts are a near necessity. The Celtics must come out of the gates tonight with reliable offense and great defense. Delivering on both of those should put them in position for a big road victory.

Who’s Going to Rebound?

One of the reasons Boston was able to crush the Heat on April 1 is because it did a great job protecting the glass. The Celtics won the rebounding battle by a count of 49-47, with Rajon Rondo leading the way with 11 boards.

Four Celtics grabbed at least seven rebounds in that game. Rondo, Brandon Bass (10), Kevin Garnett (eight) and Paul Pierce (seven) combined for two-thirds of Boston’s rebounds on the afternoon. Those players are the team’s four best rebounders, and they’ll need to give similar performances tonight. It also wouldn’t hurt if some other guys, such as Greg Stiemsma and Sasha Pavlovic, could contribute on the glass as well.