Arbella Series Preview: Celtics at Heat

Arbella Playoffs

BOSTON – The Eastern Conference Finals matchup between the Boston Celtics (8-5) and Miami Heat (8-3) may surprise some, but it won’t surprise the two participating franchises.

Miami, in its second year with what may be the most publicized Big Three of all time, was expected to be here. The Heat are making their second consecutive appearance in the Conference Finals.

Boston is a different story. The Celtics stumbled out of the gates this season and were below .500 at the All-Star break. However, their ship was righted after the break in February and they have been streaking ever since.

The Celtics just disposed of the Philadelphia 76ers in seven games with a victory Saturday night in TD Garden. They boarded a plane Sunday morning and took the three-plus hour flight down to Miami for tonight’s Game 1. It’s an aggressive turnaround for a team build around veterans, but Doc Rivers is confident that his group will be ready to go.

“It’s going to be a tough turnaround, but listen, we’re not an excuse team,” Rivers said Saturday night. “We’ll be ready on Monday.”

One of the reasons the C’s will be ready, according to Rivers, is ironically the fact that they took that long flight down to Miami.

“As a staff, the good thing about the three-hour flight is three hours of film for us,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Heat have been provided the exact same amount of preparation time for Game 1. After all, they didn’t know who their opponent would be until the Celtics finished off the Sixers. The only true advantages Miami has in this series are the facts that it has had an extra day of rest leading up to Game 1 and that it has the league’s MVP, LeBron James, on its roster.

James is a fantastic player, but he wasn’t enough to lead the Heat to a successful regular season against Boston. The C’s won three of the four meetings between these two teams, including the final three. Now Boston will take on a Heat team that is missing Chris Bosh (strained abdominal muscle) for the foreseeable future.

These may not be the two teams many expected to be facing off in the Eastern Conference Finals, but not everything is predictable in the NBA. Based on the numbers in the paragraph above, we might not see the result that most people expect in this series, either.

The Coaches

There’s a reason why Pat Riley has so much faith in Erik Spoelstra – he’s one of the brightest young minds in the game. Spoelstra can be as bright as he wants, but he is no Doc Rivers.

Rivers has coached in the NBA for 13 seasons, while Spoelstra has coached in only four. Rivers has won 59 NBA playoff games, while Spoelstra has coached in just 44. Rivers has been called a “player’s coach” for a decade-plus, while Spoelstra has taken public criticism from several of his players.

The one area where these two coaches are similar is this: Rivers will be coaching in his third Conference Finals and looking for his third appearance in the NBA Finals; Spoelstra will be coaching in his second Conference Finals and looking for his second appearance in the NBA Finals. They’ll also be looking to split their head-to-head record: each coach has eliminated the other once in postseason postseason play.

Point Guards

One season ago, Rajon Rondo went down with a dislocated left elbow during Game 3 of the Conference Semifinals series between these two teams. He was never the same in the series, and Miami ran away from the C’s from that point on.

Everyone knows that Rondo is the key to this series for the Celtics. He and Mario Chalmers should not be mentioned in the same sentence, unless of course it’s a sentence saying that they shouldn’t be mentioned in the same sentence.

Rondo was the league’s leading assist man this season and he has carried that over into the playoffs, averaging 12.3 APG to go along with 15.3 PPG and 6.7 RPG. All three of those numbers are drastically better than those from Chalmers.

To put it simply, the Celtics need Rondo to be the player who showed up in the fourth quarter of Game 7, the one who is aggressive and wants to take over the game.

Shooting Guard

Boston took a huge blow to this position when Avery Bradley underwent left shoulder surgery on Friday. He’s out for the playoffs, meaning Dwyane Wade won’t be defended by the man who shoved a shot back in his face in highlight-reel fashion earlier this season.

The Celtics still have Ray Allen to shoot, and it seems as if his shot is coming around, but they do not have anyone on the roster who matches up well against Wade. Allen’s lateral movement is hindered by pain in his right ankle. Philadelphia attacked him, and it’s likely that Miami will do the same.

Wade is averaging 23.8 PPG during this postseason and he’s probably going to be shooting for 30 every night during this series. LeBron James might be the best player on Miami’s team, but Wade will be their key to the series.

Small Forward

Is there anything better than Paul Pierce vs. LeBron James? James, the league’s MVP, clearly owns the advantage in this matchup in nearly every aspect of the game. However, Pierce has done a fantastic job of playing near James’ level when the two have matched up against each other in the past.

These two All-Stars met three times this series and James led the way with his 28.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG and 4.0 APG during those contests. Pierce, however, wasn’t far behind in those categories, as he scored 19.3 PPG (while taking six less shots a game), grabbed 5.3 RPG and dished out 2.0 APG.

James obviously has the advantage in this matchup, but Pierce always finds a way to get the job done. Seeing as Miami’s team revolves around James’ production, expect him to have better stats than Pierce in this series. Just don’t allow that to make you think that Pierce isn’t playing at a high level, too.

Power Forward

Chris Bosh, the seven-time All-Star and third member of Miami’s Big Three, is out indefinitely with a strained abdominal muscle. Miami has opted to start Shane Battier, a 6-foot-8 small forward, at power forward while Bosh rehabs.

Most teams would have a decided edge at this position thanks to a natural, big-bodied power forward (i.e. David West in Indiana). However, the Celtics have an unconventional power forward in Brandon Bass. Bass stands at just 6-foot-8 himself and is primarily a jump shooter rather than a post presence. For this reason, he will not have the advantage on the block that most power forwards would against Battier.

Still, though, Bass is a more productive player. Battier is known almost strictly for his defense and 3-point shooting, while Bass is a much better scorer and rebounder. Bass’s 11.7 PPG in the playoffs more than doubles Battier’s 4.8 PPG, and Bass also grabs more rebounds (5.1 RPG to Battier’s 3.3).

Center

We all know that Rondo has a clear advantage at point guard, but Kevin Garnett’s performance in this series might decide Boston’s fate.

When Garnett has an advantage in a playoff series, the Celtics want him to exploit it. It’s almost a guarantee that Rivers and his coaching staff will request a minimum of 20 shots per game from Garnett during this series because Miami just doesn’t have the length and size to defend KG without the services of Bosh.

Garnett has been fantastic during this postseason, scoring 19.3 PPG to go along with 10.8 RPG. Those numbers might jump even higher against a journeyman player like Ronny Turiaf or Udonis Haslem, neither of whom possesses great size.