Arbella Game 5 Preview: Celtics at Heat

Arbella Playoffs

BOSTON – Another seven-game series has turned into a three-game series for the Boston Celtics (10-7).

The Eastern Conference Finals, which is tied up at 2-2, will continue at 8:30 p.m. tonight in AmericanAirlines Arena. By the time the final buzzer sounds on Game 5, either the visiting C’s or the Miami Heat (10-5) will be on the doorstep of the NBA Finals.

We’re basically at square one after four games. Home court has held true to this point, as Miami took home the first two games of the series before Boston won Games 3 and 4 in TD Garden. Now the series shifts back to AmericanAirlines Arena, where the Celtics must win at least once if they hope to advance to the Finals for the third time in five years.

Boston nearly accomplished that goal in Game 2 but lost the contest in overtime, 115-111. Rajon Rondo dominated that contest with a historic 44-point, eight-rebound, 10-assist performance. Rondo, however, wasn’t enough to lead the Celtics to the win, as Paul Pierce fouled out in regulation and was forced to watch the overtime period from the sideline.

A similar situation took place during Game 4 Sunday night in TD Garden. Pierce fouled out of the overtime session just 48 seconds after it began thanks to an offensive foul he picked up while jockeying for post position with Shane Battier. Miami lost its leading scorer in the overtime session as well, as LeBron James was sent to the sideline after committing an offensive foul with 1:51 remaining on the clock.

James’ absence was a gift for Boston. Without him on the floor, Miami’s offense bogged down and could not get many clean looks at the basket. The Heat went scoreless over the final 3:30 of overtime, highlighted by Dwyane Wade’s miss on a potential game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.

Which leads us into the most intriguing of games tonight. Both of these championship-caliber teams understand that Game 5 is a swing game that will put one team on the ropes. In a series that has been as back-and-forth as this, it’s nearly impossible to predict what’s to come.

“This series is probably as unconventional as any series I've been a part of,” said Erik Spoelstra. “And probably as much as I've seen both teams making adjustments game to game, both teams have had to go through a lot of adversity through this series. We're reinventing ourselves daily.”

Those words may be a bit of a stretch, but Miami may have to truly reinvent itself heading into Game 5. Rumors have been swirling for the past 24 hours that Chris Bosh, who has missed the Heat’s last 10 games with a strained abdominal muscle, will return to the lineup tonight. He is Miami’s third-best scorer and, even if he’s rusty, will alter Boston’s plan of attack at both ends of the court.

Still, though, the Celtics can head into this game with plenty of confidence. They could rightly believe that they should be ahead 3-1 in this series with a road victory already in their pocket. They also know for a fact that they’ve already defeated the Heat twice this season while Bosh was on the floor, including once in Miami.

If there was ever a time to accomplish that feat again, tonight would be the night. Boston is beginning to smell and taste the NBA Finals. A victory tonight would be a monumental step in helping them advance to that prestigious round.

Free Up Rondo

The Heat threw a major wrinkle into Game 4 by trapping Rondo consistently on pick-and-rolls. The plan worked, as Rondo was derailed and could not turn the corner to put pressure on Miami’s defensive rotations.

“We know we sag off him, he's able to read the floor better, make better plays,” said Mario Chalmers. “If you put more pressure on him, it's harder for him to pick our defense apart.”

Now it’s Doc Rivers’ turn to figure out how to overcome those traps. He might decide to send double-screens in Rondo’s direction, or maybe he’ll choose to have Rondo operate in the post, as he did in the second half of Game 4. One way or another, the Celtics must solve the riddle and free Rondo up.

Build a Wall

We hear this term consistently from great defensive teams. The Celtics, who are clearly one of those teams, want to “build a wall” around players like James and Wade to disallow them from getting into the paint for easy baskets.

Boston has been decent in that regard throughout this series, but not in Game 4. James, in particular, had a field day in the paint. He made 12 field goals in the game, but only one of those makes came from outside the lower half of the paint. That’s an astonishing statistic, and one that should be alarming to the C’s.

In order for Boston to be successful in Game 5, it needs to make James and Wade play on the perimeter. If the Celtics can build that wall, they will make it much more difficult for that duo to attack the basket.

Bosh’s Potential Impact

If Bosh does return for tonight’s game he could make a large impact at both ends of the court. Many people crush Bosh for his good-but-not-great stats, but the man is a ___-time NBA All-Star. He can ball with the best of the league’s power forwards.

Bosh’s ability to score the basketball would impact Game 5 because the C’s must always have a defender in his face to challenge shots. Boston has been trapping and double-teaming James and Wade on the regular, and doing so will be much more difficult with Bosh spacing the floor.

At the other end of the court, Bosh would bring quite a bit of length to Miami’s defense. The Heat have struggled to contain Kevin Garnett, who is averaging 20.5 PPG in this series. Bosh is the only player on Miami’s roster who has the length and strength to bother Garnett’s perimeter and post-up shots.

No one knows how rusty Bosh will be during game action, as he hasn’t played at full speed in ____. However, his mere presence on the court would certainly give Miami at least a slight boost.