Game Preview: Celtics at Heat

Paul Pierce

Paul Pierce, who will be present for Miami's ring ceremony tonight, was emotional when he received his ring back in 2008.
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images

MIAMI – What better way to tip off an NBA season than with a juicy matchup between the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat? The two conference rivals will meet at 8 p.m. Tuesday night in AmericanAirlines Arena.

The Celtics and Heat went to a decisive Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals one season ago. Miami pulled off a dramatic series comeback and advanced to the NBA Finals, where they defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games.

This rivalry has been strong for two full seasons, but it became even stronger this offseason. Ray Allen decided to leave the Celtics and join the Heat, causing a stir throughout the NBA.

Many outlets will make Allen's departure the main story heading into Tuesday’s game, but the teams are concentrating on the matchup at hand. These are two teams that plan on winning an NBA championship, and that journey begins tonight.

Boston will boast a much different team heading into this contest than the one that Miami saw last season. The C’s bring back only five players from last season’s roster, and one of them, Chris Wilcox, did not play in the playoffs.

The main additions to the Celtics’ roster are Heat-killer Jason Terry, shooting guard Courtney Lee and forward Jeff Green. Terry, who helped the Mavericks defeat the Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals, is ready to take Miami down in a new uniform Tuesday night.

“It doesn’t change. They know who I am, and I know who they are, and I’m ready,” Terry said before Tuesday’s shootaround. “I made it a point this season that the road to the championship goes through the champion, and what better way to kick off our championship run is to run through the champs in game 1.”

Miami will obviously head into this matchup as the reigning champs, but its lineup looks very different as well. The Heat added two sharpshooters to their roster with the signings of Allen and Rashard Lewis. Allen’s signing has attracted quite a bit of attention, but Rivers isn’t sleeping on the addition of Lewis.

“I really think Rashard Lewis is an excellent pickup for them,” Rivers said after Sunday’s open practice.

A rivalry will remain a rivalry no matter what players comprise the two benches. Rivers has surely convinced his new players to hate the Heat, and Erik Spoelstra has likely convinced his new players to hate the Celtics in turn.

It just doesn’t get much juicier than this, and that’s why the NBA chose these two rivals to open up the league’s national television schedule.

Control the Emotions

Not only will the Celtics be facing off with their former teammate, Allen, for the very first time, but the Heat will also be receiving their championship rings. Make no mistake about it: emotions will be running high.

We all remember that Pierce actually shed tears back in 2008 when the Celtics received their championship rings. It’s an emotional moment that can change the course of careers. We may see the same from some Heat players, but the question is how will they bounce back from those emotions?

Asked what he recalls about Boston’s ring ceremony in 2008, Rivers responded, “You’re worried about distractions and can you play.”

Spoelstra will likely be thinking that very same thought Tuesday night.

The Celtics, on the other hand, will be looking to achieve the slightest bit of revenge after they sit through the Heat’s celebration. Boston wants to win this game very badly for a number of reasons.

Small Ball Battle

Rivers said late last week that the Heat “married themselves” to the small ball mentality heading into this season. He saw that mentality as the game changer in last season’s postseason series between these two teams.

The Heat are likely to play Chris Bosh at center and LeBron James or Shane Battier at power forward for much of Tuesday night’s game. The Celtics believe they’re equipped to respond to that lineup with Jeff Green playing small forward and any combination of wings and guards around him and Kevin Garnett.

Which team’s small lineup will be more effective? We’ll find out soon enough.

Take Care of the Ball

This will always be on the list of to-do’s when playing the Miami Heat. If you don’t limit your turnovers, you’re going to lose the game.

Boston’s hope is that the preseason was not a sign of things to come. The C’s were sloppy with the ball and committed 19.13 turnovers a game in eight preseason contests. Much of that number can be attributed to players getting to know each other, but much of it can also be attributed to careless play.

Keeping the turnover number under 14 would be a win for Boston tonight. It all starts with Rajon Rondo taking care of the ball. If he does, the rest of his teammates will likely follow suit.