Miami's Small Ball Lineup May Not Affect C's

MIAMI – Many would consider the Boston Celtics to be a team that plays small ball. The Miami Heat? Well, they play really small ball.

Miami has won consecutive titles without the presence of a center in its rotation. Pat Riley attempted to change that this summer with the signing of Greg Oden, but the 7-footer has appeared in just one game this season. That fact has left Erik Spoelstra with no choice but to lean on old reliable: small ball.

Jared Sullinger takes a jumper against Miami.

Jared Sullinger will have to adjust his game against Miami's small lineup.
Issac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty Images

Chris Bosh, who is your typical stretch-four, has started at center for the Heat in all 40 of his appearances this season. On a typical night, he’s surrounded by Shane Battier and LeBron James at the forwards, and Mario Chalmers and Dwyane Wade at the guards.

That lineup has become even more potent as time has worn on. Bosh has increased his shooting range, which is an element of Miami’s offense that Brad Stevens singled out at Tuesday morning’s shootaround.

“Bosh’s ability to stretch the court has really made them difficult to guard, I think, especially when they play him at the 5,” Stevens said.

That comment would tend to indicate that Stevens may adjust to Miami’s offense and rethink his starting lineup. Boston has started Kris Humphries and Jared Sullinger in the frontcourt for the past four games. Those two players are most accustomed to banging in the land of the trees around the basket. On a night like tonight, they’d be forced to play on the perimeter while defending the likes of Bosh and Battier.

The Celtics would need to match the Heat and play really small ball in order to match up well with Miami from a physical and athleticism standpoint. However, as Stevens noted this morning, Boston’s super-small lineup hasn’t been very effective this season.

“We played small a little bit last game against them, not a ton, and we’ve played small at different times this year,” Stevens said. “The small lineup has not been great for us. I think that we’ll have to just play that by ear (tonight).”

The odds are leaning heavily toward Boston sticking with its regular starting group and rotation. Stevens made it clear that he’s more comfortable with using his top lineup than he is with adjusting to match Miami’s style of play.

“I think you’re more likely to see – especially with (Jerryd) Bayless out – you’re more likely to see us big than small,” Stevens said.

With that fact in mind, Sullinger and Humphries must prepare themselves for a much more perimeter-oriented game than they’re used to. Prior to this morning’s shootaround, Humphries discussed the differences that he tends to see on the court when he’s playing against a lineup like Miami’s.

“A team that played small ball, you’ve got to be ready to guard the 3-point line and you’re coming from a different spot to get rebounds and you’ve got to be ready to bounce out quick,” he said. “So it’s a little bit of a different feel. Playing defense on the perimeter and helping and recovering is different there versus on more of a true post player.”

Those are some of the challenges Humphries, Sullinger and the rest of Boston’s big men will need to deal with tonight at the defensive end of the floor. At the same time, their size and ability to succeed around the basket will serve as an advantage on offense.

Sullinger is a true post player who should be able to get his shot off around the basket against Miami’s thin frontline. Sullinger has had more than 30 percent of his offensive plays run through the post this season with pretty decent efficiency. The second-year big man, who is averaging 11.8 points per game and 9.6 rebounds per game this month, expects the Heat to place a high priority on defending his post ups.

“This is a game where you just have to find the open seams, because they’re going to do a lot of doubling, I believe,” Sullinger said. “They like to blitz ball screens. So I just have to find the seams and find a way to get open.”

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. Small ball versus really small ball. The former took round one. Round two tips off at 7:30 p.m.