Thursday, April 15, 2010
Bringing down the Celtics
I will be the first to admit this is not my preferred matchup. I think you would have to be nuts to want the Celtics. Either that, or you have to be Dwyane Wade, who has no reason to fear anyone. The Heat supporting cast has reason to be optimistic too, because they all bring something to the table and have been gelling while the Celtics have not as evidenced by the way they followed a 23-5 start by finishing a very mediocre 27-27.
It is hard to believe that this Celtics team is going to demolish the Miami Heat as quite simply, this group has never demolished anyone.
In 2008, the #1 seed Boston Celtics came in with a big, bad 66-16 record only to require a game 7 to dispose of the 37-45 Atlanta Hawks (who were gelling thanks to the veteran experience of Mike Bibby - a mid-season addition) and the 45-37 Cleveland Cavaliers, who I contend were a weaker team than your Miami Heat, take a look back and judge for yourself:
C - Ilgauskas
PF - B. Wallace
SF - L. James
SG - S. Pavlovic
PG - D. West
In game 7, LeBron went off for 45 points and could only get double digits from one teammate (Delonte West, who pitched in 15 in 45 minutes) as the Cavaliers fell just short of pulling the upset. Boston would go on to defeat the Pistons and Lakers 4-2 to finish their championship run.
Last year, the 62 win Celtics were playing without KG and required a game 7 to eliminate the 41 win Chicago Bulls, who were coming into the postseason on a high note after acquiring former University of Miami star forward John Salmons in a mid-season deal (side note: he could become that second All-Star caliber addition Pat Riley has been talking about adding this off-season). Boston then lost a 7 game series to the eventual Eastern Conference champion, Orlando Magic. In their 21 point game 7 loss Boston's bench was exposed, with a combined 12 points from Eddie House, Stephon Marbury, Brian Scalabrine, Tony Allen and Mikki Moore.
This year, Boston seems to be healthy and on paper they have a much improved bench with Rasheed Wallace, Nate Robinson, Marquis Daniels, Michael Finley, Shelden Williams and Glen Davis (who was forced into the starting lineup in 2009 due to Garnett's injury) joining Tony Allen and Brian Scalabrine. However, they won't make you forget the days of Sam Cassell (savvy veteran point guard), James Posey (3 point specialist and perimeter defensive stopper) and PJ Brown (Udonis with much more size). There is a lot of swagger, but don't expect Miami's reserves to be intimidated. Their top contributor, Rasheed Wallace, is providing 9 points and 4 rebounds on 41% shooting.
Boston may get a spark from their bench a few games, but their real advantage lies in the starting lineup where they boast 4 All-Stars and a physical center who rarely stands out as a weak link. Miami, on the other hand, only has one consistently good starter. This matchup should bring out the best from the other four guys (also known as the Titos) who will all be hungry to get the monkey off their back and re-establish their reputations. Michael Beasley is disgusted that his averages are just shy of 15 points and 7 rebounds, but truth be told, KG is averaging a Beasley/JO-like 14 and 7 in 30 minutes a game so I expect Miami's frontcourt to hold their own. Boston's lineup no longer boasts a single 20 point scorer, but I see that as one of their strengths as their lightning quick point guard, Rajon Rondo, has done a wonderful job of keeping all their weapons involved, as evidenced by his 9.8 assists per game. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen will get plenty of open looks from beyond the arc, they will have to hit those shots if they hope to win.
For Miami to win this series, they will need the bench to shine. Udonis Haslem is the captain of that unit and has really helped turn them around. We are now seeing great play (and confidence) from Dorell Wright, who will be counted to defend 3 positions and knock down the 3 ball, which he has done at a rate of 39% for the season. After those two, there is a considerable drop off as former starter Mario Chalmers has failed to take his game to the next level. The other member of the bench unit is Joel Anthony, who is an elite shotblocker who seems a lot more confident around the basket. The only other players who are likely to see action in important minutes are center Jamaal Magloire (a former All-Star built for the physicality of this series) and sharp shooter James Jones (41% from the arc for the year).
I expect Miami to steal a game at the TD Center, what I am more concerned with is their ability to 3-0 in the home games. If they do, they will win the series 4-2. If they cannot do that, they will be forced to win game 7 on the road. Miami is a much better team than they were last year at this time, but I only give them a 42% chance of winning this matchup, due to not having the home court advantage.