Celtics/Heat Series Preview
‘DW-3’ or ‘The Big 3’?
by Doobie Okon
Boy, talk about two teams headed in opposite directions.
Back when the calender read 2009, a Boston/Miami series looked very possible — as a 1-vs-8 matchup, though. But now as the regular season comes to a close, a gigantic Boston slide has them clenching onto the 4th seed and home court for the series against the fifth-seeded Heat, whose moniker undoubtedly describes Miami’s ferocious play the last two months.
The Celtics began the season on a blaze, sporting a very merry 23-5 record on Christmas day after a huge road win in Orlando. But the Celts finished off that road trip with three straight losses and haven’t ‘recovered’ since. Boston has gone 27-27 since Christmas and faces mounting criticism regarding their age, health, passion and confidence.
Although two of the ‘Big 3’ — Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce — have faced nagging injuries this season, they’ve only missed 24 combined games which isn’t a huge number. The fact is, the team was fresh for the first half of the season but the 2008 experiment seems to have begun its descent now that C’s old dogs are showing old legs.
Amongst Boston’s many concerns, a rare bright spot is their continued defensive efficiency. They are fifth in the NBA in points allowed (95.6) and also rank in the top ten in opponents’ FG%, opponents’ 3P%, rebounds allowed and forced turnovers. Leading the defensive charge is Celts’ budding star at point guard, Rajon Rondo. Boston’s other young gun, Kendrick Perkins, turned in his best season but the duo’s spectacular play hasn’t been enough to overshadow the questions of Boston’s heart, direction and offensive production.
Have you ever heard of a more disappointing 50-win season?
Take Boston’s season and flip it around, and you have the Miami Heat. After hovering around .500 for the first two-thirds of the year, Miami has gone 18-4 since the beginning of March to finish 47-35 and is definitely one of the League’s hottest squads entering the postseason.
Whereas any of the starters could lead the Celtics to a series victory, the Heat’s hopes rest on the steady shoulders of Dwyane Wade. Wade’s play has improved over the last couple months as his team has put together more wins, and he remains a huge impact on the defensive side.
The rest of the team has followed suit on ‘D’, ranking second in the League in points allowed (94.2) and opponents’ FG% (43.9). Erik Spoelstra has coached the team well, implementing a strong zone that has his team labeled one of the NBA’s strongest defensive units. The players around Wade fill their roles well, especially new utility man, Udonis Haslem, who went to the bench so Michael Beasley could get his starting minutes. It has worked out well for both big men as Miami is clicking on all cylinders heading into Boston.
And don’t be fooled by the season series that Boston swept, 3-0. After the first game, the Celtics’ record was 13-4 while the Heat’s was 9-7. Following the second game, 25-8 and 17-16, respectively. After the third game on February 3rd, Boston was 31-16 and Miami fell to 24-25. The C’s haven’t seen the new Heat, and even with the season sweep, Wade went off for 33.7 points and 8.7 assists per game against Boston. Miami is looking like the ‘sexy’ pick of the first round.
POINT GUARD: CARLOS ARROYO VS. RAJON RONDO
Carlos Arroyo? Yeah. Well, nobody said Miami was going to the Finals. Anyway, Arroyo has been ‘serviceable,’ you could say, and I guess it’s a nice coincidence he took hold of the PG spot at the beginning of March when Miami begun its torrid streak. He puts up minimal numbers (6.1 pts and 3.1 asts) and looks hesitant at times, but Spoelstra has a nice backup in Mario Chalmers should the Puerto Rican falter.
Rondo will dominate this matchup on both sides of the basketball. He averaged 9.8 assists this season, fourth amongst point guards, while also topping the League in steals. In fact, it will be interesting to see if Rivers sticks Rondo on Wade defensively since Miami’s point guard position is so weak. Rajon has an impressive field goal percentage (50.8), particularly because of his ability to get a lot of short to mid-range shots. He’s actually a terrible shooter though, illustrated by his horrible three-point and free throw numbers (21.3% and 62.1%), but his strengths are certainly worth the cold hand.
Advantage: Celtics. Huge advantage. Rondo will be key.
SHOOTING GUARD: RAY ALLEN VS. DWYANE WADE
Wade’s numbers regressed a tad this year, although in the end, they ain’t too shabby. He finished fifth in the NBA at 26.6 pts per game, but finished the year in a scorching fashion, averaging 30.6 over the last ten. Wade is the clear alpha dog of this series and he is no doubt on a Kobe-like quest for a Shaq-less championship. He will need to be great, not good, but great for the Heat to have any kind of chance against the C’s. Miami’s role players are nice, but Boston’s sheer mass of all-stars can level out Wade’s impact. No reason to think he can’t fully take over — after all he was the best player of the 2006 Playoffs.
At the ripe ol’ age of 34, Ray Allen still has the touch. Sort of. Let me explain. Ray-Ray’s shot still looks as beautiful as ever, and he vastly improved his three-point percentage from 33.2 percent in the first half of the season to 40.3 percent in the second half. But he can disappear at times — it’s nothing new as his entire Boston tenure has been tagged with inconsistent stretches. His age is slowly showing, with his numbers dropping just a tad the last couple of years(16.5 ppg down from 18.2). But whether or not Allen shows up this series, he remains an offensive threat and will open up opportunities for his teammates if he can draw Wade to the outside.
SMALL FORWARD: PAUL PIERCE VS. QUENTIN RICHARDSON
No brainer here.
Pierce’s overall numbers have dropped just a tad, but he is having the best shooting year of his career! What!? His 47.2 FG%, 41.4 3P% and 85.2 FT% percentages are all tops in his 12 seasons. Amazing stuff. He remains the face of the Celts, their emotional leader who I believe is the only Boston player capable of carrying this team to another championship.
As for QRich, eh. What can I say? He’s Miami’s best option as a three-point shooter (39.7 percent) and started 75 games for Miami in his first year. There’s nothing else really to say about this matchup. Don’t count on Richardson to have any significant impact on this series.
POWER FORWARD: KEVIN GARNETT VS. MICHAEL BEASLEY
Beasley will be a beast. Right now, he’s an animal. Soon, he will be beastly. The 6-10 forward is only 21 years old and is averaging 14.8 points and 6.4 boards, and shows a great tenacity around the rim, much like the KG before the knee went haywire. This series is definitely a good chance for the second year Beasley to get his face into more living rooms across the country.
It’s no secret: KG is no longer scary and all of Boston knows it. Garnett has only posted 20-point games twice since March 5th, with only two double-doubles in that span as well. Garnett’s explosiveness around the rim is all but gone, but his size and natural talent keeps him a strong presence inside. The good news is he does not exactly have to be Kevin Garnett on this team, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt Boston if he was.
CENTER: KENDRICK PERKINS VS. JERMAINE O’NEAL
O’Neal has been banged up recently with an ankle injury and missed six of Miami’s last nine games. But the 13-year vet should be good to go and will be key on the defensive end. He has been a big reason why nobody could score on the Heat this year and is also scoring 13.6 ppg at a 52.9 percent clip, by far the best of his career.
Perkins, though, has the second best shooting percentage (60.2 percent) in the NBA behind Dwight Howard, but it’s his big body inside that allows the rest of his team to work on offense. Like O’Neal, Perk anchors a strong defense that can frustrate anybody. Expect low scoring games people.
Advantage: Celtics. Slightly.
BENCH: Haslem, Chalmers, Wright, Anthony, Cook vs. Wallace, Daniels, Davis, Finley, Robinson
Haslem is by far the biggest impact player on the bench for either team. His numbers haven’t changed since moving to the bench (9.9 pts and 8.1 boards, both virtually equal to his career numbers) and many forget his contributions to the 2006 championship run. This guy has the veteran leadership any team needs to compete in the postseason.
That being said…the overall Heat bench can’t hold Boston’s jock. Sheed has been Sheed while posting an embarrassing 28.3 percent from beyond the arc this season, but the strength of the other Boston reserves poses huge problems for Miami. Sheed, Glen Davis, Michael Finley, Nate Robinson and Marquis Daniels? Like I said before, this series rests on the shoulders of one Dwyane Wade to overcome a Celtics team that’s strong across the board.
SERIES PREDICTION: Miami will definitely have people picking them due to their recent momentum and Boston’s mediocre second-half, and rightfully so. Boston is headed in the wrong direction, and it seems nobody is able to fully motivate them every night, including Doc Rivers. Miami should be excited and looking to take back home court by splitting the first two games in Boston, which I think they’ll accomplish.
Both teams are defensive stalwarts, so I see low scoring games across the board. Wade will win one or two games by himself, but the Celts will be poised in a game seven at TD Garden. Celtics in 7.