Heat-Celtics Round 1
Although it’s a short lived rivalry, few teams in sports currently share the same general disdain for one another as the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics. While both of these teams are heavy on star power, from a basketball standpoint it’s a clash of opposing styles whenever these two Eastern Conference powers meet up, as the Heat are fast, athletic, and dynamic, while the Celtics rely on execution, guile, and their team-first mantra. This contrast was on full display during Tuesday night’s tilt, as the Heat led comfortably for most of game before holding off a late Celtics rally to win 115-107.
As was the case in last year’s Eastern Conference Semifinals, for large portions of this game Miami overwhelmed Boston with their speed and athleticism. With their superior team speed, the Heat picked off a number of passes that led to easy fast break points for LeBron James and Dwayne Wade. Wade was particularly impressive throughout the contest, driving to the basket at will as the Celtics had no interior presence capable of deterring him, and blocking four shots and altering countless others on the other end of the floor. I can’t think of another guard in the NBA who swats as many shots as Wade does, as he essentially serves as Miami’s protector around the basket.
Without Paul Pierce, I figured Boston would have a difficult time scoring enough points to keep up with the Heat for four quarters. This didn’t turn out to be a problem, as the Celtics ended up getting contributions on the offensive end from a variety of sources. Rajon Rondo put his improved shooting on display, and the ageless Ray Allen played over 40 minutes and was 6-8 from three point range. Reserve forward Brandon Bass played another solid game for the Celtics and looks to be an upgrade over the departed Big Baby Davis. Bass he will have to play a major role this year due to the age of center Jermaine O’Neal and the team’s general lack of frontline depth.
Unfortunately for Doc Rivers his defense let him down Tuesday night, as for the 2nd successive game in this young season his team was unable to slow down the opposition. Known throughout his tenure as having one of the best defensive units in the league, it must be fairly clear to Doc that his squad has major matchup issues with both the Heat and the Knicks. Celtics GM Danny Ainge has made moves to try and counteract the two-man wrecking crew of James and Wade, but as the two rosters are currently constructed it appears if they were to meet again in the playoffs this spring the outcome would be the same as last year. A positive for Boston (and the every other team in the NBA) is that with the exception of first-year point guard Norris Cole (who played out of his head Tuesday, scoring twenty points), the rest of Miami’s roster is largely unchanged from a year ago. In tight postseason contests it will come down to having a better team to offset the greatness of LeBron and D-Wade.
Since the dawn of the ‘Big 3’ era in Boston, the advantages the Celtics always had over most teams in the NBA have been their superior size, defensive prowess, and overall intimidation. These attributes have been significantly weakened in recent years due to the trading of Kendrick Perkins last season and the retirements of Rasheed Wallace and Shaquille O’Neal in consecutive off-seasons. Doc Rivers can hang his hat on the fact that his team was right there with a chance to win both of their first two games, he has one of the top point guards in the game in Rondo, and that when Pierce returns the outcomes of these close contests might be different.
The Heat and the Celtics don’t face each other again until April 1st, and at that point in the season we will have a better indication of where these two bitter adversaries stand in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. If I had to venture a guess, the Heat will be battling the Bulls for the top spot in the East, while the Celtics will be in the same getting healthy/monitoring minutes/saving players for the playoffs mode they have been in since 2010.