NBA Playoffs 2012: 10 Reasons the Celtics Can Beat the Heat
And with that, after a full game's worth of mediocrity, the Celts are suddenly in the driver's seat once again, on a course with the Conference Finals.
Forgive us for being presumptuous, but even though they've struggled in the other Eastern semi, the Miami Heat still feel like the eventual winner of their series with Indiana, which would then take us, assuming the Celtics hold on, to a Boston vs. Miami matchup.
And if such a scenario unfolds, the Celtics, battered and bruised as they are, can most definitely get a chance to play for Banner 18.
Here's some reasons why they can do it.
1. Kevin Garnett
KG got back to work in Game 5 against Philly.
The ultimate x-factor in any series against Miami, the Heat have exactly no one who can deal with Garnett if he's playing as aggressively and as inspired on the offensive end as he's been for the majority of the past three months.
Other than in Game 4 against the Sixers, Garnett has been a monster since Game 3 of the first-round series against Atlanta, torching the likes of Josh Smith, Al Horford, Elton Brand, Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen along the way.
Who will Miami throw at him? Joel Anthony? Dexter Pittman? Ronny Turiaf?
Plus, with Chris Bosh out for Miami (which won't cost much defensively against KG), Garnett won't spend the same kind of energy he would need to if Bosh were healthy.
Look for KG to continue his dynamic, flashback-like play should these two teams meet in the next round.
Doc wins in a landslide over Spoelstra.
In the NBA right now, there's Gregg Popovich, with Doc Rivers a step or so behind. Then everyone else.
Erik Spoelstra is firmly entrenched with everyone else.
His players are openly showing him up during playoff games. He still hasn't figured out the right rotation for everyone on his team not named LeBron James or Dwyane Wade. He's currently being out-coached by Indiana's Frank Vogel, nearing the end of just his first full season in the big chair on an NBA bench.
It's a mismatch, Doc vs. Spoelstra. Considering what Rivers has gotten out of his group all season up to this point, and how it continues to win as more and more players drop like flies, you have to like the Celtics' chances even more in that individual matchup.
Give Doc the easy check mark here.
These three (plus Rondo) have been through more together than the Heat.
This one doesn't go as far as it did for the Celts against Atlanta or Philly, but they still have more know-how than the Heat do when it comes down to it.
LeBron has played in two Finals, losing both. Wade is 1-for-2. And while most of the current Celtics can claim no better than that, collectively what this team has been through, as a unit, gives them the edge in this department.
Factor in the Heat's meltdowns in last year's Finals and the signs they've showed of not being over those demons in this series against the Pacers, and the Celts look even better when addressing the experience factor.
4. Supporting Cast
Chalmers is the only one to do anything for Miami other than LeBron and Wade.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Hey, what do the Heat have they can throw at Brandon Bass?
In all seriousness, Bass's enormous Game 4 performance on Monday night (27 points, 18 in the third quarter) gave faith to the Celts fans anxious over who might step up beyond any member of the Big Four.
It remains to be seen what Bradley may be able to give the team going forward, but when he's healthy, he's proven to be able to make healthy contributions to the Celtics' offense. We now know Bass can explode. And there's no telling when Mickael Pietrus may get hot and bury a handful of three-pointers.
Mario Chalmers blew up for 25 points for the Heat in Game 3 against Miami, but that was in a 20-point loss. Without Bosh, who can Miami count on to score other than LeBron and Wade?
5. Rajon Rondo
There's no one on the Heat like Rondo.
Rondo is averaging 14.4 points and 14.6 assists per game thus far against Philly. He's also pulling down 6.6 boards and a couple of steals.
Short of putting LeBron or Wade on him, Miami doesn't really have an answer for how to contain the Boston point guard. And even that may not work.
Technically, Chalmers and Norris Cole are the Heat's point guards but their entire offense runs through LeBron. He is the most talented player in the league but can LeBron really do all Miami already needs him to do and neutralize/match/check Rondo?
If there's anyone in the league like Rajon Rondo, he certainly doesn't play for the Heat. That makes him as much an X-factor as KG.
Does LeBron have what it takes between the ears?
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Along the same lines as experience, these Celtics are experts at being emotionally even-keeled, mentally tough and in the right headspace.
The Heat, as recently as Game 3, appeared to be coming unglued not just on the court but on the sideline as well.
Now that Miami has tied up its series with the Pacers, things may change. They did respond nicely to being unexpectedly down two games to one and by double digits in Game 4. They stayed together and staved off desperation when they needed to the most.
But if they lose Game 5 at home on Tuesday night, they'll have to reach deep once again in order to stay alive in Game 6 in Indiana. It remains to be seen if they can find what it takes.
The Celtics, on the other hand, are masters of finding their way out of difficult circumstances.They did it Monday night in blowing open Game 5 when it looked like they might be on the ropes. They did it all season, in the face of one injury after another.
They're as tough as it gets. And the Heat can't match that toughness.
Garnett still anchors the Celts' championship level D.
Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
The Celtics are widely known as one of, if not the, best defensive teams in the NBA. They are proving that again in their series with the Sixers, where they've not allowed Philly to cross the 92-point threshold once in five games.
In Game 5 on Friday, the Celts used their trademark D in tandem with Bass' offensive effort to squash the Sixers, holding them to 37 percent shooting in the second half after they shot 55 percent in the first half.
Both LeBron and Wade can cope with the Celts' defense, that's how good they are. But if Boston can slow those two down even a little, the Heat are going to have a hard time scoring, particularly with Bosh out of the picture.
The Celts are older and slower but still capable of playing championship caliber D. They'll need it against the Heat.
8. Ray Allen
Ray still looks like he has one more huge shooting game left in him.
It's been a little rough watching Ray gallantly chase Evan Turner around on D and not get the requisite lift on his jumpers on offense so far in this series.
But at any moment, he could go for 30 with five to seven bombs thrown in. Because he's Ray Allen.
Allen, the most prolific three-point shooter of all time, has been a shadow for the past three games, scoring a total of 13 points on 5-of-14 shooting. His ailing ankles aren't cooperating and he looks slow and tired because of it.
Still, again, we're talking about Ray Allen. He is the owner of a career playoff scoring average of 18.8 points per game. And, as he showed in Game 2 of the 2010 Finals or in Game 6 of the 2009 first round, he can get it going when it matters most.
If the C's were to get a big scoring performance from Ray it would be a huge bonus and one that the Heat (who would be wise to pursue him as a free agent this summer) couldn't necessarily match.
Tradition doesn't win titles, but is always worth examining.
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Admittedly, this has nothing to do with who would win a Boston/Miami series or why. But it's still fun to look at the background of each franchise just for kicks.
The Heat have a banner, but they also have a tremendously superficial fan base which can tolerate things like this.
It's hard to imagine anything like that ever being tolerated in Boston, where greatness borne out of hard work, not birthright, is expected.
As franchises, these two are basically polar opposites. The Celtics' way feels more genuine.
It may be the last roundup for this group.
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Allow us one more indulgence here. From a non-basketball point of view, it should be noted that for the Celts, time is of the essence.
The Heat and their cast of stars will be together for years to come provided none of them are traded (and any thoughts of trading Bosh should be dismissed given how much the team has struggled without him at times). They are in line for a title or two in the coming seasons.
The Celtics' lease on life as a Big Four is nearly up. When this season ends, whenever that may be, both Allen and KG could be gone. It's perfectly legitimate to say this is the last go-around for the Celts as presently constituted.
Whether that—the possibility that this is their collective last shot—provides them with any added motivation, or if that even matters against a team like the Heat, is anyone's guess.
It can't hurt.