After dropping the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat (the second in heartbreaking fashion), the Boston Celtics rebounded in a big way, winning Games 3 and 4 to even the series at two games apiece.
Now, the Celtics find themselves in a position where they have been very successful in the past: a chance to take a 3-2 lead. Since the Big Three formed in 2007, Boston is 8-0 in Game 5 when the series is tied 2-2. Obviously, this individual game is different than those past eight, but it is still worth mentioning that the C's are outstanding in these situations.
The consensus among the media is that the Heat will still win this series. They have the homecourt advantage, and they may be getting Chris Bosh back tonight. However, one really has to wonder whether or not the media is in denial over the fact that its Miami darlings have their backs against the wall, something that almost no pundits anticipated before the series began.
So, do the Celtics have enough to win Game 5 and send this back to TD Garden for a closeout game on Thursday?
I think they do, and here is why.
1. Ray Allen is back
This may very well be the biggest X-factor of the series. After solid performances in Games 2 and 3 and then a 16-point night in which he drained four threes in Game 4, it appears that Allen has been revitalized. His balance looks better, the arc on his shot has returned, and he has even ratcheted his defense up a bit. Ladies and gentlemen, the Ray Allen that Celtics fans have all come to know and love over the past five years is back, and that is absolutely huge.
Before the Eastern Conference Finals started, everyone said that Allen would have to give the C's something for them to have a chance to win. As incredible as Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo had been, Boston would need Allen to come up big to beat the Heat. Well, after logging 46 minutes in Game 4, I think it's safe to say that Ray's ankle is feeling alright, and it looked especially fine when he nailed that gigantic three in the fourth quarter.
It's not just that Allen's shot looks better, either. He is doing a much better job of getting himself open for clean looks, which is something he wasn't able to do in the previous two series. He looks much quicker running off screens, and that proverbial lightning-quick release has returned on his jumper.
I expect another big-time performance out of Allen tonight.
Remember in last year's series between these two teams when Boston just couldn't figure out a way to contain either LeBron James or Dwyane Wade? Well, this time around, the Celtics have come up with a strategy that is clear-as-day: let James get his, and shut down Wade and everyone else.
Of course, the C's had to deal with a healthy Bosh in 2011, and that made cutting off Wade almost impossible, but Boston isn't being hindered by a healthy Bosh in 2012. Because of that, Garnett has been cheating on pick-and-rolls by leaving his man to trap Wade, eliminating his driving lanes and forcing him into either tough shots or difficult passes. This has really brought Miami's offense to a crawl and held the Heat to 91 points in each of the past two games.
Tonight, Bosh may be back, but I can't imagine he will be all that effective (something I'll get into later). So, I expect the Celtics to continue to implement this gameplan in Game 5. They are essentially conceding 30+ points to James, just like they did when he was in Cleveland. However, those 30+ points aren't going to mean all that much in the big picture if the rest of the Miami players aren't scoring.
3. Garnett and Rondo
I think it's pretty evident that the Heat have no answer for either K.G. or Rondo. In fact, Garnett had a rather "mediocre" Game 4 by his standards (until the fourth quarter where he was absolutely huge), and he was still able to post 17 points, 14 rebounds, and five blocks. Rondo? He only scored 15, but he was able to dish out 15 assists and hit what ended up being the game-deciding bucket in overtime.
See, this is why Allen getting going has become so devastating to the Heat. Even though Garnett and Rondo only combined for 32 points in Game 4, Allen dropped 16, and then when you throw in 23 from Paul Pierce, it just becomes too much for Miami to overcome.
Let me say that I expect K.G. and Rajon to score more than 32 put together in Game 5. I think we are going to see a monster performance from Garnett tonight, and I don't think 25-30 points is out of the question for The Big Ticket. I also think Rondo gets at least 15, so counting on 40-50 points between the two of them is not so farfetched.
If Garnett and Rondo both have big games tonight, the Celtics are winning Game 5.
4. Bosh is still not 100 percent
Is throwing Bosh back into the fray a move of pure desperation on the part of the Heat? It looks that way, because if Miami were up 3-1 in this series, I don't think Erik Spoelstra would even entertain the idea of bringing his power forward back.
Bosh hasn't played since May 13 when he strained his abdominal muscle in Game 1 of Miami's second-round matchup against the Indiana Pacers. Any type of injury in the abdominal area is very debilitating, as you essentially need a healthy midsection to even walk properly. For moderate strains (which is what Bosh has), the typical healing period is 4-6 weeks. Well, it hasn't even been four weeks yet, so you have to wonder how good of shape Bosh is actually in.
Not only is Bosh's true health a question mark, but you also have to ask yourself how James and Wade will play with Bosh suddenly being thrown back into the lineup. It has been over three weeks since Bosh last played, and it appeared as if James and Wade had become accustomed to playing without the big man on the floor. Having Bosh back means less touches for the two stars, and it could seriously disrupt the Heat's offensive flow (whatever flow they actually had at this point).
Sure, Bosh spreads the floor, and his jump shooting ability will prevent Garnett from trapping Wade out on the perimeter, but if he isn't 100 percent (which he isn't), how much is that going to matter? I can't imagine Bosh will play any more than 15-20 minutes tops, and I don't think his impact will be anything more than minimal.
Yes, there is a chance that having Bosh back will actually hurt Miami tonight.
5. One final run
The Celtics can smell it. They are now two wins away from reaching the NBA Finals, so you can bet your life on them playing probably the hardest they've ever played tonight. Yes. Despite all of the injuries, inconsistencies, incessant trade rumors, and constant "they're done" remarks, Boston now finds itself 96 minutes of good basketball from a third trip to the finals since 2008.
That means Garnett, Pierce, Allen, and Rondo are going to bring it more than ever before. That means role players like Brandon Bass, Mickael Pietrus, Keyon Dooling, and Marquis Daniels are going to want to win this for those guys. That means Doc Rivers is going to deliver a fiery pregame speech that will stir the blood of every Celtic in that locker room.
The C's have been down this road before, and they know exactly what it is like. They know exactly how to win games like this. Make no mistake—if anyone is capable of going into Miami and winning this kind of game, it is the Boston Celtics.
The Celtics smell blood. They know they have the Heat back on their heels and headed for the ropes, and if there is anything we have learned about this team over these past five years, it is that they are killers.
No, they do not always close teams out (as evidenced by the two series prior). Yes, they have a bad habit of playing down to their competition. But they know the Miami Heat are not the Atlanta Hawks or the Philadelphia 76ers. They know they have their foot on LeBron and Wade's throats, and they are this close to delivering the death blow.
When the C's have had opportunities such as this since the 2008 playoff run, they have always rose to the challenge, as evidenced by that 8-0 record in Game 5 when the series is tied 2-2. Do you remember the series against the LeBron-led Cavaliers back in 2010? Boston went on the road in Game 5 and utterly obliterated Cleveland.
I am not saying they are going to obliterate the Heat, but I am saying they are going to bring it tonight.
I will admit that coming into this series, I wasn't sure if the C's had enough to outlast Miami. However, after seeing the way they bounced back after that horrible Game 2 loss, I now know for a fact that they do.
The mental toughness of this team is something so extraordinary that I can't even remember the last time I saw a squad with this type of intestinal fortitude. That is why I expect the Celtics to go into American Airlines Arena tonight and win.
I just cannot see these Boston Celtics letting this opportunity pass them by.