Nobody gave them a chance in hell.
When they advanced to last season’s Eastern Conference Finals, the Boston Celtics were quickly dismissed as the Miami Heat’s chew toy to warm-up with in anticipation of a showdown with the Oklahoma City Thunder or San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals.
Then again, they were only there courtesy of Derrick Rose’s ACL, which prevented a second-round showdown with the top-seeded Chicago Bulls. Heck, the Celtics needed all seven games just to dispose of the bottom-seeded Philadelphia 76ers. Now they were supposed to match-up with LeBron James and the Heat?
To think they’d even last five was being generous.
The reality? After five, the Celtics were nursing a 3-2 series lead with only a game six victory at home standing in their way of making a third trip to the NBA Finals in five years. The Heat would need every bucket of a 45-point outburst from LeBron just to force game seven.
Suddenly, the team everyone counted out was now demanding everyone’s attention. Boxer Manny Pacquiao was no different, as he requested to delay his WBO Welterweight Championship defense until the completion of game seven.
How’s that for a chew toy?
The Heat would eventually knock off the Celtics en route to capturing the franchises’ second NBA championship. But it wasn’t before taking part in a series that was easily the best of last year’s postseason. In hindsight, it’d be safe to assume that the victor of that series would have been crowned champion.
This upcoming season shouldn’t be any different.
The Celtics and Heat will meet again in next season’s Conference Finals. Same stakes and all.
This offseason, there haven’t been two teams who’ve been busier than the Celtics and the Heat.
In a move that is surely going to add fuel to the fire of what is quickly becoming one of the best rivalries in the league, the Heat snagged hit-man Ray Allen away from the Celtics with a three-year, $9 million contract. They complimented that with the signing of Rashard Lewis to a deal for $2.6 million over two years at the veteran’s minimum.
Last season, opponents struggled to stop Mike Miller and Shane Battier from lighting them up from downtown. Next season they’ll have to deal with Allen and Lewis? Good luck.
Then take into consideration that the Heat didn’t lose a single important piece from last season’s rotation. Even without a single offseason addition, the Heat would have been considered a top contender next season. But now, it’s pretty much a given.
On the other hand, the Celtics didn’t let Allen’s departure stop them from keeping up the pace.
After last season’s strong postseason, Kevin Garnett was rewarded with a new three-year, $34 million extension. They followed that up by bringing back Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, and Chris Wilcox.
Next, the team brought in scrappy veteran Jason Terry, signing him to a three-year deal worth $15 million. Not one to stray away from the three, Terry should fill the three-point shooting void the team will feel with Allen’s absence.
While Terry was a quality addition, the team still lacked depth at the shooting guard position. Not likely to bring back free agent Mickael Pietrus, the Celtics finalized a three-team sign-and-trade deal that landed them shooting guard Courtney Lee. With Avery Bradley expected to miss the beginning of next season due to shoulder surgery, expect Lee to step up and fill that role.
Throw in first round draft picks Fab Melo and Jared Sullinger, and it’s safe to say that President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge has put together one of the deepest Celtics’ rosters in years.
So who’s going to derail these two from their likely collision course in the postseason?
Don’t count on the Bulls.
While bringing in Kirk Hinrich, Marquis Teague and Vladimir Radmanovic is sure to help, the Bulls lost Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, C.J. Watson and Brian Scalabrine. Not to mention the fact that Rose is expected to be sidelined until January. Sorry, Chicago.
It’s definitely not the New York Knicks.
Believed to be a contender as early as last season, the Knicks flopped in their first round series against the Heat, before flopping again this offseason. The acquisition of veteran Jason Kidd is not going to make up for losing out on both Jeremy Lin and Landry Fields.
The newly-renamed Brooklyn Nets are the closest to being able to pose a threat to the Celtics-Heat matchup.
The signing of Joe Johnson to a mega-contract ensured that Deron Williams would resign with the team. With Johnson and Williams, the Nets now posses one of the most formidable backcourt duos in the league. Throw in Brooke Lopez and Kris Humphries, and the Nets have a good chance of surprising a lot of people. However, they’re still a year or two away from seriously contending.
The biggest opposition between the two teams and a date in the Conference Finals? Themselves.
But don’t expect ego or chemistry issues in the locker rooms of these two Eastern Conference giants. Both teams boast veteran leadership that will keep their respective teams focused on the ultimate goal. Injuries to a key player are the only hurdle keeping these two from meeting in the postseason for a fourth consecutive year.
Imagine this: with the Los Angeles Lakers possibly closing in on a deal for Dwight Howard, we might be looking at a combination of Conference Finals consisting of the Heat-Celtics and Thunder-Lakers. Setting the stage for a possibility of four mouth-watering match-ups in the finals.
Hey, it might be early, but you can’t blame me for looking ahead. We might be in for one of the best NBA postseasons yet.
Better get your popcorn ready.