The Boston Celtics lost to the Miami Heat to open their season, and they will now get a chance at revenge. The defending champions will leave sunny South Beach for the bitter cold of Beantown when they visit their Eastern Conference rivals at TD Garden.
The game is to be nationally televised, and the bad blood that exists between both squads will be boiling over. Longtime Boston fan favorite Ray Allen chose to sign with the Heat over the Celtics this past summer, a move that drew the ire of both the fans and teammate Kevin Garnett.
Little did either team know just how much of a difference one player would make. Allen has done an excellent job as the Heat's sixth man, and Miami enters this game atop the Eastern Conference and on a four-game winning streak.
The Celtics are not so lucky. The loss of Allen has left their offense completely anemic, and they will be hoping to pull off the upset and break their season-worst six-game losing streak.
With a passionate Boston crowd cheering them on and a tough defensive approach designed to slow down teams that like to score, the stage is set for the ultimate revenge game, and the national audience is just the cherry on top.
Time: Sunday, January 27, 1 p.m. EST
Records: Miami Heat (28-12) vs. Boston Celtics (20-23)
Betting Line: Not available as of Saturday, January 26, 2:03 p.m. EST
Key Storyline: Can Celtics Avenge Opening Night Loss?
Boston and Miami first faced off on NBA Opening Night, back on October 30. The game took place at AmericanAirlines Arena, and was a rematch of the two teams that went toe-to-toe in Game 7 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals.
However, that was not the main story of the night. It was instead the drama surrounding Heat sixth man Ray Allen, who had spent the previous five seasons in Boston. His taking less money to join Miami didn't sit too kindly with Celtics big man Kevin Garnett, who famously snubbed Allen upon the sharpshooter's approach for a handshake as he checked into the game.
It all went downhill for the Celtics from there. Thanks to 26 points and 10 rebounds from reigning MVP LeBron James, plus 29 points from Dwyane Wade, the Heat went on to win 120-107. On Boston's end, Paul Pierce led with 23 points.
That has since become the story of the Celtics' season. Younger and faster teams tend to make short work of them, and their current six-game losing streak has them in the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference. That adds some irony to the game, as Boston and Miami would face each other in the playoffs yet again if the season were to end today.
In this case, Boston will just have to rely on home court advantage and Miami's road woes. The Celtics are 13-9 at home, whereas the Heat are just 10-9 on the road.
This game's going to be close, and it won't be at all surprising if the overall intensity results in some technical fouls being handed out as well.
Key Matchup: Chris Bosh vs. Kevin Garnett
There is one way to defeat the Miami Heat: defense and rebounding. The team ranks fifth in scoring and 13th in points allowed, but is the worst rebounding team in the league.
This can be attributed to head coach Erik Spoelstra opting to start Chris Bosh at center. Bosh has the size for the position at 6'11", 235-pounds, but plays more like a stretch 4 than he does a pure defensive 5. As a result, he and the Heat often struggle against teams with superior size or defense in the middle.
Bosh is averaging 17.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game, but has struggled over his last five games. Over that stretch, he has posted just 12 points and 6.4 boards.
Seeing as how the Celtics are a Doc Rivers coached defensive squad, Bosh is going to need to have a great game despite being defended by one of the game's best defenders in Kevin Garnett.
Garnett may be on the wrong side of 36, but he has still managed to perform well in the paint for Boston this season. He has averaged 14.7 points, 7.2 rebounds and just under a block per game, using his 6'11", 253-pound frame to make life miserable for opposing players who dare try and get past his tough defense.
Like Bosh, Garnett too plays like a scoring power forward. His age has not robbed him of his excellent jump shot, and he is not hesitant to break it out to provide his Celtics with some extra oomph on offense.
However, the difference between Garnett and Bosh is that unlike Garnett, Bosh has not yet learned how to balance his scoring with a tough defensive effort. All he can really do in this game is bank on Garnett not being able to keep up with the Heat's fast-paced offense, which will allow Bosh to utilize his jumper as much as he pleases.
This means that Garnett must fight past age slowing him down and stop at nothing to defend Bosh. The Celtics may be the second-worst rebounding team in the league, but Garnett's experience should count for something. Boston ranking 10th in points allowed should also help.
It's a battle that can easily be fought to a stalemate, but it's all going to come down to execution. Whoever can box the other guy out better and take advantage of defensive opportunities is going to be on the winning side, and the blue-collar competitor in Garnett is going to stop at nothing to make sure that man is him.
X-Factor: Jared Sullinger
The Celtics are a weak rebounding team, and also an aging one. However, one young man on their roster should give fans plenty of hope for the future.
Rookie Jared Sullinger has proven to be a solid body in the paint for the Celtics, averaging 6.1 points and six rebounds over 20.1 minutes per game. Over his last five games, he has posted 6.6 points and eight rebounds. GM Danny Ainge took a risk drafting this 6'9", 260-pound big man out of Ohio State, and it has thus proven to be one worth taking.
Whether he receives 15 minutes of playing time or 35, Sullinger needs to be an absolute beast on defense for the Celtics. Miami is going to seek to take advantage of his inexperience, and he must be willing to toss himself around and put his body on the line for the sole purpose of getting a loose ball.
Offensively, Sullinger must work the low-post while also utilizing his developing jump shot. This young man has the chance to be for the Celtics what Glen "Big Baby" Davis was for four years, only better. He is a stronger athlete, can be a stronger defender, and just has a higher ceiling overall.
By having a strong defensive performance against the defending champion Miami Heat, Sullinger will force other teams to take him seriously and not write him off as an inexperienced rookie. The former Buckeye is special, and he needs to send that exact message in his team's match with Miami.
This game is going to have a close final score, and it's not going to be as high scoring a contest as the teams' meeting earlier this season.
Oh, and the Celtics are going to win.
Nothing against the Heat, but their road woes will come back to bite them in this game. The rowdy and passionate Boston crowd will give the Celtics plenty of momentum at their back, and the team will be locked and loaded in their defense of their home territory.
Who will win?
Paul Pierce will lead the team in scoring thanks to a near triple-double from Rajon Rondo, who will show some rarely-seen prowess with his jumper. Kevin Garnett will have a double-double, going into beast mode on defense and bringing back memories of the man we loved to watch before age started taking its toll.
Miami will still put up a great fight. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will have fine performances, both in scoring and defense, and Chris Bosh will struggle to get past Garnett's defense. Ray Allen will sink some key threes in his return to Boston, where the boo-birds will give him an infamous greeting.
However, solid defense from Jared Sullinger will help keep the score close and send the Heat into desperation mode, known to laymen as chucking threes and hoping that most of them fall. In this case, it's not going to work.
Throw in a final-second shot from Pierce, and this game ends with Boston snapping its six-game losing streak.
Boston Celtics 101, Miami Heat 99