Boston Celtics: Are They Too Old To Offer Serious Competition To the Miami Heat?

Dmitriy IoselevichSenior Analyst IIIMarch 3, 2011

DENVER, CO - FEBRUARY 24:  Kevin Garnett #5 of the Boston Celtics pauses as he awaits a free throw against the Denver Nuggets during NBA action at the Pepsi Center on February 24, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. The Nuggets defeated the Celtics 89-75. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The Boston Celtics have four future Hall-of-Famers on their roster, and all of them are at least 33 years old, with tons of regular-season and playoff mileage on their legs and knees.

The Miami Heat, meanwhile, feature three of the league's best players, all of them still in the prime of their careers.

The Celtics and Heat will cross paths in the playoffs sooner or later, and the winner of that series will be the prohibitive favorite to claim an NBA championship (all due respect to the Los Angeles Lakers, but the Eastern Conference runs the NBA right now).

So who wins out—the seasoned veterans or the young superstars? The old guard or the new order?

The Heat have more overall talent. They have arguably the best player in the league, and arguably the second-best player in the league. The Heat have the best scoring big man not named Dirk Nowitzki or Amar'e Stoudemire.

But there is one thing the Heat doesn't have—a championship banner hanging in the rafters (Dwyane Wade's 2006 title notwithstanding).

In fact, the entire Heat roster boasts just two championship rings, one each for Dwyane Wade (2006) and Eddie House (2008). The Celtics have nine: Paul Pierce (1), Kevin Garnett (1), Ray Allen (1), Rajon Rondo (1), Glen Davis (1), Shaquille O'Neal (4). Boston also has three more guys (Jermaine O'Neal, Nenad Krstic and Delonte West) with NBA Finals experience.

That's nine of the players on the 13-man roster who have appeared on the biggest stage in basketball.

That means this Celtics team isn't just good—it's extraordinary.

We've yet to see this team peak because they are collectively getting ready for the playoffs, when the games really begin to matter.

To Miami's credit, they haven't been too shabby, either.

What was supposed to be the best show on hardwood with high-flying dunks and full-court alley-oops has actually been an impressive defensive showing. The Heat are sixth in the league in points allowed per game and they are first in both opponent's field-goal and three-point percentage.

The offense has become something of an afterthought, though still pretty deadly. The Heat rank eighth in scoring and second in shooting, despite fielding a team that doesn't particularly like to pass the ball (27th in assists).

However, as surprisingly good as the Heat have been this year, the Celtics have been better.

Boston is only 20th in scoring but first by a huge margin in shooting (49.1 percent) and among the league leaders in three-point percentage. The Celtics are fourth in the NBA in assists and third in steals.

The defense, largely responsible for the team's 2008 championship run, is once again up to its old tricks, ranking No. 1 in the NBA in scoring defense and third in opponent's field-goal percentage.

So for all those words that have been printed about how the Celtics aging stars are due to decline, the numbers suggest otherwise. This team is as good as ever and continues to find ways to win despite prolonged injuries to their top three centers, their backup small forward and their backup guard. 

Ray Allen may be 35, but he's shooting a career-best 50.1 percent from the field (ridiculous) and 45.6 percent from three (even more ridiculous).

Kevin Garnett may be 34, but his rebounding numbers are the highest they've been in his career in Boston.

Paul Pierce may be 33, but he's shooting a career-high 49.6 percent from the field and is having his most efficient offensive season ever.

Basketball mileage can definitely be a bad thing in the NBA, but fans must remember that it can be a good thing, too. For every shred of athleticism and stamina that these players have lost, they've gained at least as much knowledge about how to contribute on the court.

The Heat may get there one day, but it won't be this year. It's still Boston's league.