For those who doubted the Boston Celtics time and time again, either by deeming them too old, or by claiming that losing Kendrick Perkins has drastically affected them for the worse, ask the New York Knicks just how ready this team is to make a serious run at yet another NBA title.
From what we saw in Round 1, the Celtics are doing just fine without Perkins. Even I must admit I thought there was a potential upset in this series, because the Celtics were in disarray, while the Knicks were playing great basketball to end the regular season, and they had made a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
While the Knicks stars Stoudemire and Anthony gave everything they had in Games 1 and 2 respectively, the Celtics had an answer each time, and a deflated Knicks side headed back to Madison Square Garden, only to be finished off by the deadliest predators in the NBA.
The Heat did what they had to do. It took Miami five games to beat the 76'ers, who just had a bad matchup with an overwhelmingly superior team. Miami could have swept the series, but for a late game collapse in Game 4, the only blemish on what was an impressive overall performance.
Probably the biggest plus for the Heat was seeing Chris Bosh average almost 20 points a game to go along with nine rebounds. Not bad for a third option. James and Wade (and Bosh for that matter) have yet to put together a truly stunning playoff performance. A string of those may be required against the men in green. In my opinion, the winner of this series will progress to the NBA Finals.
Regular season series: Boston Celtics won 3-1
Celtics keys to victory:
1) Create plays and open shots for Ray Allen
Yes, this may seem glaringly obvious, but in this case, it could prove to be a real difference-maker and a strong indicator of who will progress to the next round. Ray Allen is set to match up with Dwyane Wade at the shooting-guard position. While Wade may be an excellent defender, he's better suited off the defending someone like a Kobe Bryant or a Brandon Roy. When it comes to defending pure shooters who move like mad without the ball, it becomes an entirely different issue.
Wade may be an excellent on-the-ball defender, but he tends to be a step slow when it comes to running around screens and chasing Ray Allen. Allen performed very well in the regular season series against the Heat, he shot 57.1 percent from three-point range; it's no surprise to see why that was the case. If Allen can shoot at a blistering pace (as he's done against the Heat this year and against the Knicks in Round 1), then he could cause Miami all sorts of fits.
2) Play a slower game in half-court sets
With Dwyane Wade and LeBron James in the ranks, it's no surprise that Miami are one of the best fast-break teams in the NBA. The quicker the game is, the better the chance the Heat have of winning.
The Boston Celtics have the luxury of being able to thrive in half-court as well as in transition. They have the ability to play different styles against different teams. Against Miami, the Celtics need to resort to a half-court game with a slower tempo. They must limit fast-break opportunities on the defensive end of the floor, because once they've set up, they normally make teams take the toughest shots outside the paint, and neither James nor Wade are excellent shooters.
3) Bench play
Seven of out the 10 players in the combined Miami Heat and Boston Celtics starting lineups were named to the 2011 All-Star Game in Los Angeles earlier this year (James, Wade, Bosh, Allen, Pierce, Garnett and Rondo).
There will be many occasions where the two teams simply cancel each other out, and this is where the bench comes into play. The Celtics have the likes of Delonte West, Jeff Green and Glen Davis off the bench compared to Miami who have James Jones, Mario Chalmers and Joel Anthony.
Boston unquestionably has the stronger bench with more offensive fire power. The bench did not perform against the Knicks though, and they must take advantage of the less productive Heat bench in order to take pressure off the starting lineup. In games like these where there is so little between the teams, the bench could be the key to victory.
Heat keys to victory:
1) Dwyane Wade must heat up vs C's
Dwyane Wade had an unbelievable regular season, but if there are four games he would like to forget; they would be the ones against the Celtics. In the first game of the year, Wade had just come back from injury which caused him to miss all of preseason training. Understandable. However, even in the other three games, Wade has been forced to take poor shots, and has consequently shot at a very low percentage.
Wade has averaged 12.8 points per game against Boston (25.5 for the season), while shooting 18 percent from three (31 percent for the season), and 28 percent overall from the field (50 percent for the season).
He's also had less of an impact defensively, registering less blocks and steals than usual and turning the ball over more. Wade must improve against Boston, and there's not a better chance to prove himself.
2) Clutch play
The Heat have been anything but hot in the clutch. Statistically speaking, they're an awful 1-19 from the field with 10 or less seconds remaining in the game, when they have a chance to take the lead or tie the game.
When the Heat went through that rough patch where they failed in late game situations, it was mostly LeBron James who was called upon to take the game-winning shot, usually in isolation plays. James' biggest flaw is his lack of "ice water in the veins" attitude to enable him to hit big-time shots. His inferior jump shot (compared to other aspects of his game) makes his play predictable in the clutch, and teams have adjusted to dealing with his driving ability.
For me, they need to have better schemes run in late-game situations. There's no point saying "Let Wade do it" or anything like that. The Heat have three All-Stars who are more than capable of hitting a shot. They just need the right shot. Doc Rivers and the Celtics are the best at creating plays with the game on the line. Miami need something similar up their sleeves.
3) Ball movement
As I've pointed out earlier, Boston must keep Miami playing in half-court sets. With that in mind, the Heat must react to that by moving around the ball on offense. If they rely on Wade/James isolations and stagnant offense, Boston will pick them apart.
Miami must us James and Wade to penetrate and kick out to open shooters, whether it's Bosh from mid-range, or James Jones and Mike Miller beyond the arc. The Celtics play very good strong-side defense, so Miami must move the ball around to open up space for exploitation, especially on the weak-side.
- Kevin Garnett has averaged only 15.3 points per game when Bosh is defending him. When Bosh is on the bench, KG averages 27.5 points per game.
- Per 48 minutes, Boston average 110 points per game with James on the bench. When he plays, they average 87.7 points per game.
- The Celtics have made 13 of 18 corner three-pointers against Miami, good for 72 percent.
While Boston won the regular season series 3-1, Miami really sent them a message in the last game. I believe this series will go right down to the wire, but I anticipate that Wade will come up big in this series as he usually does come playoff time.
HEAT in 7