To the delight of many Boston sports fans, the Boston Celtics have advanced to the second round of the 2011 NBA Playoffs. After sweeping the New York Knicks in the first round, the three-seed Celtics travel south to face the two-seed Miami Heat, with the first game to be played on Sunday at 3:30 PM on ABC.
The Celtics were 3-1 this year against the Heat, a sign many to took to mean that Boston still reigned supreme in the Eastern Conference. However, the Celtics seemed to sleepwalk at times through the post-All-Star break regular season, while the Heat seemed to hit their stride, leap-frogging the Celtics for the number-two seed in the East.
This will certainly be the Celtics' toughest test in this year's playoffs. I detailed the reasons in a previous article, but I'll try and build on some things here.
First and foremost, the Heat have a ton of talent that is more than capable of winning. Led by the Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, Miami can drop a ton of points on opponents, especially if the defense is caught napping. And as much we make fun of the relative lack of talent surrounding the Big Three, you can't them out either, even if the casual fan can't remember their names.
The Heat have, in large part, answered much of the question surrounding how their new lineup would adjust to having two players who need the ball to be effective. To stop the Heat, the Celtics have to shut down both LeBron and D-Wade. If you try and stop one, the other steps up. In the case of the Chicago Bulls, the general defensive thinking is "stop Derrick Rose, stop the entire team." With the Heat, it'll take all-around stellar defense to take down this team.
Not only that, but the Heat have a far stronger bench than the Bulls do. The Heat have some pretty decent shooters coming off the bench, compared to the Bulls, who quite have almost no one. James Jones can get you in trouble if he gets going, as can Eddie House, as the Celtics learned when he donned the Green during the 2008 Championship run.
Other than these two standouts, the Heat bench can hold their own at the very least. The Bulls bench? Please, if you're not a hard-core Bulls fan, how many bench players can you think of who can contribute on a large scale?
For the Celtics to beat the Heat, they're going to have to have far better play out of their own bench. Glen Davis needs to be the leader of the second unit, and Jeff Green needs to start scoring soon. They'll also need to get more minutes out of Delonte West and perhaps Von Wafer. They all need to step up their game if the Celtics hope to advance.
If the Celtics can clear the Heat, I think it will show that they are ready to face the Bulls. The Heat have far more talent and depth than Chicago, so if the Celtics can handle the Heat's multiple threats, then they can most assuredly find a way to stop the Bulls' single threat.