2011 NBA Playoff Predictions: Miami Heat vs. Boston Celtics Round 2
And so it begins.
The long awaited series between two hated East powerhouses has finally arrived. A series that was expected to occur from the second LeBron James famously said "I will be taking my talents to South Beach."
It has been a year in the making with media hype, fan trash talking and everything under the sun preparing these two teams for an ultimate showdown.
"Everybody knew it was just a matter of time," Heat forward Chris Bosh said. "It wasn't 'if', it was 'when'."
As mentioned hundreds of times before, there is storyline upon storyline in this much anticipated series: Shaquille O'Neal facing the team he led to a championship five seasons ago, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade both having their seasons ended by the Celtics last year and a matchup between two bitter rivals.
Despite all the story lines, this series will truly be an entertaining one simply because of all the talent that will be on the court and how good each team is.
Can the Heat Contain Rajon Rondo?
While Rondo has had rather pedestrian scoring numbers, posting 7.5 points on 37 percent shooting, in four regular season games against Miami, he has done just about everything else.
The point guard averaged 12 assists and 1.5 steals against the Heat. But more importantly, he has dominated the Heat in a facilitator role by setting up teammates and throwing Miami off both offensively and defensively.
The question is who will be able to guard Rondo? Mike Bibby is too old and too slow to have hope against the younger, faster Rondo. Mario Chalmers is better defensively, but still doesn't have much of a shot against the All-Star point guard.
If Rondo has his way against Miami, that will most likely determine the fate of the series.
Can Miami Close Out Games?
Miami's late game failures have plagued them all season long. They often go through offensive droughts late in ball games and still have failed to find a consistent closer.
In Miami's Game 4 loss to the Sixers, the Heat failed to score in the final minute of the game. In Miami's Game 5 clincher, they relied largely on free throws to close out the game.
The Heat lost by an average of 5.3 points in their three defeats to the Celtics this season. In all three of those losses, Miami failed to execute when it counted most.
The Heat will need to find their closer, whether that is James, Wade or even Chris Bosh. Execution will be key when it comes down to the final seconds of games.
Will Dwyane Wade Show Up?
Wade rarely has off games against any team in the league, but Boston appeared to have his number this season.
In four games, Wade has averaged a pedestrian 12.8 points, 5.3 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game. He also shot a woeful 28 percent from the floor and had 5.3 turnovers per game.
Wade cannot repeat those type of numbers if the Heat want to win this series. He will need to figure out a way to end those struggles as he will obviously be a key component of the Heat's success against Boston.
Despite his offensive struggles, Wade has performed rather well defensively, which was showcased in Miami's 100-77 blowout over the Celtics in April.
Will Udonis Haslem and Shaquille O'Neal Play?
Shaquille O'Neal has been battling injuries all season long, and it has been a big question whether the Big Fella will be healthy enough to play.
Shaq has a strained calf and will be inactive for Game 1. With Kendrick Perkins no longer on the team, O'Neal will be depended on to protect the frontcourt and be an inside presence.
Udonis Haslem has been out since November with a bad foot injury, but has finally begun to make strides after practicing on consecutive days.
While Haslem has been out of the lineup for a while, his presence will be huge for the Heat because of his leadership, hustle and rebounding. He brings a toughness and defensive mindset that the Heat will need against a battle tested team like the Celtics.
Both players are inactive for Game 1, but their returns could make a major impact on this Best-of-Seven series.
How Will the Matchups Play Out?
There are so many intriguing matchups in this series.
First, there is Paul Pierce on LeBron James. Pierce defended James 69 percent of the time during the 277 offensive possessions that Miami ran out of a halfcourt set during the teams' four regular-season meetings.
When guarded solely by Pierce, LBJ averaged a mere 75 points per 100 possessions while shooting 43 percent when guarded solely by Pierce. James was drastically better against all other defenders, averaging 93 points per 100 possessions on 50 percent shooting.
Then there is Ray Allen on Dwyane Wade. Wade spent so much energy chasing Allen around the court and fighting off screens this season, which was a likely reason Wade's offensive numbers faltered. Wade will need to contain Allen in this series if the Heat are going to have any chance.
Allen torched Miami from beyond the arc this season, shooting 16-of-28, including an outrageous 78 percent in Boston's 112-107 victory back in November.
As mentioned in one of the previous slide, the Heat will need to find a solution for guarding Rondo.
Finally, there is the matchup between Chris Bosh and Kevin Garnett. Bosh makes a living on jumpers, while Kevin Garnett has a more complete game. Defense will be in key in this matchup, as we all know how ferocious KG is on defense.
When Bosh averages at least a double-double, Miami wins at a 77 percent rate. So, Bosh's effectiveness against Garnett will be a huge factor in this series.
Will Miami's Role Players Make an Impact?
There is little doubt that Boston's role players will make a significant impact in this series. Glen Davis, Delonte West and Nenad Krstic can all be counted on to contribute for the Celtics.
However, Miami's role players are never guaranteed to make their presence felt. Mario Chalmers and Joel Anthony both had really solid series against Philadelphia in the first round, but Boston is a very different team.
Then there is Mike Bibby, who had an absolute atrocious first-round performance. The veteran point guard averaged 3.2 points on 21 percent shooting from the three-point line. Bibby, along with starting center Zydrunas Ilguaskas, were benched in the second half after bad starts in Game 5.
Bibby will be needed for his three-point shooting to space the floor for the Heat.
Mike Miller is also a big question mark for Miami. He played a grand total of five minutes in the first round against the Sixers and continues to be ineffective due to lingering finger injuries.
Primarily, the Heat will look to Chalmers, Anthony and James Jones to make big contributions off the bench. They all performed well against Philadelphia and will need to continue the strong play against Boston.
Which Team Will Be Tougher?
This is a series between two heated rivals with an ugly past. There were several scuffles in Miami's lone victory over Boston at the end of the regular season, signaling how much these teams dislike each other.
As much as this series will come down to execution, it will come down to toughness and will.
Both teams are hungry and out to prove something. Boston is looking to prove they have one last championship run in them, while Miami is looking to prove all their critics wrong and show they are the new kings of the Eastern Conference.
This will be a very physical series, with plenty of hard fouls and bad blood. Both teams are defensive minded, so you can bet nothing will come easy.
As cliche as it sounds, whoever wants this series more will most likely be victorious.
Breakdown and Prediction
Point guard: Rajon Rondo vs. Mike Bibby
Shooting guard: Ray Allen vs. Dwyane Wade
Small Forward: Paul Pierce vs. LeBron James
Power Forward: Kevin Garnett vs. Chris Bosh
Center: Shaquille O'Neal/Jermaine O'Neal/Nenad Krstic vs. Zydrunas Ilgauskas/Joel Anthony
Defense: Celtics (slight edge)
Coach: Doc Rivers vs. Erik Spoelstra
Final Prediction: Miami in 7
This will be a very good series. It will be a grind-it-out type series that is physical and heated. While both teams are hungry, I think the fact that LeBron has been eliminated by the Celtics in two of the last three seasons will give Miami the slight edge in that department. Miami finally proved that they could get over the hump when they routed Boston at the end of the season.
When Miami's Big Three puts forth their best effort on defense, they are a very tough team to beat. If the Heat can play that same defense, have their shooters hit wide open shots and close out games, they will be able to win this series.
I think Miami's homecourt advantage gives them the ultimate edge in this best-of-seven series.