Boston at Miami
3:30 PM EST
Boston: 104.3 points/100 possessions (t-16th)
Miami: 109.3 points/100 possessions (2nd)
Boston: 97.7 points allowed/100 possessions (2nd)
Miami: 100.9 points allowed/100 possessions (5th)
Probable Heat starters: Mike Bibby (PG), Dwyane Wade (SG), LeBron Raymone James (SF), Christopher Wesson Bosh (PF), Erick Travez Dampier (C)
View from the opposing bench: The Heat Index
The Celtics face the Heat in the third-to-last game of the season. Their records are identical. Tonight’s game is going to have a substantial impact on which of these teams ends up with the second seed in the Eastern Conference.
The interesting angle is that the reward for that seed, if one finds there to be a negligible difference between New York and Philadelphia in the first round, basically comes down to home-court advantage in the second round between these two teams. Do the Celtics play Game 7 in front of a Garden crowd beating sword against shield, hungry for human flesh? Or in American Airlines Arena, Miami fans’ chosen destination for checking their Blackberries? That is, until the real action begins…t-shirt guns!!! Then the game ends and everyone heads to a club that is probably called Flaveur.
I kid, of course. But it’s true that tonight’s game will test how well the Celtics can withstand a Heat crowd fanning up all over the place. Whatever happens, I’m honestly not all that disappointed to be vying for the second seed instead of the first. Without Perkins, Orlando is a much more difficult matchup on both ends. As we peeked at through our fingers on Thursday night against the Bulls, the Celtics (and especially Rondo) have a tough time against teams that defend the paint well and run an inside-out offense. Let the Bulls deal with Dwight Howard, I say. Don’t you want the Celtics to be the national heroes that take out the Heat?
HOW THE CELTICS CAN HURT THE HEAT
Compared to every other team in the Association, the Celtics’ game plan for the Heat is reasonably sound. Where Chicago tends to allow the Heat’s Big Two to pile up points while making sure that the periphery players are iced out, Boston centers its defense around A) stopping James and Wade at the basket, B) forcing James and Wade to take threes, and C) not worrying about anyone else. This strategy has worked on James once and Wade all three times the teams have played. He’s shooting 27 percent against Boston.
The interesting thing, I learned from the Heat Index today, is that Wade hasn’t necessarily been killed by poor shot selection. He’s 6 for 18 on layups against the Celtics, suggesting that his terrible shooting has either been about bad luck or interior defense, neither of which is really great news for today’s game. The nice thing about having a great defensive center against the Heat is (or was, rather) how he could drift off of Joel Anthony or Juwan Howard and stop more talented players from attacking the rim. The grim truth is that the C’s haven’t played Miami without Shaq or Perkins. But I’m guessing the game plan remains intact for the other O’Neal, Krstic, and Davis.
HOW THE HEAT CAN HURT THE CELTICS
This is really more bout how the Celtics can hurt themselves, but they’ve been almost deliberately sloppy with turnovers in the last few games. Rondo’s been chucking the ball out of bounds with regularity, Jeff Green’s been attempting hesitant entry passes that go about two feet into the opponent’s hands, and even KG and Ray have been trying to squeeze passes through holes much smaller than the ball itself.
If the Heat grab turnovers and get the ball on a break, they’re going to score. It’s the closest thing to basketball inevitability there is. The Celtics need to run space-inducing pick-and-pops/rolls before delivering the ball to their teammates, and just generally tighten their ish up.
Also of relevance is whether or not Rajon Rondo hurts the Celtics by trying to get too involved. Now that the Heat have Mike Bibby, who really does nothing but chill on the wing waiting for the ball, Rondo’s primary responsibility is going to be making conversation with him on the weak side (Bibby’s cousin coached Rondo in high school, so they can start with that). If he gets too bored and starts double-teaming inside, Bibby’s going to casually make him pay. That’s the job for which he is not very well paid.
WHAT WE WANT TO SEE TONIGHT
The criminal abuse of Mike Bibby by Rajon Rondo. We saw his bruised ego translate into statistical production against the Wizards, but somehow I feel like that probably wasn’t enough. He’s going to want the ball tonight, so he needs to keep it inbounds and out of his opponents’ hands.
At the same time, we need Paul to contain LeBron to about 30 and Ray to be as good as he’s been on Wade. We need KG to hit every long jumper he takes. And we want Jermaine O’Neal to get revenge on his former team for ditching him like he was washed up or something. Those idiots. What were they thinking? He finished 3rd in MVP voting only seven years ago!
Heat 96, Celtics 92. That doesn’t necessarily amount to a prediction for a playoff series between these teams. Plus, this is the second time I’ve predicted a loss, and I was wrong last time.