Here’s an equal opportunity problem.
Whether you think the Celtics have a chance at a title in 2012 or will need to rebuild first, Miami’s perimeter defense presents a serious problem.
Miami is tied with Chicago for second in the playoffs with a 98.2 defensive efficiency rating (small sample-sized Orlando is first) despite a frontline that’s as patchwork as it will be at any point during the LBJ-Wade-Bosh era. Of course, with Udonis Haslem back in the fold, the searing, regular season criticism of the Heat’s big positions feels overplayed.
Still, Miami is stifling its opponents’ perimeter offense (both shooting and dribble penetration) based on a team defensive concept that’s only likely to be refined, with the benefit of two elite guys in Lebron James and Dwayne Wade, whose elite-ness won’t soon wane, and with reinforcements likely to come as veterans go ring chasing.
What’s more worrying, they’ll improve not only at the big positions but at the smalls. Imagine the Heat starting a great defensive point guard rather than Mike Bibby. With that sea change in defensive impact, teams playing the Heat could find themselves trying to penetrate one of the most fearsome walls around the paint the league’s seen in years.
What does that mean for Danny Ainge, Doc Rivers and the Celtics?
It means that if they’re serious about winning banner 18 in the next half-decade, they need to figure out how to effectively attack this Heat team.
Given that Pat Riley has spent his money at the wings, and because he’s committed to contact-averse Chris Bosh at the PF (at least for now), Miami’s most vulnerable point will always be on the interior. A dominating defensive rebounding team, with Rajon Rondo at the point, stands to put up some points in transition, but that’s a dodgy recipe for consistent playoff success. You have to score in the half-court.
It’s unfortunate there’s not more effective post scoring out there. But a Marc Gasol-Zach Randolph style frontline would be one way for Boston to proceed — if they can find the horses (you should all feel free to bring up Al Jefferson in the comments). Another would be loading up on offensive rebounders and attempting to wear out Miami with second chance points, perhaps forcing them to send a perimeter guy to the boards, opening up something else for Rondo or the Celtics’ wings.
It’s tempting to suggest the Celtics just build the strongest team they can without concern for the composition of Miami’s roster. But it would be foolish to ignore the very real possibility that every Eastern Conference finals for the next five years will tip-off in Miami.
How do the Celtics get there and then how do they find ways to score against this Miami defense?
Those are the questions.