1. Chris Bosh will miss at least a portion of the series with his abdominal strain. Where will Boston be able to take advantage of his absence, if at all?
Hayes Davenport: 8 feet out. The inimitable Kirk Goldsberry of the CourtVision blog discovered that this is where Bosh is better than anyone else in the NBA, and it’s the kind of low-percentage opportunity to which the Celtics deliberately try to funnel their opponents. The Heat offense is just much less potent without Bosh Bailing out James and Wade from there. Doesn’t hurt that Joel Anthony is probably the worst player in the world to be taking that shot in his place.
Ryan DeGama: It’s a major advantage for Boston’s defense for a few reasons. The inclination is to zone up, pack the paint and force jumpers because, of Miami’s big three, Bosh is the best mid-range shooter and any possession where Wade or Lebron takes a long two is a success for Boston. His absence also frees up KG as a help defender because there’s nobody else Miami can consistently throw at Garnett who demands the defensive attention Bosh does.
Chris Forsberg: The Celtics’ typical game plan against Miami is to let Dwyane Wade and LeBron James get theirs (within reason), then challenge the supporting cast to beat them. Not having Bosh forces others on Miami’s not-so-deep roster to step up. At the other end, it gives Kevin Garnett — the best player on the floor in the Celtics’ semifinal win over the 76ers — a chance to really put his stamp on this series. Boston absolutely needs Garnett to be greedy around the basket in order to have a chance in this series.
Greg Payne: Chris Bosh was never particularly good at defending Kevin Garnett in the post, but his absence still counts as one less body for KG to go through when he heads down to the block to initiate offense. Additionally, it allows guys like Garnett and Bass to provide better help defense on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, and potentially even double-team them if needed.
Brian Robb: This will help Boston in two main areas. First, defensively they have one less major threat to key on, allowing Kevin Garnett to roam more freely in the interior and on pick-and-rolls instead of being preoccupied with limiting Bosh. In addition, Bosh is one of Miami’s best rebounders and he averaged a double-double against Boston in their playoff matchup last year. For as vulnerable as Boston is on the glass, having Bosh off the floor helps tremendously in that area and forces James and Wade to work harder down low.
2. With Avery Bradley out, and Ray Allen hobbled, do the Celtics have an answer for Dwayne Wade?
Davenport: I think Pietrus can guard him. In fact, Wade is exactly the kind of giant two-guard Pietrus was built to check. On the other end, I think Rondo can score on him, because at his best Rondo can score on anybody. The only potential Wade play they can’t answer to is the breaking of one of their bones.
DeGama: No, they don’t. It’s just a matter of mitigating the damage he does, which will involve things like zone defenses and Sasha Pavlovic. Gimpiness aside, Allen will probably still get the majority of minutes on Wade, if only because they need his offense (or the threat of it) to spread the floor against Miami’s excellent perimeter D. One thing’s for sure: Doc Rivers is going to earn his salary trying to neutralize Wade over the next two weeks.
Forsberg: No. When his right knee isn’t bothering him, Mickael Pietrus is capable of providing quality defense, but he’s been up and down this postseason when the injury flares up. The key is going to be finding a way to mask Allen’s defensive deficiencies, a not-so easy task even when he’s got Garnett behind him. C’s might have to give someone like Sasha Pavlovic a chance to provide some defense in small bursts to make up for the lack of Avery Bradley.
Payne: I don’t think they have an answer, but they’ll most likely resort to Rajon Rondo, Marquis Daniels, Keyon Dooling at times, and, yes, even Sasha Pavlovic. It’ll be defense by committee. It’s a shame Bradley’s out. Watching him hound Wade would have been a lot of fun.
Robb: They will have an answer for a game or two, through a mix of Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Mickael Pietrus and some zone defense potentially, but expecting Boston to keep Wade at bay for most of the series is too tall a task for this group. The Celts’ will need to make Wade work hard on both ends of the floor in order to help limit the havoc he can wreak against Boston on the offensive end all series long.
3. Who is Boston’s X-factor? Miami’s?
Davenport: Boston’s x-factor is Brandon Bass, who will take his shots no matter what and just make everyone hope they go in. Miami’s x-factor is the three-headed three monster of Mario Chalmers, Mike Miller, and James Jones for the same reason. The stars of both teams need these players to supplement their scoring, because they usually can’t break 75 on their own.
DeGama: There’s a real argument here that Pietrus should start over Allen because he can take a run at Wade and do time on LeBron in switches or when Pierce goes to the bench with foul trouble. His minutes could easily creep up towards 30 a game if his body can handle it. On Miami’s side, the x-factor is probably Haslem. If he gets in foul trouble, Erik Spoelstra is down to an even more comical selection of backup bigs than Boston, which is a pretty amusing accomplishment.
Forsberg: The Celtics have exploitable matchups with Rajon Rondo and Garnett, they simply need to take advantage of them. That means having an always-engaged Rondo and a selfish-with-the-ball Garnett (no guarantee with either guy, as Celtics fans know all too well). Miami’s X-factor might simply be their ability to generate turnovers. We all know the story there: Give the ball up against this team and it’s immediate points. Boston absolutely has to value the ball as not to give Wade and James any free fuel.
Payne: Mickael Pietrus. He has the potential to really impact this series on both sides of the ball. He’ll be tasked with defending James at times, and he really needs to come through with a host of 3-pointers on the other end.
Robb: Rajon Rondo for Boston. It’s the easy answer, but there’s no getting around how pivotal he will be for the Celtics in this series. He plays the position that the Heat have no real answer on the defensive end, and Rondo’s play defensively between keeping Heat guards out of the paint and hitting the defensive glass will be just as crucial. For Miami, it’s Udonis Haslem. He’s a tough defender who could neutralize Garnett without Bosh available. Plus, if his jumper is falling, the Heat become much tougher to defend.
4. Do we finally see a front-to-back great series from Rajon Rondo?
Davenport: I’ve come to accept that Rondo is so good BECAUSE he’s sometimes bad: that his low moments really stand out when they’re put up right next to the highs. So no, I think he’ll drop a couple games, if only to punish us the next game for thinking he wasn’t the best player we had.
DeGama: Far be it from me to whittle a player’s value down to a single series, but the shorthanded C’s have never needed from Rondo what they will against the Heat. As a result, I consider this a litmus test for whether he can carry this team and truly earn all those ‘best player in green’ accolades. Rondo needs to create consistent pace on offense, score early and often enough to open space on the floor and then find open men all game long. And he’ll have to stop Chalmers on defense, too. Can he do it? He has it in him, but his focus can’t waver. And usually it does.
Forsberg: If Boston wants to win this series, it better hope so. But last round suggests he will still be prone to lulls and outbursts. Rondo should have plenty of motivation, particularly after dislocating his elbow and not being able to fully contribute in last year’s playoff matchup. Forget the triple-double numbers, the key for Rondo in this series starts defensively. He needs to play like a legit NBA All-Defensive second-teamer if Boston is to have any chance of beating the Heat.
Payne: Yes. This will be Rondo’s series when it’s all said and done. His ability to take control of Game 7 against Philly was remarkable and I’m fully expecting him to average a triple-double for the entire series, because Boston will need it if it wants to make it to the Finals.
Robb: I expect a hiccup or two from Rondo within the series, but it will be as close to a consistent series from Rondo as we’ve seen all year. The fun little secret about the C’s All-Star point guard in 2012 is how much better he has become putting up the big numbers this team needs to succeed. Three triple-doubles and six double-doubles in 12 postseason games so far this year is incredibly impressive. A fully healthy series against a Miami team this year is when I think he takes the next step.
5. Prediction time: What happens in Game 1? And who wins the series?
Davenport: Miami leans on their rest and second-round momentum to pick up Game 1. In a series this seemingly tight, the lower seed plans for Game 2. As for the series: Miami in 6. Will anyone accept that as a reverse jinx?
DeGama: I think game one will provide the template for the series. Boston stays within a couple of possessions of Miami with a Herculean defensive effort and just enough shotmaking. And then the Heat pull away from an exhausted batch of Celtics down the stretch. I had Boston in 6 against Atlanta and Boston in 7 against Philly but I’m really hoping to be wrong this round because I’ve got Miami in 5.
Forsberg: The quick turnaround really shouldn’t be that big of an issue for Boston in Game 1. Extended rest has been a rarity this postseason, so the Celtics have to simply hope the momentum from that Game 7 win over the 76ers spills into this next round. Boston would love to put Miami on its heels by stealing Game 1, but I see the Heat winning on Monday night and taking this series in 6. Boston’s health — for the fourth straight year — proves to be too much of an issue to overcome and the Celtics are left to ponder, yet again, what could have been.
Payne: The Celtics lose Game 1 by 8-10 points, largely due to not having enough recuperation time following their last series. But they rebound and win Game 2 and go on to win the series in 6 games, prompting LeBron and co. to be bailed out by the ‘Chris Bosh wasn’t healthy!’ excuse.
Robb: All signs point to a Miami series win here. However, this Celtics team has made a believer out of me. The Heat takes Game 1 in a close battle, but Boston steals Game 2, setting up a back and forth battle the rest of the way. And since we’re going seven games, why not go out on a limb. Celtics in 7.
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