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Miami-Boston: Why This Year Will Be Different

 

“I love where we are at. I told them after the game, ‘This is exactly where we thought we would be, and we’re going to Miami.’”
Doc Rivers after Game 7

We’ve had more than 24 hours now to settle in and digest the reality that the Boston Celtics hung in there and survived the road to the Eastern Conference Finals. It wasn’t a pretty ride, but they don’t award points based on whom you beat or how you beat them. The fact you get there is the only thing that matters.

And now we are left with another showdown in South Beach. The Celtics are bruised and battered and missing four rotation players. Yet here they are facing a Heat team they’ve been incredibly competitive with over the past couple seasons that will be without Chris Bosh for much, if not all of this series.

Despite this reality, literally no one outside the greater New England area gives Boston a legitimate chance to win this series. I’ve seen the countless predictions and as I’ve looked through them all, I can’t help but reflect on a few key pieces of information.

Let’s start with the series last year. I know, last year is last year and both teams are different but hear me out. Outside of The Big Four, (and Delonte West) the Celtics got nothing out of their supporting cast against Miami last year. Literally nothing. Jeff Green was struggling to get his training wheels off, Glen Davis was mirred in a deep funk, Jermaine O’Neal was well Jermaine O’Neal (and also was playing with a broken wrist), and Nenad Krstic was glued to the bench for the first four games.

Despite all of this, the Celtics were still on the verge of tying this series at 2-2 in 2011, despite having a point guard playing with one arm, and despite the fact the C’s were playing with a small lineup for one the first times all season in the crunch time on Game 4, because Davis and Green couldn’t be trusted out there.

Oh yes, the elbow injury though. Remember that?

Listen, let’s be real here. Despite this gruesome injury last year’s team wasn’t going anywhere. After the Perkins deal, and the numerous buyout signings late in the season, the Celtics were a shell of themselves, limping to the finish line down the stretch before sweeping an overmatched Knicks team in the first round.

Glen Davis fell off the map, Rajon Rondo was moping and hurt and the Celtics had lost their interior presence and enforcer in Perk. Despite that trainwreck, the C’s still gave the Heat a pretty competitive five-game series, that almost certainly would have gone longer had Rondo been at full strength.

That’s enough about last year though. Rondo doesn’t want to hear it.

“Last year is in the past. This year we are a totally different team. We feel we can beat Miami. Obviously we got to this point. There’s no doubt in my mind that we can, so we got to go down there and take care of business.”

And you know what? He’s absolutely right. This isn’t last year. Last year they were a mess. Now? Despite all of the injuries, they’re still collectively better than the group that lost to Miami last year.

Now, the C’s have guys they can count on in supporting roles. They have a wingman in Mickael Pietrus who can match up with either LeBron James or Dwayne Wade. They have a power forward in Brandon Bass capable of big scoring nights when the bright lights are on. They have a gritty bench who have responded to the challenge when Doc has called upon them to this postseason (see Game 2: Atlanta). The team collectively has the experience of playing with a small lineup for much of the postseason, instead of just being thrust into it in the heat of the moment.

Perhaps most importantly, the Celtics have guys they can trust. This unit (save for Ryan Hollins) has been together through thick and thin this season. They know each other, they’ll fight for each other and play for each other. They don’t make it easy or pretty necessarily but when push comes to shove, they have found a way to get it done when it counts.

You also have a Big Three along with their captain Rondo who have great continuity and are hungrier than ever right now. They know the proverbial clock is ticking and realize they won’t see another year in the Eastern Conference anytime soon in all likelihood where they will be able to avoid having to get through Chicago and Miami on their way to an NBA Finals. This is house money for them, and they won’t take it for granted. Playing against a team that won’t have a guy that averaged a double-double against the C’s last year in Bosh.

The biggest point though is this year the Celtics know who they are. The “cool” Celtics have left the building, and instead this one has been built on grit.

“This season, with a lot of injuries, people counted us out. Doc just came into the locker room one day and said that we just have to be a grind team,” Brandon Bass said after Game 7 Saturday. “We might not blow teams out, teams might go on big runs but he just wants us to have resolve as a team and fight. That is what we’ve been able to do.”

This team has been grinding it out for three-plus months now and it’s got them ready for their ultimate test.

“It is what it is. We’re up for the challenge,” Paul Pierce acknowledged. “We know how tough it is to win in this league, especially in the playoffs. We know how hard it is to win a championship. So we expect this to be tough.”

Kevin Garnett has appeared to be watching some highlights of Bill Belichick press conferences as well.

“It’s what it is, man. (The Heat are) playing well right now,” Garnett explained. “They beat a very tough Indiana team. I think LeBron and Wade are playing at high levels right now. We have a lot of confidence in ourselves, so it should be an interesting series.”

I agree Kevin, even if the rest of the basketball world doesn’t.

“This is the cream of the cream,” Garnett continued. “This is what it’s all about, conference finals. We definitely don’t like the way we left last year, so we’ll see what happens, man. We’ll see what happens. Let’s get it on.”

Back in the underdog role this team relishes it, I expect nothing less than a seven-game series and an ending that may shock almost everyone who watches it.

  • High Rollers

    I concur, Doctor.

  • jman

    Push the ball and create fouls for that's what Miami is going to do…There's no one filling the paint except anthony, turiaf and James which might give the C's an advantage for James may get fouls against him early especially if Pierce pushes inside. If offense starts offf with KG and Rondo pushes instead of walking, it'll be an advantage. Remember though that in Miami the C's will be playing against Heat and Ref's lol…And don't expect Bosh to be out the series(Could of been planned to have fresh legs :P) And if they pull a win out of one of these two first games, it's on. Can't wait for tonight :D

  • Tom

    I think that the celts will win it this year, especially with bosh missing i think they will be in the finals and i wrote all about it why that is and how to bet it right here! http://nbawagers.com/2012/05/the-heat-is-on/

  • ElRoz

    It's important to get contributions on offense and defense from Dooling and Pietrus – 12-18 minutes of quality basketball. And if Hollins can bang around and get let's say 2-4 points and 3-4 boards in 10-12 minutes, it would be nice.

  • CelticsBIG3

    I was in the Garden that fateful night when Rondo's elbow popped. It was tough to watch then, and its still tough to see now.

    • janos

      Hi Bigthree, is Janos
      I am not click these videos, watch . no way.

  • janos

    Hi Bryan, is Janos
    I am do scout work for yesterday night and watch game Thunder Spur. Spur very depend team, but not have star power beat Celtics. Thunder have good star but not win much like spur, also not beat celtics. If league allow make merge forplay celtics, tough road us to beat combo"d team , otherwise will be ok for us, title.

    Today am enjoy off work holiday day for al, hope same for you before big game watch later on. I was able go breakfast eat and happy see vetaran , shake hand and say thank you; for services.

  • skeeds

    There is one very, VERY hard thing this team needs to do to go past the Heat. Win 2 in a row. I have no doubt, that we could win every other game against any team. But, fatigue, health problems and age, mean that we'll have hard time of putting 2 good games in a row. And that's been obvious through this postseason.

    So how do we win this series? First, we need to surprise them. Tonight is a prime opportunity. KG comes in like a beast and Miami's frontline won't know what hit them. It's his best chance to take advantage of his favorable matchup before they can adjust.
    THEN, there's the trick. We need 2 wins at home. One of them will be fugly.I mean, last second, 79 point win by Rondo free throws after trailing all game kind of ugly. That will be the key game. Probably game 4. If we take that, we tank the next game in Miami and end it in 6 back home.

    I can't see us doing it any other way. We need to flip the homecourt advantage early, and hold on to it while it's still early. Games 4-7 will be win one lose one at best.

  • Phil

    I don't see it being clear that this team is better than last year's. On most nights they'd be better off playing without Ray Allen, and that's more important than the defensive upgrade of Pietrus over Green (I don't trust either to give me anything on offense.) Its hard to tell where Pierce's MCL injury ended and Iggy's defense began last series, but Lebron's just as good of a defender, so its kind of irrelevant. Expect the same inefficient hard earned 18 points from him.

    While this supporting cast is more fun to root for, has better chemistry and feels better, who do you really expect to get scoring every night from? Its Bass by default basically, and we ran the gamut in the Philly series. If you tell me right now that he'll win one game and lose one game, I'll take that. I have no idea to what to expect from them, but it scares me.

    I don't see how every game doesn't come to needing KG and Rondo to destroy their counterparts more than Lebron and Wade do. Seems pretty similar to last year. No Bosh makes KG's life easier, but a crippled Ray makes Wade's job just as easy.

  • Phil

    I think the thing people are missing is that the Heat aren't much better than last year either. Besides Battier who gave them nothing outside of game 6, they're the same team as last year minus Bosh. There's been a lot of narratives all year about the Heat being bored and waiting, but what if they're just not as good as the actual championship contenders in the west?

    If Wade or Lebron is limited to a bad night, the Cs can win an ugly low 80s game. That's why the series should be tough fought. I have no idea if the Celtics can pull it off or not, but I'm hopeful.

  • ripsonics

    BIG GAME – TIME TO SHINE. PRETTY DAMN EXCITED AFTER THAT POST.

    GO CELTICS

  • Alex

    Phil:

    To comment on the heat vs our team last year:

    1. We have a healthier UD who seems to have found a semblance of his stroke from years past
    2. Shane batter's incredible D (example : against David west, a guy he gives at least 30lbs to)
    3. Can you argue rony Turiaf does not fit into the heat's fast tempo game better than any of the bigs we had available last year sans Anthony? ( big Z, maggloire, Dampier)
    4. Chalmers' consistency means we don't have to rely on the likes of mike bibby to contribute meaningful PG minutes
    5. And yes, while bosh is a critical part of our spacing strategy on offense, all that means is Lebron and dwade are getting more touches than before. Pacers coach frank Vogel put it best when he said that you're not necessarily gaining an advantage over the heat when you give those two more touches.

    Just a few thoughts from a heat fan locking forward to a very good series.

    • Guest

      Shane Battier's defensive reputation ended in 1st round vs Carmelo :D

      • Alex

        Melo abused Shane in the first round, I'll give him that. Not too many spot up shooters who can bury long balls with a hand in their face like that left in the playoffs though. Still, having watched battier's defense throughout the season, I know hes a solid defender, intelligent blocker, willing to take charges (I mean real, outside the circle, feet planted charges) when he can kind of guy.

    • Phil

      Haslem is playing this year, which helps, but I wouldn't be confident in him bringing any more than Brandon Bass offensively. He scared the hell out of me last year before he got hurt, but from what I've seen, he just hasn't been the same this year. Its possible he found his stroke now, but its also possible that he just hit a couple of big shots. He's a much better defender than Spencer Hawes (saying a lot, I know,) which helps against KG, but expecting him to replicate Bosh's spot on offense seems like a doomed strategy.

      Chalmers is a huge upgrade over Bibby, but its still a matchup that Rondo has to win handily if the Celtics want a chance. I oversimplified a lot of nuances on both sides, but its partially because I expect the series to come down to the all stars. If Lebron and Wade go crazy like against the Pacers, the Heat will win. I like the Celtics chances of slowing one of them per game down better than Indiana though. Some games the Heat support will be better, other times it'll be the Celtics. I don't expect more than 20-30 from either group though.

      The difference in the series for me is that if the Heat stars play well, they win, while the Celtics need to stop them, and have their stars play well against a very good defense. Its why the Heat are favorites.

      • Phil

        Just to clarify my last point, in the second to last regular season game, the Heat played really well offensively, yet the Celtics were on fire and won anyway. That Celtics team is gone now. They can't win a game 115-105 or whatever.

  • High Rollers

    Miami's ferocious D comes and goes a lot more than it did a year ago. When it inevitably goes into hiding, Rondo will have plenty of space for his genius to thrive. I think it will be dramatically obvious to both him and the fans watching at home, simply because Philly rarely let up on him (in terms of cutting off his vision and angles). The contrast now will be stark and extremely beneficial to the C's.

  • ElRoz

    Ray Allen should not be on the floor…he is not helping the team but hurting it more. Ray – thanks for your effort and toughness, but the injury has made you a non-entity right now.

    Sit down and let Dooling or Pietrus start.

  • Alex

    Battier: 10/10/2. Solid first outing from him, just as I thought he would bring.

    Chalmers: 9/5/4. Consistency! Just like i said earlier.

    Turiaf: 4/5 anyone catch the offensive rebound tip-in off a missed miller 3?
    Anthony: 3/6

    Combined, 6/11. What better could we ask for from our weakest position from the floor?

    Key stat: 11 blocked shots, franchise record for heat in the playoffs.

    Admittedly, haslem was weak tonight on the stat sheet. But when everyone else chipped in thr way they did, an off night here and there for UD doesnt necessarily kill us.

    Anything celts can learn from this game to prepare for any better come wednesday?

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