Commentary

Celtics-Heat: Keys to the series

Four areas that could be the deciding factor in this conference quarterfinal

Updated: April 30, 2011, 7:50 PM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

WALTHAM, Mass. -- Boston Celtics reserve forward/center Glen Davis plopped down in front of the cameras before Friday's practice at the Sports Authority Training Center at HealthPoint and admitted that he was getting antsy for tip-off of the much-ballyhooed Boston-Miami series. With all the hype surrounding the game, about Davis' only lament was that it's only the Eastern Conference semifinals and it hardly seems fitting that the reward for the team that emerges is finding itself only halfway to the ultimate goal of a world title.

Maybe it shouldn't surprise Davis. After all, history reminds us that, in each of Boston's two recent treks to the NBA Finals, they've had to take down a top-tier opponent in the second round. As Celtics coach Doc Rivers noted, Boston knew it would have to go through the Miami Heat eventually.

"This is where we wanted to be," Rivers said. "This is exactly where we wanted to be."

Now to get where they want to be in mid-May (the conference finals), here are four areas that might decide how this series plays out:

Boston Celtics vs. Miami Heat
Game 1, Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET | AmericanAirlines Arena




Challenging Rondo

Rivers said he expects the Heat will employ a familiar defensive strategy and sag off point guard Rajon Rondo this series, challenging him to shoot uncontested 17-foot jumpers while clogging his lanes to the basket.

And with good reason. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Rondo was a mere 6-of-20 shooting (30 percent) on attempts from beyond 5 feet this season against the Heat . Even though Rondo improved his accuracy, shooting 41 percent from 16 to 23 feet, well better than the league average for point guards from that range, teams are willing to concede that shot to him. The only way to loosen them up is to make shots.

"I think they'll go to the Rondo defense that we all labeled it, where they just help off him, slack off him," Rivers said. "How we handle that will be key in this series."

So much has been made about Rondo's need to be aggressive in transition, but the Heat are very good at getting back and set, so his jumper will be just as important. For his part, Rondo isn't worrying about how the Heat will defend him.

"Everybody plays differently," Rondo said. "We'll see Game 1."

Getting downright offensive

If there was a common theme to Boston's troubles late in the season, particularly in its final regular-season meeting with Miami, it was allowing too many offensive rebounds, which opponents converted into heapings of second-chance points. In the four regular-season matchups, the Heat finished with 46 offensive rebounds, 17 more overall than Boston. Miami grabbed 28.8 percent of available offensive rebounds, well above the league average (26.4 percent) and their own season average (25.2 percent), according to Basketball-Reference.com.

How does Boston prevent offensive rebounds? Rivers is imploring his players to limit the help situations and make sure to recover to their man to prevent allowing Miami free run at crashing the glass.

In Miami's regular-season triumph, it turned 15 offensive rebounds into 18 second-chance points. The Heat are too good defensively for Boston to recover if the Celtics allow that sort of effort again.

"When you look at [the final Miami] game and you look at Game 2 versus New York [in the quarterfinals], it's almost [the] exact same game," Rivers said. "We decided to over-help and it wasn't really helping us. We were way off the body and we were asking for trouble.

"We tend to do that, honestly, and every time we do [over-help], we either get lucky and don't get hurt by it, or we get crushed by it. I know it's tough for help defenders when they see Wade in [isolation] -- or LeBron -- to not to go support, but they're going to shoot it anyway. A little support is not going to help. Then you're off the body, so you're getting hurt [by shooters and on the defensive glass], so we can't fall into that trap."

Making Wade work for his points

During the Celtics-Knicks first-round series, poor New York rookie Landry Fields often drew the daunting defensive assignment of chasing Ray Allen around. Not only did Fields chase futilely as Allen connected on 16 of 28 (57.1 percent) of his 3-pointers (this while Allen's teammates were a mere 11-of-32 on triples during the opening round), but Allen shot a scorching 57.4 percent overall.

Easy buckets for Allen are not easy to generate. What you don't always see on the highlights is Allen racing around the court, running through numerous screens. It's taxing, not just on him, but on his defender.

Just ask Fields, who labored through 3-of-15 shooting (20 percent) in the first round, this after being nearly a 50 percent shooter during the regular season. Now the Celtics are hoping to replicate that plan by making Dwyane Wade run as much as possible.

How does Allen plan to make Wade work?

"Easy baskets; keep him from getting easy baskets," Allen said. "That's the thing. You watch [the Heat], you see their transition buckets. When a team is looking the other way, he rejects the pick-and-roll and he gets to the hole. You've got to take those away."

Don't forget about the other O'Neal

Not since the Trojan War has an Achilles received as much attention as the one that's limited Shaquille O'Neal to 5 1/2 minutes of game action since Feb. 1. While the 39-year-old center draws daily headlines for his potential to play in this series, Jermaine O'Neal has quietly returned from midseason knee surgery and made himself an impact player in the postseason.

Here's all you need to know about J.O.'s defensive impact in the first-round sweep of the Knicks: Entering Friday's playoff action, Jermaine O'Neal was second among postseason participants in averaging 5.2 blocks per 48 minutes (only Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka was better at 7.2 per 48, according to ESPN Stats & Information).

While many keep noting how Shaq could be Boston's much-needed enforcer if he's able to get healthy, Jermaine O'Neal isn't one to shy away from contact, either. During that last regular-season meeting, Jermaine O'Neal earned a flagrant-1 for turning his shoulder on a driving LeBron James.

Rivers said the Celtics don't want to lose their cool in those situations, but they want to be the most physical team overall.

"We want to win; whatever it takes to do that, we're going to do that," Rivers said. "It's not about all that. We are who we are, and if that's getting physical, that's what we're going to do. But we're not going to go out of our way to be physical. We're just going to be us. We're going to be that no matter what."

Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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