Celtics-Heat: How will it go down?
Five writers tackle five questions on the second-round series between the Heat and C's
They squared off on opening night, six months ago, and now it's the real deal: Boston Celtics vs. Miami Heat in the NBA playoffs.
On Sunday (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET), we get Game 1 of the battle we've been waiting for ever since The Decision. It's LeBron and the Heatles' chance to redeem themselves, and the Celtics' chance to win their 10th postseason series since they built their own Big Three (now a Fantastic Four).
We asked a mix of Boston and Miami writers for their assesment of the series:
1. What do you take from the four Celtics-Heat regular-season games?
Hayes Davenport, Celtics Hub: My homerism glands are forcing me to chalk up the fourth game to the Celtics' late-season apathy, but the takeaway from the first three is probably that the Heat are not looking forward to this matchup. The Celtics have an unnatural ability to force below-average performances out of the Heat stars, and that's obviously the key to beating Miami.
Chris Forsberg, ESPN Boston: If you trust Doc Rivers, very little. Rivers loves to make the case that you never remember the variables in a regular-season matchup (like injuries, travel, schedule, etc.). Both teams know they can beat each other: the C's from the first three meetings, Miami from the last. That's about it.
Tom Haberstroh, Heat Index: Parity. The Celtics have the 3-1 lead in the regular-season series, and that record understates how close these two teams are. To see that, consider that the Heat actually have the edge in scoring margin, having outscored the Celtics by seven points this season. If this was a 99-game series, there would probably be a 99th game.
Michael Wallace, Heat Index: That Boston was the more confident, cohesive and complete team the first half of the season. Miami was the opposite of those things, hence Boston going 3-1 in four matchups. What Boston lost in the Perkins trade and what Miami gained after more time together has evened things out.
Brian Windhorst, Heat Index: A referendum on the Heat's development. As each game played out you could clearly see the team figuring themselves out, each game being sort of its own stress test. But it also showed just how impressive the Celtics' chemistry is -- and often showed where the Heat continued to have shortcomings.
2. Which player will you be watching most closely in the series?
Hayes Davenport, Celtics Hub: Rondo is the puppeteer of the Celtics' offense, but this series will be decided on the other end, so I'll be watching Kevin Garnett on defense. He's going to try to be everywhere at once, and he actually can do that. But the motivated Heat are probably his greatest defensive challenge yet.
Chris Forsberg, ESPN Boston: Rajon Rondo. No surprise that when he posted a triple-double in the third regular-season meeting, the C's won. In the final meeting, he sleepwalked against Mike Bibby and Boston lost. If the "Big Threes" wash each other out, he's the biggest X-factor on the court.
Tom Haberstroh, Heat Index: LeBron James. No one else has as much on the line. As much as I'd like to say Dwyane Wade needs to step up (really, 12.8 points per game against Boston?), everything depends on how LeBron performs under the burden of history and the swarming coverage of the Celtics' defense.
Michael Wallace, Heat Index: Rajon Rondo. When he cares, is focused and is committed, he's the one player the Heat have absolutely no answer for him. When he's aloof, passive and willing to defer control of the offense, the Celtics are not just beatable but sweepable.
Brian Windhorst, Heat Index: Rondo, Rondo, Rondo, Rondo. Do I make myself clear? When he plays well they seem like a different team, with younger legs and smiles. Plus, the Heat are completely ill-equipped to defend him without diverting major help. But he hasn't always played well in the second half of the season.
3. What's the potential fatal flaw for each team?
Hayes Davenport, Celtics Hub: Miami's fatal flaw is the belief among its star players that they're really awesome at shooting from distance. Boston wants them to think this and plans to make them prove it.
Boston's flaw, meanwhile, is its bench. With either James or Wade on the court at any time, the Heat have a chance to make runs against the Boston reserves.
Chris Forsberg, ESPN Boston: Boston has to be careful with help defense. The urge to help on Wade and James will be strong, but it can lead to giving up offensive rebounds (which killed them earlier this month in Miami).
For the Heat, can LeBron get over the mental hurdle of beating Boston?
Tom Haberstroh, Heat Index: The Heat are top-heavy and that makes their margin of error incredibly slim. They don't have a Rajon Rondo to pick up the slack if one of the Big Three has an off night.
But while the Celtics may have more weapons in their arsenal, they won't matter if Boston continues to cough up the ball every other time down the court.
Michael Wallace, Heat Index: Mario Chalmers is coming off a breakthrough game and Joel Anthony has been a defensive force, but Miami's bench is a potentially fatal weakness. There's no one you can rely on.
Boston's biggest weakness is complacency. There are also too many questions at center.
Brian Windhorst, Heat Index: For the Heat it is the same as it was way back in the preseason: everyone without the last name of James, Wade or Bosh. Boston will just ignore the role players on defense. Nearly 90 games in, Miami still doesn't know who else it can count on.
For the Celtics, it is their decreased margin for error. They aren't the same complete team they used to be because of injuries and the Perkins trade. They lean heavily on their ability to win close games.
4. What's the potential fatal strength for each team?
Hayes Davenport, Celtics Hub: Boston's strength against everyone they face, but especially Miami, is team defense. The Heat have several players who require multiple defenders to stop them, but sending a second defender to help is central to the Celtics' defensive scheme.
Miami's strength, of course, is that the best player in the league is on its side, and his best teammate isn't Mo Williams anymore.
Chris Forsberg, ESPN Boston: For Boston, it's Ubuntu, that trust and bond forged over the past four seasons. They showed in Round 1 they can execute in crunch time. Can Miami?
For the Heat, it's talent. When the Thrice is clicking, it doesn't matter how good the opponent is, not even a defensive-minded team like Boston.
Tom Haberstroh, Heat Index: No one boasts more frequent-flier miles on trips to the free-throw line than the Heat. And Jermaine O'Neal -- who's currently averaging seven fouls every 36 minutes -- has a huge target on his back.
The Heat's normally airtight half-court defense was picked apart by the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 4 with backdoor cuts and ball movement. The Celtics' passing skills make Philly look like a JV team.
Michael Wallace, Heat Index: For the Heat, it's Udonis Haslem. Imagine the emotional jolt his return from foot surgery would provide. Mental toughness will be a huge intangible in this series.
On the other hand, Big Baby Davis is capable of being a huge thorn in Miami's side. It's been Davis moreso than the departed Kendrick Perkins who has hurt the Heat.
Brian Windhorst, Heat Index: Rondo, Rondo, Rondo, Rondo.
For the Heat, it is their ability to make the Celtics' defense handle both James and Wade in motion at the same time. Miami has been working on and honing this offense for months, and when they actually run it, it can limit the Celtics' defensive principles.
5. Celtics-Heat: Who wins?
Hayes Davenport, Celtics Hub: Boston in seven.
I think Miami is a better team than Boston. If the Heat get through this round, they have a better shot at beating the Chicago Bulls and the Western Conference champ than Boston does. But I also think the Celtics are the one team that can stop the Heat.
Chris Forsberg, ESPN Boston: Celtics in six.
Home court works against the Heat here as the Celtics steal Game 2 in Miami and gush with confidence coming back to Boston, where a three-day break only adds to Miami's pressure. What's more, the Heat have the future as a safety net; Boston will jam its fingers in the closing window to keep it open a bit longer.
Tom Haberstroh, Heat Index: Heat in seven.
LeBron finally has what he never got in Cleveland: another star to help puncture the Boston defense. And he has two of them.
Michael Wallace, Heat Index: My stance since training camp has been that if the Heat can get past Boston, they'll win the whole thing. Getting home-court advantage -- mainly a Game 7 in Miami -- was major.
I've got the Heat winning in seven, although I'm not as confident in that pick as I was after seeing how the teams finished their first-round series.
Brian Windhorst, Heat Index: Celtics in six. (Rondo.)
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