These two teams have been on a collision course since the “Big Three” of Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, or the “Big Two + Bosh” as I like to call them, teamed up this past July in Miami. When the three joined forces to form a super-team down in Miami, the so-called experts and pundits were already crowning them NBA champions without them even playing a game. James, Wade and Bosh held a victory party before the regular season had even began claiming they would win not one, not two, but seven championships while together. However, in all the hype, people seemed to forget about the other Big Three: the trio of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett that is fresh off a stinging game-seven loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA finals, the Boston Celtics.
In perhaps one of the most anticipated regular season opening games in the history of sports, the Celtics reminded the world that they weren’t going anywhere, scoring a decisive victory against the Miami Heat on opening night. Throughout the NBA season, the Celtics have been called the Heat’s “big brother” who they just can’t beat. The Celtics were that roadblock much like the Pistons were the roadblock to Michael Jordan in his early days.
After finishing off the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night, the Heat acknowledged the elephant waiting ahead of them. Heat head coach Eric Spoelstra said, “It wouldn’t be right if we didn’t go through [the Celtics].” Bosh added, “It wasn’t if, it was when.”
The two teams were going in what appeared to be opposite directions when they entered the playoffs. The Celtics stumbled into the playoffs losing three out of their last five games while the Heat charged into the playoffs on a four-game winning streak. Pundits decried the Celtics as too old and many picked the New York Knicks to upset them in the first round of the playoffs. However, the Celtics proved the pundits wrong once again by sweeping the Knicks in four games and playing with renewed vigor. Meanwhile, the Heat struggled against a 76ers team without a single superstar. The Celtics have flipped the proverbial switch and are once again playing at the level of champions.
The Heat have struggled mightily against the Celtics this year. Wade is averaging a meager 12.75 points against the Celtics in the four regular season games and only scored 14 points in Miami’s sole regular season victory against the Celtics. Bosh has averaged a slightly better 15 points against the Celtics and only scored 13 points against the Celtics in Miami’s one victory against the Celtics. Stat geeks such as ESPN’s John Hollinger like to attribute these poor performances as aberrations and not the pattern. However, they are wrong. Wade has struggled to score because he must fight through constant screens and pick and rolls to defend Celtics’ sharpshooter Allen. Meanwhile, Garnett, the defensive staple of the Celtics, has consistently abused Bosh in the post-up situation. The one player on Miami who has consistently excelled against the Celtics is James. However, the Celtics have a decided psychological advantage against James, having ended his title aspirations two of the past three years, including a decisive six-game upset in the playoffs last year.
While the Big Three of the Heat may be evenly matched against the Big Three of the Celtics, the Celtics are no longer a Big Three. They are a Big Four. And that fourth man is point guard Rajon Rondo. Rondo is the X-factor in this series. The Heat have no-one capable of defending Rondo. The Heat start Mike Bibby at the point guard position opposite Rondo. Bibby cannot keep up defensively with Rondo and thus Rondo will absolutely abuse him. When Rondo plays well, the Celtics win. It’s as simple as that. The media will frame this series as a battle between the old guard and the new guard of the Eastern Conference, but don’t let them fool you. The Celtics will win or lose depending on the performance of Rondo.
The Heat do not have a deep enough bench to compete with the Celtics bench of Glenn “Big Baby” Davis, Jeff Green, Delonte West, Nenad Krstic and Shaq if and when he returns from injury. It is this reason along with Rondo that the Heat will not win this series. Every title winner in the past three years has had a star contributor off the bench. In 2008 it was James Posey and Eddie House for the Celtics. In 2009 and 2010 it was Lamar Odom for the Lakers. The Heat have no player that can consistently contribute off the bench.
The Celtics will win the series in six games. Miami and Boston will split the first two in Miami. The Celtics will then take the next two at home to take a 3-1 series lead down to Miami for game 5. Miami will win game 5 but the Celtics will close out the Heat in a game-six showdown at the TD Garden in Boston.