By Alex Groberman
As the NBA world turns and most fans (and Vegas odds makers) are penciling in a Los Angeles Lakers versus the Miami Heat in the 2010-11 NBA Finals, one team hopes to throw a wrench into the whole thing: The Boston Celtics.
While the Heat has dominated the headlines during the circus show that has been “Free Agency 2010,” the Celtics have slowly but surely “improved” a roster that was good enough to get to Game 7 of the Finals last year. Before examining how the Celtics would do against the Heat when/if the two teams match-up, let's take a look at what moves Boston made over the summer:
- Resigning Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Marquis Daniels and Nate Robinson.
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- Postponing Doc Rivers’ retirement by a season.
- Picking up the O’Neal tandem– Shaquille and Jermaine. Also nabbing Von Wafer.
- Losing Tony Allen to free agency, and Rasheed Wallace to retirement (kind of).
Clearly the Celtics made the right decision in bringing back their stars, bench players and coach for one last hurrah in the upcoming season. NBA Championships are hard to come by, and any time you even have a chance at one, you should do everything in your power to press forward. The problem, however, is that it will remain to be seen if the Celtics really did everything they could during the offseason to improve themselves.
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The Celtics’ free agent pick-ups have been interesting to say the least. With Kendrick Perkins being out for the first part of the upcoming season, Boston clearly wanted to add a bit of depth up front. The question becomes, though, are two old and hobbled O’Neals, one more slow and beat-up than the next, really the best way to do it?
The Cleveland Cavaliers seemed a lot better without Shaq than they were with Shaq last year, so take that for what you will. Jermaine proved himself to be borderline useless on the Miami Heat despite a somewhat better-than-expected ’09 season, and Pat Riley made it a point to let him go as soon as he could.
Wafer is an interesting gamble for the Celtics because he can score in spurts and provide offense in a hurry, but he has documented character issues and has been a headache for every coaching staff that’s ever had him.
Losing Tony Allen, arguably the team’s best perimeter defender hurts. When you consider all of the talented shooting guards and small forward the team will have to compete with on a nightly basis in the East, the Celtics would have been well-served having a proven, athletic player bodying them up. There are talks now that the Celtics will try to move Wallace’s contract before he retires in order to get Larry Hughes or a player like him, however, that won’t fill the void left behind by Allen.
So with all that in mind, how do the Celtics now stack up to the Heat? Here is a quick breakdown of what can be expected:
LeBron James vs. Pierce
Many forget that it was just a few years ago that these two were battling it out in one of the most memorable Game 7s in recent memory. Pierce emerged victorious in both the game and series, and a lot of it had to do with the superb defense he was able to play on James. While James has speed and athleticism over Piece, Pierce is a better shooter, a more intelligent player and far more clutch. In a one-on-one game to 21 James may take the cake, but in a seven game series, it’s always wiser to take the proven champion.
Dwyane Wade vs. Allen
Just a few months ago, a very similar comparison was going on between Allen and Lakers star, Kobe Bryant. During the NBA Finals this past season Allen proved that he could officially be labeled as a “past-his-prime” talent. While he clearly still has a lot in him, the days of Allen getting past his defenders and taking it to the hoop appear to behind him. Sure, he can still go off for a record-breaking shooting performance and always has to be accounted for, however, if faced with an athletic defender like Wade, he would be extremely limited. On the other end, Wade would light up a very underrated defender in Allen (due mostly to his intelligence) because of the aforementioned difference in athleticism.
Chris Bosh vs. Garnett
This would essentially end up being the second-most interesting battle of the series, and arguably the most important one because of how James and Pierce would cancel each other’s production out. Bosh at this stage in his career is a far superior player to Garnett offensively, and would likely dominate the boards as well. The great equalizer, however, is that Garnett is a much hungrier defender, and would likely be able to severely limit Bosh’s offensive production. If Bosh isn’t producing offensively, his Amare Stoudemire-like weak defense would tip the scales into Boston’s favor. As is usually the case with any match-up involving Garnett, health is everything. If Garnett isn’t a hundred percent come playoff time, and isn’t able to play the defense that’s come to be expected from him, the Celtics will be in trouble.
Advantage: Tie (assuming Garnett stays healthy)
Because of the uncertainty surrounding the rest of the Heat’s starting line-up aside from Mike Miller, it’s hard to really predict how the match-ups will work. Miller will provide lethal shooting for the Heat, and gives them an instant mis-match when he’s on the floor at the same time as James, Wade and Bosh.
On the flip side, there isn’t a single point guard on the Heat roster that can compete with Rajon Rondo. A case can be made for Rondo being the best point guard in the East, and while his shooting leaves a lot to be desired, he’s a triple-double waiting to happen in any given game. It really doesn’t matter who the Heat choose to trot out against Rondo, because the fill-in-the-blank point guard will get lit up by arguably the best player on the Celtics roster.
Assuming Perkins is healthy around the time the playoffs approach, you’ll have him and the O’Neal tandem going up against Jamaal Magloire, Joel Anthony and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. This is essentially the battle of who can take up the most floor space and grab a few rebounds while not getting in the way of real players match-up, so all of the aforementioned bigs kind of cancel each other out.
On paper the Celtics appear to have a better bench, though time will tell how effective Robinson will be in a full-season with the team, if the O'Neal duo can stay healthy and if Wafer can bring some instant-offense to this group. The Heat’s bench is filled with unknowns at this point, though it wouldn’t be particularly surprising to anyone if they ended up surprising people. They’re really a wild card.
So, what does all this mean?
While everyone appears to have completely dismissed and written off the Celtics as too-old, not athletic enough and past their prime (sound familiar?), on paper at least, they appear to have some very strong match-ups for the new-look Heat. Now, to be fair, a lot of the Celtics’ success next year will depend on health, Rondo’s progression and Rivers being able to sort out team chemistry. If, however, all these things come together, don’t be shocked to see a repeat of last season’s NBA Finals in 2010-11.