Finally, the match-up that nobody wanted to see has come to fruition. And by nobody, of course, I mean every single human being on the face of the earth -- plus a few talking balls. So as to not overstate the magnitude of what will begin on Sunday I won’t call it the single greatest event in the history of the world. It’s in the top-five, though, no doubt.
LeBron James is an insanely rich, sufficiently powerful and (I'm guessing) reasonably happy guy. Chapters upon chapters of his career remain unwritten at this point, and multiple championships may still lay ahead for him in the future. He doesn’t have to beat the Boston Celtics this year. In fact, the Celtics -- essentially on their farewell tour -- are the ones with pressure on them to beat LeBron.
But LeBron doesn’t want to have to wait until the Celtics ride off into the sunset to get his ring. He, Bosh and Dwyane Wade are playing for more than just their first championship as Heatles headliners this year.
From the very beginning, they made it clear that they had come together to do something special. That they desired something greater than single individual seasons of brilliance. It’s about building a dynasty and etching their names into NBA history. Conquering the beast and killing the four-headed dragon from Boston is a necessary step in putting their mark on this era of professional basketball.
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The first three meetings of the season between these two teams all went to the Celtics. Boston’s coaching, familiarity with one another and depth was too much for LeBron and Co.
However, after trading away a particularly beloved locker room presence and team enforcer in Kendrick Perkins, the group which came within a quarter of being crowned the NBA champions last year appeared to transform into something different entirely. They looked softer, less stable mentally and frankly, unworthy of commanding the respect that they had gotten up to that point.
A blowout defeat at the hands of the Heat in their final meeting of the year confirmed what everyone was thinking – Boston’s advantage over Miami was gone.
One thing this series won’t be lacking, regardless of whether it lasts for four games or seven, is star power. With Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo on one end and James, Bosh and Wade on the other, this match-up will be as exciting as it’s sure to be unpredictable.
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On their way to trampling the still-hapless New York Knicks in the first round, Boston appeared to get some of their original groove back. Rondo, who seemed lost in the translation after the Perkins trade, re-emerged as a key figure for the team averaging 19.0 points and 12 assists per outing. Pierce and Allen pitched in their fair share as well, scoring just over -- a combined -- 44 points per game on 51.2 percent shooting. And Garnett, the lone big man remaining to control the Celtics paint, averaged just less than 16 points and 11.3 rebounds per outing.
The Heat was no slouch against the mediocre Philadelphia 76ers in the first round either, though. James, aside from some crunch time woes, dominated his inferior Philly opponents to the tune of 24.2 points, 10.6 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game. Wade, although not as great with filling up the stat line, lived up to his clutch status label by helping the team pull out of some very unexpected jams when the Sixers looked ready to do damage late. Heck, even the I'm-not-married-yet Bosh, a somewhat underwhelming piece of the Heatles puzzle all year long, was good for 20 points and 9 rebounds in the first round.
Ultimately, the big three of Miami will more or less cancel out each of the Big Three plus Rondo of Boston.
At this point in their careers, Bosh is slightly more productive offensively than Garnett, but the latter makes up for his diminished athleticism with toughness and grit. James may have the flashier numbers when it’s all said and done, but nobody will have a bigger impact on the flow of the Celtics (outside of possibly Rondo) than Pierce. And while Wade is substantially more effective than Allen in the here and now, the Heat has no answer for Rondo.
Thus, it may actually come down to the bench production and coaching – something that the Celtics hold a clear advantage in.
It’s been said by a few NBA experts that the Heat are an “unanlyzable” team. Every time you count them out, they surprise you. Then again, every time you give them credit, they disappoint you. The Celtics, meanwhile, despite dispatching the Knicks with ease in the first round, have yet to be truly tested in the post-Perkins era.
If LeBron and Co. come out with something to prove against Boston, they may shock the world and compensate for the lack of depth on their roster. If the Celtics -- who have proven they can still beat good teams without Perkins -- keep that momentum they got from the New York series going, however, it may end up being a shorter second round than Miami could have ever anticipated.
But at least Cleveland would finally get a chance to celebrate.