In the regular season, Boston won three out of four versus Miami, although the final game featuring the two teams—which Boston won 78-66—superstars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen all sat out, and Paul Pierce only played 18 minutes.
Fortunately, the other three games tell us an important story. The Heat won the first game, 115-107, while Boston won the next two by scores of 91-72 and 115-107. In the three games in which the teams fielded full units, LeBron led all scorers between the two teams in points at 28.3 per game, Chris Bosh—whose timetable for return from an abdominal injury is unknown—led all rebounders at 10.3 per game, and Rajon Rondo led in assists at 13.7 per game, which leads to the first thing to look out for…
1) Who Will Guard Rajon Rondo?
Although Rondo is a superstar in his own right, he tends to get overlooked in favor of Pierce, Allen, and Garnett. With James and Wade in this story, Rondo becomes what many think as the sixth most important player in this series, which is five spots too low in my opinion. He makes the Celtics go, and when he gives the Celtics 20 points and 10 assists, Boston is a tough group to beat.
The league’s leader in assists at 11.7 per game, and arguably the best floor general in the Association today, has only stepped up his game in the postseason. During the regular season, Rondo averaged 11.9 points and 4.8 rebounds in addition to his assist total mentioned above, while shooting 45% from the field on 10.8 field goal attempts per game. In the playoffs, every single one of those numbers is up. Rondo is one of the ultimate competitors in this game, and that aspect of his game has shone brighter and brighter in each successive year of his career, especially the playoffs. In this postseason, Rondo leads all players with 12.5 assists per game, while scoring a clean 15 points per game and pulling in 6.4 rebounds each night. Most importantly, he is playing much more aggressively, taking 14.8 shots and shooting 45.4% from the field. Additionally, Rondo has posted three triple-doubles through his team’s first two rounds of playoff action.
What does all of this mean? It means Erik Spoelstra has one hell of a challenge in choosing who to guard Rondo. During the three games he played against the Heat, Rondo did whatever he wanted against Miami to the tune of 18.7 points per game on 51.3% shooting alongside 13.7 assists and 7.7 rebounds per game, and put together a masterful performance in the Celtics’ 91-72 victory during the regular season with a 22-point, 14-assist, 11-rebound triple-double. So, who guards him? When not at the small forward spot guarding Paul Pierce, LeBron James will need to guard the power forward spot when playing the four due to Bosh’s absence. Does Spoelstra risk taking Wade off Allen to guard Rondo, allowing the callow and undisciplined Mario Chalmers to tail the wizard of moving off the ball and coming off screens? How Spoelstra finds an answer to this question could very well determine how the entire series goes and if Miami gets another shot at the O’Brien trophy in June.
2) Who Will Step Up in the Frontcourt for Miami?
With Chris Bosh out for an indeterminable amount of time, the Heat are without their only legitimate frontcourt player. His absence certainly showed against the likes of the Pacers’ deep and talented frontcourt featuring Roy Hibbert and David West. If not for the superhero-like play from James and Wade, the Pacers could have taken that series if they capitalized on their huge frontcourt advantage against Miami.
Udonis Haslem, a veteran with playoff experience dating back to Miami’s championship run in 2006, will likely fill the starting power forward spot when he returns from his one-game suspension for a flagrant foul on Tyler Hansbrough. In Games 4 and 5 against Indiana, Haslem posted 14- and 10-point scoring nights, respectively, but is still only averaging 6.0 per game through the playoffs which isn’t enough to replace what Bosh contributed. Joel Anthony, the Heat’s starting center, should continue to play stalwart defense as he did against Hibbert but until he figures out how to catch the basketball on a consistent basis, he will be hopeless on the offensive end as his 3.9 points per game indicates, and leave Heat fans feeling the same. Beyond that, Spoelstra is out of options. Juwan Howard doesn’t play except in garbage time and cannot contribute any solid time off the bench, and the same for Dexter Pittman when he is eligible to play in Game 3 after receiving a three-game suspension for elbowing Lance Stephenson in the face in the waning moments of Game 5.
3) Doc Rivers vs. Erik Spoelstra
This is the series where Erik Spoelstra has a chance to prove his coaching mettle and dispel the notion that Pat Riley is the one who is truly in control of this team. Unfortunately, he is going up against a team coached by one of the league’s best, Doc Rivers. Each coach is a defensive wizard, as evidenced by the Celtics and Heat placing second and fourth, respectively, in points allowed per game at 89.3 and 92.5. Despite all the offense offered by these two teams, how the coaches manage their defensive assets against the opposition will set the tone for the series.
Prediction: Celtics in 6
Yes. It’s bold. Bolder than Taco Bell’s line of Bold & Creamy sauces. Which is almost as bold as it gets. But I think the Celtics can do it. In 6 games is the only way though, as I don’t believe they could close it out on the road in a Game 7 because god-forbid, the fans at American Airlines Arena might stay for the entire game and keep the energy in that building going for a Heat team whose two superstars are all about energy. With the experience Boston has, Rondo’s near-flawless floor-generalling, the defensive mentality to keep at the very least LeBron frustrated offensively—it wouldn’t be the first time—and stymie Wade for a few portions of games, and the huge advantage Boston has inside over what bodies Spoelstra throws out to watch Wade and James, I think Boston can do it.