I’m not going to lie; I predicted the Heat defeating the Celtics in 7 games at the All-Star break, and as recently as yesterday, I was beginning to believe that the Heat could knock out Boston in 6, maybe 5 games. Then on this lovely Friday evening, I was hit with a reality check:
The Heat have peaked in the last month. The Celtics (and Lakers) are just warming up.
I couldn’t care less about Pierce and Allen having dominant games. Both players have shown in the past, that against legitimately athletic defenders, they fall flat late in game 6’s and 7’s (against L.A. last year and Orlando two years ago). However, Rondo presents a mismatch that may pose all sorts of problems for the Heat.
Against N.Y. in game 3, Rondo had 15 points, 11 boards, and 20 assists. Honestly, what’s going to stop him from having similar stats against Miami? Mike Bibby? Mario Chalmers?
Their best bet may be attempting to shut Rondo down with Wade. This would be a similar tactic that the Lakers’ used by having Kobe guard the PG last year. However, unlike the Lakers who used Fisher effectively in defending Ray Allen, the Heat will have no answer in Bibby or Chalmers in chasing down the league’s best 3 point shooter. The Heat will be in a conundrum: use Wade to shut down Boston’s best facilitator or their best scoring option? That’s going to be interesting choice for Spoelstra and will be definitely very exciting to watch.
On the other hand, Miami might be able to tire out the Celtic guards with their offensive
athleticism. Though the Celtics have arguably the best team defense in the league, the Lebron-Wade fourth quarter backcourt might hobble Boston’s older legs. I suspect Rivers will utilize Garnett, Big Fat Baby, JO, and Shaq (who I refuse to believe is legitimately injured but rather is merely saving his 38 year old, 350 pounds of energy for the second round) to step up and help as much as possible defensively. I still believe that Lebron’s biggest weakness is his lack of a reliable jumpshot, and Boston’s defensive philosophy of forcing him out of the paint may be enough to render his offensive game obsolete.
This playoff matchup should be the most exciting of the first three rounds, and I definitely expect it to get a bit chippy. Garnett will do whatever he can to try to intimidate Bosh, who contrary to popular belief, has had some success against Boston this year (24 and 10 in their 3 point loss in Boston in February and 13 and 8 in the Heat’s blow out win over Boston in early April).
I still have to choose based on overall talent, so I’m sticking with the Heat in 7. But the
choice would be significantly easier if Miami didn’t have a guy who looked like a High School Honors Geology Teacher as their Head Coach.
A Few Western Conference Notes:
After a few unnecessarily long conversations with SemihErden about the Mavericks, I’ve come to a few realizations about the team I least respect: they have an excellent playoff starting lineup on paper, they have legitimate depth, Dirk is as reliable as anyone in the clutch not named Kobe Byrant or D. Rose, and Coach Rick Carlisle may have reinvigorated his team when he called them “soft” and shaved his head. Honestly, if you took that same lineup and gave them a different jersey, you’d say they were a real contender. The Mavs are just mired by their self-created culture of losing.
The Lakers, who showed absolutely no interest in playing basketball in Game 1 against the Hornets, have reestablished themselves as a physically and mentally tough unit after their game 3 performance. My biggest concern going forward: what are we going to see out of Gasol in the next few weeks? If he decides to continue enjoy lollygagging on defense and missing 2 foot freebies out of a lack of aggression, Perkins and OKC will beat LA in 6 in the WCF.
The feel-good-story Spurs of the regular season have become everyone’s pick to be first upset in the playoffs. I still can’t fully understand why; Greg Poppovich doesn’t lose to teams with less talent, and he certainly won’t lose to a team that doesn’t have any semblance of an offensive philosophy. Expect the Grizzlies to make several mental errors down the stretch of game 3 in a close, physical matchup.