NBA Eastern conference finals preview: Where the Miami Heat Get Set to Take on A Familiar Foe

Seven games of this.

Starting to remember that face, Heat faithful? That very same face that has haunted your nightmares for the past four years? It’s back and will be taking on the Miami Heat in the Eastern conference finals.

The face has a name to it, of course. Rajon Rondo is what most of the NBA world calls him, but to Heat fans he’s “SOMEBODY STOP LETTING THIS FUCKING GUY GET OPEN OFF THE PICK-AND-ROLL.” The Boston Celtics point guard has long been a thorn in the side of this Heat franchise. Mario Chalmers has become Rondo’s personal whipping boy and Norris Cole appears ready to become Chalmers’ unwilling apprentice in the field.

At this point you’d expect LeBron James to whip out his falice and start slapping Rondo’s face, but he’s left with defending Paul Pierce. It becomes even more unlikely that we’ll see James defending Rondo with Chris Bosh deemed to be out for the entirety of this series. With Bosh out again, it means James will be spending more time defending Kevin Garnett, Brandon Bass and other members of the Celtics frontcourt.

Shane Battier did a terrific job defending Pacers power forward David West last series, but Garnett’s length and strength will be a problem. Miami will most likely call upon Joel Anthony and Udonis Haslem to defend Garnett and perhaps even James, whose strength and ball-denial skills will be able to keep the Celtics power forward out of the paint. As we all know, James has spent a large amount of time this season successfully defending opposing power forward’s, including Lakers All-Star Pau Gasol.

The best idea at defending Rondo at the moment would be sticking Dwyane Wade on him. With breakout wing defender Avery Bradley sidelined and Ray Allen hobbling, Wade’s going to have the energy to perform to his highest level on both sides of the ball. We’ll get to his offense when we breakdown the match-up’s, but his defense is going to be huge this series. He should be looked at as the primary defender on Rondo for this upcoming series.

Stopping Rondo is going to be the key to this series. The Celtics offense refuses to work when the ball isn’t in Rondo’s hands, which is why you see Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett still playing like it’s 2004. When Rondo has the ball, he ends up creating the shots for the older guys like Pierce and Garnett, who would have trouble creating their own shot at this stage in their careers.

Rajon’s court vision and finding teammates in their comfort zones is what enables the C’s to continue being championship contenders year past their expiration date.

He’s able to find these teammates by using the standard pick-and-roll. Of course, when you run it with Kevin Garnett, it works to perfection every time because he’s going to screen Rondo’s defender into oblivion. When that pick-and-roll works, Rondo is left open to do whatever he pleases. He’ll lead on whichever defender stuck with him and pass it back out to the open Garnett, who will make the 20-foot jump shot ten times out of ten.

Also, when Rondo penetrates the lane you may as well just give the Celtics the points before the ball even hits the bottom of the net. Rondo’s ability to score around the rim is taken seriously, which means that you’re going to see just about every Heat defender collapse on him. Miami will get their turnovers, yes, but they will also allow Rondo to get out passes that will find their intended target.

From there, the game is decided on how well the Celtics can hit their jumpers. Boston doesn’t have slashers; they have jump shooters and one post-up player in Garnett who is also arguably the best mid-range shooter on the team. The Heat attempt to win games by allowing their opponents to take jump shots, but Boston has proven in the past that their shooting doesn’t always come to a screeching halt.

In their third meeting of the season with Miami, the Celtics won 115-107 thanks to 60 percent shooting from the field, 9-of-14 shooting from deep and 20-of-25 shooting from the foul line. Boston only had 24 points in the paint–compared to the Heat’s 52–and still found a way to win because of the shooting of guys like Garnett, who shot 11-of-14.

In the second meeting, the Celtics won 91-72 despite getting outscored in the paint 40-34. The first meeting, which ended in the Heat’s only win of the four-game series, had Miami outscoring Boston 52-28. The fourth meeting is a throwaway due to both team’s primarily playing their bench players.

Well, at least we know the Heat have no problem getting into the teeth of the Celtics defense and scoring. That used to be the Heat’s biggest issue when going up against Boston, but with no more Kendrick Perkins, the Heat need not worry. Miami’s biggest problem on defense in the paint will be in the form of rookie Greg Stiemsma, who is averaging nine minutes this postseason. Besides him, it’s Kevin Garnett, Brandon Bass and the wiry Ryan Hollins, who couldn’t keep a job with Charlotte or Cleveland.

So the Celtics won two-of-three meetings with Miami because of jump shooting? Sounds to me like that’s what the Heat wanted coming into a seven-game series. If there’s anything we know about jump shooting teams, it’s that they don’t always last for seven games. You’ll find rare occurrences in teams like last year’s Dallas Mavericks or the 2009 Orlando Magic, but most of the time jump shooting teams will be out by the Finals.

The Celtics have no slashers, especially with Bradley now out for the remainder of the postseason. They’re also not hitting anything from the perimeter as they are currently shooting 28 percent as a team after an awful display of three-point shooting in their series against Philadelphia. In the final game of the series, Boston missed their first 15 three-pointers before Ray Allen hit one at the beginning of the fourth.

So, this team has no healthy slashers, no healthy three-point threats and no large presence in the post, yet they’re going to be the biggest challenge for the Miami Heat because of their mid-range shooting? Somehow, yes, at least until the NBA Finals begin.

Boston can still play excellent team defense–which won’t last for seven games–and can move the ball around extremely efficiently, which has been a huge problem for the Heat defense this year. Despite being able to cover so much ground, Miami’s defense has difficulties in stopping a team that can move the ball around the perimeter. Most of the time, Heat defenders are left frantically chasing the ball before allowing an open jump shot.

Once again, however, an open jump shot is what their opponents will get the majority of the team; a result the Heat will live with in the playoffs. Boston can hit 60 percent of their shots, score 24 points in the paint and win only so many times before something has to give. The Celtics are not going to be able to thrive against the Heat for too long if they expect the mid-range jumper to be the key to winning this series.

Not only will Boston’s offense be put to work against the Heat’s defense, but they’re defense will also be put to work against the Heat’s offense. Dwyane Wade and LeBron James are in a rhythm we’ve never seen them play at before. They’re working together, moving the ball, attacking at all-costs and getting teammates involved; this is what Pat Riley envisioned in 2010. He wanted to see Wade and James work together to make this a whole.

Those two just got done dismantling a Pacers frontcourt with a 7’2″ All-Star center, an All-Star power forward and an All-Star small forward, as well as a backcourt with a 6’8″ shooting guard and a solid point guard. Boston can throw any type of defense at the Heat, but it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be enough to limit the play of Wade and James.

Think about it: the Celtics are going to be chasing Wade and James around the court the entire game on defense. We mean the entire game too, which means a few defenders are going to have to watch those two for up to 40 minutes apiece. Boston doesn’t have those types of players, which is why it hurts so much to lose a young athlete like Bradley who can defend Wade. Instead, it’s going to have to be a hurt Paul Pierce, a hurt Ray Allen, Keyon Dooling and Mikael Pietrus.

Those are your four individual defenders on Dwyane Wade–who averaged 33 ppg last series–and LeBron James, who averaged 32.7 ppg. Chances are that we’ll get to see some Marquis Daniels and Sasha Pavlovic in this series, too, which only means more time for highlight plays by the league’s top duo.

As individuals or as a team, the Celtics are going to be tired by the time the fourth quarter comes around. The drives of Wade and James are going to take a toll on their bodies at the end of each game. It happened in the fourth quarter of each Heat win in their semifinals series last year; Boston was tired by the start of the fourth and couldn’t match the energy level the Heat still had remaining.

Speaking of that series, I hope you haven’t forgotten these precious moments:

When you get tired, the first thing to start going is your legs. A team like the Celtics gets tired rather quickly these days, too. 36-year-old Ray Allen, 35-year-old Kevin Garnett and 34-year old Paul Pierce chasing around 30-year-old Dwyane Wade and 27-year-old LeBron James are match-up’s that I will take every single day of the week. Those three are going to have to be the main contributors on offense, yet the best they can do is take jumpers.

You need healthy, active legs if you’re going to take jump shots for up to 40 minutes in a game as fast as the NBA. Not only is that not going to hold up for seven games, it’s not going to hold up for 48 minutes each game. Boston’s depth is limited and they’re constantly going to need help defenders to exert necessary energy in order to deny the drives of Wade and James.

If they start focusing too heavily on them, it’s going to leave Udonis Haslem open for that jumper he’s finally beginning to hit, Mike Miller open for the three-pointers he just made four of in game 6 against Indiana, Mario Chalmers open to hitting jumpers and possibly even playing aggressive and Shane Battier open to do whatever he does with the ball that he calls basketball.

Individual match-up’s:

Point guard: Rajon Rondo vs Mario Chalmers

This is more lopsided than Tara Reid’s boob job.

It’s just as grotesque, too. Rajon Rondo has one of the highest basketball IQ’s in the league and that stacks up well against Mario Chalmers, who has arguably the lowest basketball IQ in the L. Rondo’s ability to constantly run the pick-and-roll to perfection against the Heat is made possible because Chalmers does not know how to remain in front of Rajon at all times. All he needs is a little bit of space to find his target.

Also, because Rondo doesn’t have a jump shot, it means Heat defenders will constantly sag off of Rondo from 15 feet and further. While this dares Rondo to shoot and limits his drives, it also gives him a cleaner sight of the court since there isn’t a defender in his face shielding him. Like I said before, this guy’s court vision is among the tops in the league and you don’t want to allow him to get off a clean look at a pass.

He’s also one of the league’s top defenders for point guards. Knowing Chalmers and his pedestrian ball-handling, Rondo is going to be looking to exploit that all the time, every time. This is honestly the worst type of match-up for the Heat as it features an excellent defender with court vision against a point guard with poor ball-handling skills and weak court vision.

Advantage: Celtics

Shooting guard: Dwyane Wade vs Ray Allen

Ray Allen has trouble defending Dwyane Wade when he was healthy, what makes you think he’s going to be able to defend him in this condition?

Allen dealt with a sore right ankle that forced him to miss the final few weeks of the regular season and the first two games of the postseason. He had been coming off the bench for the majority of the postseason, but was thrown back into the starting lineup in game 5 against Philadelphia. There wasn’t much of a difference in his production, as he still continued to struggle.

Ray has been shooting horrendously for his standards. The NBA’s all-time leading three-point shooter is converting 41 percent of his shots overall, 27 percent of his three-pointers and a mind-blowing 65 percent of his free throws. The free shooting alone should be an indication of just how hampered Allen has been.

While Allen is still attempting to get his legs back, Wade has found his again and is playing like the Wade that won a scoring championship only three years ago. He averaged 33 points per game in the final three games of the semifinals, including a 41-point game 6 to close it out.

Wade’s doing that against far superior defenders than Allen. This one isn’t nearly as close as it could have been.

Advantage: Heat

Small forward: LeBron James vs Paul Pierce

A match-up that works out heavily in the Miami Heat’s favor mainly because of the Boston Celtics last opponent.

Paul Pierce is getting up there in years. I bring this up now because I fail to see how Pierce is going to be able to play efficient basketball against LeBron James and the Heat after being forced to play against arguably the league’s best wing defender in Andre Iguodala and a stingy Philadelphia 76ers defense. While Pierce managed to hit the 24-point mark on three occasions, he only shot above 50 percent once and shot below 40 percent three times.

Now he gets to be defended by LeBron ‘Where’s my Defensive Player of the Year award’ James? While LeBron may be guarding guys like Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett, he, as well as Shane Battier, will be defending Pierce for the majority of this series. Those two do not allow points to come easy to anyone, which means Pierce is going to have work twice as hard as last series to get his points.

There’s little to say about James’ offense. The guy is a freight train with the engine of an F-16. Danny Granger and an entire Pacers team smashing him in the head for six games couldn’t stop him and neither is a 34-year-old Paul Pierce who has been dealing with knee problems.

Advantage: Heat

Power forward: Udonis Haslem vs Brandon Bass

If Shane Battier ends up defending Brandon Bass, I am personally marching down to the American Airlines Arena and giving Erik Spoelstra a reason to have that constipated look on his face.

That’s the one.

It’ll most likely be Udonis Haslem that ends up defending the Celtics power forward, who was acquired in a trade during the offseason that sent Glen Davis to the Orlando Magic.

Bass has been a solid pickup for the Celtics this year. Not only does he have a far more consistent jump shot and stronger defense than Davis, but he also provides toughness and athleticism that the Celtics could use under the rim. However, size doesn’t appear to be large an issue to the Heat as they actually pounded a much larger Pacers team on the glass a number of times.

Brandon will be another member of the Celtics mid-range coalition and will most likely be put to heavy use. If he’s involved in the pick-and-roll with Rondo, the chances are likely that he’ll get his fair share of points from his comfort zone 15 to 20 feet out.

We’re still not sure what to make of Haslem. He shot well in the final two games of the Heat’s series that he participated in and a performance like the one he had in the fourth quarter of game 4 may have been the confidence boost that he needed to finally get going.

Advantage: Celtics

Center: Kevin Garnett vs Ronny Turiaf

Kevin Garnett is going to have more fun with this match-up than a priest at a church carnival.

Without Chris Bosh’s length, it’s going to be up to Ronny Turiaf to defend Garnett. At 6’10”, he’s the only player on this Heat team who can somewhat match-up with the length of Garnett. Those patented turnaround jumpers and his ability to get as close to the rim as he wants is going to be a huge detriment on the Heat’s success in this series, and should be looked at as the Celtics ticket to consistent scoring.

However, Miami could deny Garnett those entry passes the way they denied Hibbert. What Miami did to make Hibbert’s presence not as significant was to front him with one defender and then have a second defender apply pressure to his back. If he was able to get the ball, he’d run the risk of charging over the help defender or turning the ball over because of the speed of the Heat’s defense.

Garnett, on the other hand, is a lot more aggressive than Hibbert, which means that he will end up getting his fair share of looks from the elbow or wherever else he is feeling comfortable that day.

The most we can hope for out of this match-up is some furious Turiaf celebrating.

Advantage: Celtics

Benches

For the first time in these playoffs, and probably the last, the Heat have the advantage in a match-up when it comes to their bench.

No, it’s not solely because Shane Battier, Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem figured out how to shoot for three games, but because the Celtics bench is absolutely abysmal.

With Avery Bradley no longer to rely on, the Celtics will be looking at Mickael Pietrus as their primary defender on Wade or James. The problem with that is there is only one Pietrus and two of James and Wade. The other problem is that Pietrus can’t guard Wade or James, which essentially renders this last paragraph irrelevant. Sorry for wasting your time.

Besides Pietrus, the Celtics will be unleashing Keyon Dooling, Marquis Daniels and Sasha Pavlovic, as well as post defenders in Ryan Hollins and Greg Stiemsma. The offensive prowess of this bench would make the Charlotte Bobcats blush.

While the Heat’s bench isn’t that much better, there are still reliable defenders and players who can hit a shot once in a blue moon, which is far more than anyone on the Celtics bench can currently say.

Advantage: Heat

Coaching: Doc Rivers vs Erik Spoelstra

This is just as bad as the point guard match-up.

Well, it’s not all that terrible. Spoelstra has been heavily criticized for the past two years, but he did just play a large part in the Miami Heat defeating the Indiana Pacers. Once game 3 concluded, Spoelstra began to force the issue of Wade and James playing off each other, getting the role players involved and running a strict defense that limited the touches Roy Hibbert received.

Hibbert only scored 30 points in the final three games of the series, despite the Heat primarily using the 6’10” Turiaf and the 6’9″ Joel Anthony to defend him.

However, Spoelstra still has a great deal of trouble running an effective offensive system that can consistently score. That might be a problem against a stingy Boston Celtics defense which thrives on physicality and experience. Doc Rivers has trained this team well on the defensive end, as well as on the offensive end where he allows Rondo to do as he pleases while forcing the issue of creating mismatches.

With the Heat defense known for scrambling, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if Garnett ends up getting matched-up with Shane Battier or Dwyane Wade from time-to-time.

Advantage: Celtics

Prediction: Heat in 5

An overzealous prediction, perhaps? Not really. The Miami Heat defeated the Boston Celtics in five games last year with that Heat team being worse and that Celtics team being better and healthier.

It doesn’t matter what people say about the Rajon Rondo elbow injury; if you have an injury where you’re able to return mid-game and you don’t miss any time from it, it’s not as severe and significant as you think it is. After all, the Heat did win the first two games of the series with relative ease. It was doubtful that an elbow injury suffered by the team’s worst shooter would have made all the difference over the next five games.

Even with Rondo healthy, the health of other Celtics is the reason why this series will last five games at most. Avery Bradley was supposed to play a large role defending Dwyane Wade, but it will now probably be guys like Ray Allen and Keyon Dooling defending Wade for the most part.

Pierce is still showing the effects of a nagging knee injury. After a tough series against Iguodala and the Sixers, it’ll be doubtful that he’s going to be able to keep up with LeBron James on both ends of the floor. Mickael Pietrus and Sasha Pavlovic can offer only so much support for Pierce before LeBron eventually gets things going.

Boston’s size in the middle is a significant problem which ended up significantly contributing to the Heat’s victory in last year’s semifinals. With no Kendrick Perkins in the middle, it’ll be up to guys like Greg Stiemsma and Ryan Hollins to hold the fort down. If the Celtics allow Kevin Garnett to play center and command the paint, they run the risk of getting him into foul trouble, which is the worst possible thing that could happen in this series for Boston.

Basically it comes down to how well Dwyane Wade and LeBron James continue to play off each other. Indiana had size, but Boston has discipline and it’ll be interesting to see how they react to Rivers system of defense that has tormented them on many occasions.

Seriously, though, let’s watch this over and over again:

Make sure to watch this, too. It really helps you finish:

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