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Game day is finally here and excitement throughout Celtics Nation is very high. The Heat and Celtics face off for the first of four meetings between these rivals. The Heat and Celtics met four times during the 2011-12 regular season with Boston winning the season series, 3-1. They also faced off
in the Eastern Conference Finals, marking the third straight post-season that the two teams were matched against each other in the playoffs. The Heat won the series, 4-3. Overall during the regular season the Celtics are 61-38 all-time against the Heat, and are 28-23 in games played in Miami.
Doc Rivers has made the Heat the #1 enemy of the Celtics by playing the Eastern Conference Finals games on a continuous loop in the locker room all during training camp. Even the new players now hate the Heat. There is also added intrigue to the rivalry with Ray Allen turning his back on the Celtics to join the enemy. There have been many words back and forth this preseason and now it comes down to putting it all on the court.
We know that Jason Terry badly wants to out-play Ray. Ray wants to stick it to the Celtics more than he already has. The Celtics need to look past their desire to beat their old teammate for his defection and his jabs at the team in recent interviews, however and play team ball, concentrating on playing as a team and stopping the Heat as a team. Like Doc said, if all they focus on is Ray, they will lose by 40.
The starting lineup is likely to be the one posted below. Rondo, Lee, Pierce and KG are a pretty safe bet to start. However, as late as an hour ago, Doc was not sharing who would start at power forward. We can speculate that it will be Brandon Bass, who started there last season. However Doc has said that he will use 3 different lineups this season with Bass, Green and Sullinger rotating at the 4. I don't see Doc starting a rookie in the very first game. So, I'm guessing it will be Bass, but Doc could surprise and start Green (or really surprise) and start Sully.
Another side note is that the Heat will be receiving their Championship rings in a ceremony before tip off. Back in 2008 when the Celtics received their rings on opening night against the Cavs, LeBron chose to remain in the locker room rather than watching the proceedings. Doc has said today that he will keep his team in the locker room during the ring ceremony.
Probable Starting Matchups
Rajon Rondo vs Mario Chalmers
Courtney Lee vs Dwyane Wade
Paul Pierce vs LeBron James
Brandon Bass vs Shane Battier
Kevin Garnett vs Chris Bosh
Avery Bradley (shoulders) out
Rajon Rondo vs Mario Chalmers
Rondo has taken the mantle of leader this season, off the court as well as on the court. I expect him to be very aggressive both on offense and on defense and will take advantage of all the new offensive weapons that the Celtics have this season.
Paul Pierce vs LeBron James
This is always a tough matchup for any team. Expect Jeff Green to get the call to cover LeBron some of the time in this game. Green has been effective in the past guarding him and so should take some of the pressure off of Pierce by doing so. Green will also be a tough cover for LeBron with his strength and quickness.
Jason Terry vs Ray Allen
Ever since the Celtics signed Jason Terry and Ray Allen bolted for South Beach, this matchup has been much anticipated. Hopefully Jet just plays his game and doesn't get too caught up in trying to outgun Ray. Ray has been a liability on defense in recent years and Jet needs to go at him to exploit that.
Courtney Lee vs Dwyane Wade
Avery Bradley proved to be a Wade stopper but until Avery comes back, Courtney Lee will get the call to guard him. CLee is a good defender and has the size to cover Wade. He will also make Wade have to work on defense.
Keys to the Game
Both teams pride themselves on their defense. In the preseason, the Celtics struggled with pick and roll defense but hopefully they have had a chance to work out the kinks during their practices between their last preseason game and this one. Defense is always a key to winning.
Last season, the Celtics ranked last in rebounding most of the season. They have to work on improving their rebounding this season. It won't matter that we have more scorers on the team if they can't get the ball. Much of rebounding is desire and effort and they have to work on the boards. Jared Sullinger's knack for getting rebounds should help, but it has to be a team effort.
One of the Celtics biggest problems in the preseason was that they turned the ball over way too much. They have to be careful with their passes and take care of the ball. As Doc said in the preseason, it doesn't matter if you have 15 talented players, if you turn the ball over too many times, you won't win many games.
One of the Celtics weaknesses last season was not having enough firepower off the bench. With the addition of Jason Terry, Leandro Barbosa, Jeff Green, and Jared Sullinger, the Celtics should have scoring and rebounding off the bench. Their depth should be one of their strengths this season. The Heat have also added to their bench including former Celtic Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, along with having a healthy Mike Miller.
Monty McCutchen -
Monty McCutchen has officiated 1,138 regular season, 94 playoff, and six Finals games. He worked the 2007 NBA All-Star Game in Las Vegas and was a member of the crews that officiated the 1996 and 1997 Mexico Challenges, as well as the 1998 Schick Rookie Game. Prior to joining the NBA, McCutchen spent four seasons in the CBA, where he worked the All Star game his second year and the playoffs all four years. He also officiated the CBA Finals the last three years he was with the league. McCutchen missed the 1998-99 season with a ruptured Achilles tendon. He is a former elementary and middle school teacher and is fondly remembered by his students as a really nice guy.
In searching for information on him, I found a Cavs' blog that blamed a loss to the Celtics on the officiating of Monty McCutchen. That was the game where Mike Brown was ejected and the Cavs made a furious comeback but fell short. In game 2 of the WCF, McCutchen flipped out on someone and yelled "I'm running this game not you!" as Serge Ibaka went to the line for free throws. Other than that, there's not a lot of controversy about him. The Celtics are 7-3 in their last 10 games with McCutchen while Miami is 5-5 in their last 10 with McCutchen.
Fitzgerald has officiated 175 games in his three seasons as an NBA official. Fitzgerald started refereeing at the age of 18 at the high school level in New Jersey. Prior to the NBA, he had professional experience in the NBA D-League for four years (2005-2009) and the WNBA for two years (2008 and 2009). He also refereed NCAA Division I basketball in the Ohio Valley, Atlantic Sun and Big South Conferences for two years (2004 - 2006).
You may remember Fitzgerald from two seasons ago when he gave KG a very quick pair of technicals (from about 30 feet away) and tossed him in the 2nd quarter of the Celtics 104-101 win over the Knicks (in which Amare scored 30). In another outing that season with the Celtics, the loss to the Bobcats in Charlotte, he tossed Stephen Jackson after 2 quick questionable T's. His quickness in giving technicals dates back to his days in the D-league where he was close to the top in calling technical fouls there as well. The Celtics are 7-3 in their last 10 games with Fitzgerald and Miami is 3-7 in their last 10 games.
Wright has officiated 406 regular season and nine playoff games in his seven seasons. Prior to joining the NBA, Wright was an official in the NBA Development League, where he participated in the playoffs in 2003-04 and the championship game in 2005. Wright’s collegiate officiating experience includes working in the SEC, Colonial, Big South, Southern Ohio Valley, Atlantic Sun and Southwestern Athletic Conferences. He participated in the Ohio Valley Conference championship in 2003 and the Men’s NCAA Division II tournament in 2004. He officiated the Eduardo Najera Foundation charity basketball game in 2006 and the Terrell Owens Foundation charity basketball game in 2005.
Last season, Wright called a loss vs Detroit where the Pistons took 46 free throws to just 15 for the Celtics. Tommy Heinsohn called it the worst officiated game of the season. It was Sean Wright that Rondo threw the ball at resulting in his ejection and suspension (which apparently was only suspendable for Rondo since Noah also threw the ball at a ref and got no suspension). Another notable game from last year was against the Bobcats where Wright and McCutchen where the teams shot a total of 80 free throws between them. There were 45 free throws for the Bobcats and 35 for the Celtics. It was very tough to watch. The Celtics are 6-4 in their last 10 games with Wright while the Heat are 5-5 in their last 10 with him.
Rust vs Rest & Officials
The Celtics haven't played in 8 days. The Heat finished their preseason on Friday. Hopefully the Celtics will be ready and won't have any rust from the long layoff while the Heat have been playing all along.
Anyone who watched the games last season knows that the Heat got special treatment from the refs. It will be interesting to see whether that special treatment continues now that LeBron has his title. It will also be interesting to see if the league calls him on his flops or as with everything else, let him get away with them.