The Celtics finally have made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. There were times against the Sixers when it seemed like they might not make it, in spite of being heavily favored in that series. Now, absolutely no one is picking the Celtics to win this series. One big reason is the loss of Avery Bradley who proved to be the Wade stopper this season. Without him and with Ray struggling, it seems to be an uphill battle in spite of the fact that the Heat are not expected to have Bosh in this series.
There will be no breaks in this series and games are scheduled for every other night. There will be questions about the Celtics age and whether they will have enough left after a tough 7 game series in the semifinals to pull this one out. One thing I know is that you never underestimate the heart of a champion. This Celtics team has pride and they will reach down deep and fight to the end, win or lose.
The Celtics will need to get production from their bench, which hasn't been all that productive so far. The Heat's bench is weak and if the Celtics can get some points, rebounds and defense from their bench, that could be a huge advantage.
One thing the Celtics must watch out for is the Heat's thuggish behavior. They broke Rondo's arm last season to get past the Celtics and they showed their true selves in the Indiana series with a couple of very hard flagrant fouls that could have easily injured a player.
The Celtics beat the Hawks without home court and then had home court in the Philly series, which was great to have with the series going to a game 7. Once again, the Celtics will start the series on the road. They are going to need to win in Miami in order to win the series. Unlike in their championship season, they were able to win on the opponents' court in both of their first 2 series this year. Hopefully they can do it again in this series.
The Celtics need Rondo to play his best in every game because as we have seen so many times, when Rondo has an off game, so does the entire team. The regular season, where the Celtics won the series 3-1, doesn't mean anything now. The Celtics can win this series, but it won't be easy. Then again, when has this team ever liked anything that was easy?
Probable Starting Matchups
Rajon Rondo 19.0 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 12.0 APG 1.0 SPG
Mario Chalmers 11.3 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.0 SPG
Ray Allen 9.9 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.2 APG, .269 3P%
Dwyane Wade 23.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.6 APG, .294 3P%
Paul Pierce 19.3 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 3.5 APG
LeBron James 29.0 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 5.9 APG
Brandon Bass 11.7 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 0.7 APG, 0.6 BPG
Shane Battier 4.8 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1.1 APG, 0.7 BPG
Kevin Garnett 19.2 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.5 BPG
Ronny Turiaf 2.0 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 0.1 APG, 0.9 BPG
Paul Pierce (knee) probable
Mickael Pietrus (hamstring) probable
Ray Allen (ankle) probable
Greg Stiemsma (feet) probable
Avery Bradley (shoulder) out
Chris Bosh (ab strain) out
Dexter Pittman (suspension) out
Rajon Rondo vs Mario Chalmers
It's pretty obvious to anyone who has followed the Celtics at all that as Rondo goes, so go the Celtics. As the stage gets bigger, so does Rondo's play, it seems. The Heat really don't have an answer for him and so this matchup favors the Celtics. Chalmers is capable of hitting some big shots so the Celtics need to guard him, especially beyond the arc. We may see Rondo covering Wade at times if Ray's ankles are still limiting him and we may also see LeBron on Rondo to try to slow him down since Chalmers isn't a great defender.
Paul Pierce vs LeBron James
This is a tough matchup for Paul Pierce, especially if his knee is still not 100%. LeBron has been playing very well and will be very tough to contain but the Celtics must try to slow him down. Pierce has been struggling with his shot but has been going to the basket and drawing fouls. In this series, something tells me he won't be getting the calls and so will have to finish at the rim or get his jumpers to fall.
Kevin Garnett vs Ronny Turiaf
KG has been playing inspired basketball. He has the advantage in this matchup, whether it is Turiaf or Anthony that they matchup against him at center. The Celtics will need KG to continue to play at this level if they hope to get past Miami. Turiaf won't be as easy to intimidate as Bosh was.
Ray Allen vs Dwyane Wade
Wade struggled to begin the series with Indiana and then reportedly had his knee drained (or an extra dose of steroids) and he came on strong to help the Heat finish that series. This is where Avery Bradley will be missed the most. He was very effective in guarding Wade and Ray, especially playing with the ankle injury, will struggle to keep up with him. It would be great if Ray would find his shot again in this series and make Wade have to chase him through screens and not allow him to back off. We may see some Rondo, or possibly Pietrus, on Wade if Ray continues to struggle.
Brandon Bass vs Shane Battier
According to their game notes, the Heat are sticking with Battier at the 4 instead of Haslem. Against Battier, Bass needs to stay with him as he is a threat from beyond the arc. Hopefully Bass will continue his hot shooting from the end of the last series. Bass will need to play well on both ends of the court. We know that the Heat's 2 stars will get their points and so containing the supporting cast will be key to getting a win.
Spoelstra has gotten a lot of criticism for the Heat's performance or lack there of early in the LeBron/Wade era. But recently he has been also getting credit for their improvement. However, Doc is still the more experienced coach and should have the advantage here. The more intense the games, the more having an experienced coach is important and so the coaching advantage goes to the Celtics.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Both teams pride themselves on their defense. In the playoffs so far, The Celtics are #1 holding teams to 83.9 points per game and 40.8% shooting. The Heat are right behind them at #2 holding teams to 85.6 points and 41.1% shooting. This will be a defensive battle and neither team can afford to let up on their defensive efforts.
Rebound - The Celtics have to limit the Heat's second chance baskets and fast breaks by crashing the boards. The amount of effort put into winning the rebound battle often follows through to the other areas of the game. The Celtics must be aggressive in beating the Heat to rebounds on both ends of the floor. The Celtics are ranked 10th in rebounding in the post season and the Heat are ranked 14th with 39.6 per game. But then again, the Celtics have had more rebounds to get in their series with how horribly both teams shot the ball. In this series, every player must make it a priority to go after rebounds.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics have got to be aggressive in getting to the basket and not settle for jumpers all game. They also have to be aggressive in diving for loose balls and winning the 50-50 battles. The Celtics can't afford to give up possessions by failing to hustle after loose balls and after rebounds. They also must go to the basket especially if the jumpers aren't falling.
Team Ball - The Celtics need to play team ball. When they move the ball and make the extra pass and find the open man and play as a team, they are tough to beat. When they revert to hero ball and there is little ball movement and they settle for quick shots, they rarely win. Rondo is a big part of keeping the ball moving and setting up the offense and so hopefully he will be at his best in this series. They need team play to beat the Heat, who depend on their 2 stars to do most of the scoring.
Bench Play - One of the weaknesses of the Heat is their bench. Their bench is not very deep. The Celtics bench is also not very deep at this point due to injuries. If the Celtics can get quality minutes from Stiemsma and Hollins at center and from both Dooling and Pietrus and possibly Marquis and Sasha, that will give the Celtics a boost and it will also give the starters some much needed rest to be fresh at the end of the game.
Malloy has officiated 577 regular season NBA games and 22 playoff games over the past nine seasons. He officiated his first two Finals games during the 2010-11 season. Prior to joining the NBA, Malloy officiated for one season in the
NBA D-League, three seasons in the CBA and three seasons in the WNBA. He worked the 2002 DLeague Finals and the 2001 CBA Finals. In 2003, when Doc was with Orlando, Malloy called a technical foul on Andrew DeClercq for staring. Doc called it one of the worst calls he ever saw (boy has he seen a lot worse since then!)and he said that he felt that Malloy had been intimidated all night. Fast forward to the Celtics game in Utah last season when Malloy, no longer intimidated, called 2 quick technicals on Doc and ejected him. Here is Doc's version of those calls.
"I just told Ed [Malloy], please keep officiating the game," said Rivers. "That’s all I said. I thought the play before [the technical] was a clear travel in front of him. So I just said, ‘Hey Ed, it’d be nice if you’d keep officiating throughout.’ He gave me a tech. Then I said, ‘That’s the best call you’ve made all night.’ Usually, it’s nice to earn them, but [Monday's technicals were] another bad call."
Malloy was also on the crew that officiated game 1 of the Miami series in the 2010 playoffs where 5 technicals were called and Kevin Garnett was ejected. He also officiated game 1 of the Heat series last season. In that game, after ignoring a flagrant foul by James Jones and then a second flagrant foul by Dwyane Wade, Malloy ejected Pierce for technicals when he objected to both flagrants against him in lest than a minute. The Celtics are 3-1 this season including game 2 vs the Hawks in the playoffs. The Celtics shot 31 free throws in that game vs 20 for the Hawks. He also called game 5 in the Philly series in which the Celtics shot 33 free throws to 16 for the Sixers. The loss was in Dallas where the Celtics shot 11 free throws to 14 for the Mavs and they let them play for the most part. Another win was vs New Jersey in the regular season where the Nets shot 28 free throws to 17 for the Celtics. They are 7-3 in their last 10 games with Malloy as an official. The Heat are are 3-3 this season and 5-5 over their last 10 games with Malloy as a ref. His home W/L record is 39-20.
Entering his 27th NBA season, Dan Crawford has officiated 1,770 regular season and 256 playoff games, including 25 NBA Finals games. During his NBA tenure, Crawford has officiated the 1994 and 2001 NBA All-Star Games, and the 1992 Japan Games in Yokohama. Prior to joining the NBA, Crawford spent four years officiating in the CBA. He has eight years of collegiate officiating experience and officiated the 1983 and 1984 National Junior College Nationals. Crawford has been honored for his achievements in the Northeastern (Ill.) Wall of Fame. Crawford was a member of the Northeastern University basketball team. After one of the Celtics playoff games in Chicago in round 1 in 2008, there was some controversy when he was seen leaving the arena with his family all decked out in Chicago Bulls gear. He's been in the news lately because he has been accused of having a bias against Marc Cuban because the Mavs were 2-16 in games officiated by Crawford last season and Cuban has been very vocal about it. The Celtics are 1-4 this season and are 4-6 over their last 10 games with Crawford officiating. One loss this season was the Celtics only loss vs Miami in which the Heat shot 8 more free throws than the Celtics. The second loss was to he Knicks where NY shot 17 free throws to 34 for the Celtics. The third loss was the 1 point loss in game 5 in Atlanta where the Celtics shot 15 free throws to 14 for the Hawks and the officiating was pretty good and they let them play on both sides. The last loss was game 2 in the Philly series. The Celtics shot 9 free throws to 21 for the Sixers. With 10 seconds to go, they called an offensive foul on KG for setting a screen. They let them play for 3 quarters and then tightened the calls up on the Celtics. The win was over New Jersey where the Nets shot 10 free throws to 21 for the Celtics. The Heat are 5-2 this season and 7-3 over their last 10 games. His home W/L record is 35-26 this season.
Phillips has officiated 716 regular season games and 19 playoff games since joining the NBA officiating staff 12 seasons ago. He officiated his first two Finals games during the 2010-11 season. In addition, Phillips has six seasons of experience officiating in the CBA, working the 1999 CBA Finals. He also officiated three seasons in the WNBA, working the 1999 WNBA Finals. Phillips spent five years officiating at the high school level in his home state of Texas. The Celtics are 5-2 this season and they are 6-4 over their last 10 games with Phillips as a ref. One loss this season was to Chicago where the Celtics shot 13 free throws to 21 for the Bulls. One win, Charlotte shot 20 free throws to 8 for the Celtics and another win was against Cleveland where the Cavs shot 25 free throws to 14 for the Celtics and the refs let the Cavs hack and trip all night with no calls. The ignored Ray Allen being tripped in a one point game down the stretch. The 3rd win was against the Clippers where the Celtics shot 27 free throws to 21 for LA. The 4th win was vs the Timberwolves where the Wolves shot 25 free throws to 11 for the Celtics and the refs let Minny get away with a lot of contact. The final win of the season was vs the Nets in which the Celtics shot 22 free throws to 14 for the Nets. The second loss was game 2 vs the Sixers that he officiated along with Dan Crawford in which KG was called for the offensive foul with 10 seconds left and a chance to win the game. It was Phillips and crew that got Tommy to swear on the air last season about the refs falling for all the blank blank flops. The Heat are 1-1 this season and 6-4 with Phillips over their last 10. He isn't influenced by the home crowd with a home W/L record this season of 29-28.
Rust vs Rest & Officials
The Heat have been off since Thursday and have had a chance to rest some and heal some nagging injuries. The Celtics have had just one day off and are battling an array of injuries and could have used some rest themselves. Pierce has said that he would rather keep playing instead of sit around but with the older legs and the injuries, they could have used at least another day off.
Anyone who has watched the Heat this year knows that they get way more then their share of the calls in a game. LeBron averaged less than 1 personal foul a game in the series vs Indiana. For a player that drives into the paint with his shoulder dipped down like a linebacker and who pushes and shoves on every rebound, that is pretty unbelievable. Ed Malloy has ejected a Celtics from game 1 vs the Heat in the past two years. Hopefully he doesn't continue that streak this year. We know that Miami will get the calls and the Celtics need to be ready for that and play through the bad calls and no calls. It would be huge if the officials call the game fairly.