Time: 8:00 PM EST, Thursday November 11th, 2010
Venue: American Airlines Arena
Officials: Monty McCutchen, Pat Fraher, Derek Richardson
TV: TNT, TSN Radio: ESPN, WEEI
The last time these two teams met there was an anticipation that was almost unprecedented in a regular season NBA game. I've seen countless Christmas day match-ups between 'rivals', the Shaq/Kobe battles after the diesel left Los Angeles, none of it came close to the hype that surrounded the first game of the regular season.
In the end neither team played up to its potential. The Celtics won by an 8 point margin, but play on both sides was incredibly sloppy, and neither teams' play was especially inspired. Usually games like those are almost painful to watch, but there is an added sense of urgency between these two teams. Both teams really WANT beat the other. The Heat are a team still searching for an identity. They've had one really convincing victory, a 'scary' domination of the conference finalist Orlando Magic. Other than against Orlando though, the Heat are 1-3 against teams with winning records. While the past All-Star appearances and MVP campaigns of superfriends LeBron James, Dywane Wade, and Chris Bosh give the Heat privileged positions in Power Rankings, and their blowout wins against lesser teams give the Heat a good overall statistical resume, in the end the Miami Hype have as much or more to prove about who they are than any other team in the league.
The Celtics on the other hand are playing the same old song, just in a different key. Once again the injury bug has hit our boys, but now it is the centers who are bearing the brunt. As of yesterday, there were three possibile scratches for tonight's game; Kendrick Perkins, who is out indefinitely; then Shaquille and Jermaine O'Neal, both of whom are day-to-day heading into tonight's game. Now, we've found out today that Semih Erden, this season's fan lightening rod, requires surgery on his shoulder. Per Chris Forsberg:
Rivers did note that even Erden is banged up, too, nursing a left shoulder ailment that Rivers suggested will eventually need surgery.
Needless to say, Kendrick Perkins can't return soon enough from offseason ACL surgery.
"[Erden's] shoulder is what it is, it’s not in great shape," said Rivers. "He'll have to have something done on it eventually. We’re just hoping to get through the year, at least get through to [Perkins' return]. That’s basically what we’re thinking. We basically have to, somehow, get these three guys to survive until Perk comes back, and that’s what we’re trying to do."
But, even this can't put a damper on tonight's game tonight for me. I remember before the Orlando series in 2009, Kevin Garnett was hurt, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce weren't 100%, and we weren't really sure just how good Rajon Rondo or Glen Davis were. Nobody gave Boston a chance, but the boys in green managed to take eventual Eastern Conference Champs to 7 games. This is a team that sees adversity in big games as a challenge, not an excuse.
Probable Starting Lineups
Injuries and Stuff: Jermaine O'Neal (DOUBTFUL), Shaquille O'Neal (PROB), Delonte West (SUSP), Kendrick Perkins (PIRATE), Avery Bradley (OUT)
Injuries And Stuff: Mike Miller (OUT)
Match-up Of The Night: Joe-Elle Anthony V Shaquille O'Neal
Shaquille O'Neal hasn't surpassed 23 minutes in any one of the three games he's played so far this season, but he's sat out the last 5 games with a bruised knee, and he's been eager to play. Since the Celtics have Friday off, I think it is a good bet that O'Neal, if he does play, and if he can stay out of foul trouble, will play as long as his knee will let him tonight.
Shaq and Anthony have played 6 games against each other since 08-09, and in those games Shaq is averaging around 25 minutes per contest in those six games, and he's getting around 15 points and 7 boards. If Shaq can get 25 minutes tonight I expect those numbers or better against Anthony. Miami is incredibly weak down low, and they've been very reluctant to use any of their deeper (and bigger) bench guys for extended periods of time. Shaq should have Anthony, Haslem, and maybe some time with Big Zydrunas Ilgauskas. None of those guys should be able to stop Shaq from getting where he wants in the paint, so as long as the big fella's hook shot is falling, we ought to expect a good game from the big diesel.
Three Keys For The Good Guys:
1) Rondo Hungry! Feed Rondo!!!- Rajon Rondo will likely draw one of three guys: Carlos Arroyo, Eddie House, or Mario Chalmers. Now, none of these guys are "bad" players, but none of them can hang with Rondo in a normal role, let alone the reduced role that Miami is currently giving its point guards. Rondo is currently 2nd in the NBA in steals, and he'll take the talent that got him there all over Miami's court tonight. He'll be able to play off his man a lot during the game, giving him the opportunities he needs to jump passing lanes and disrupt Miami's offense.
When Boston has the ball, Rondo should have no problem getting past his man and to the cup. Because of that, either Miami will instruct their guys to back way off Rondo and give him room to move, or they'll put Dywane Wade on Rondo. Either one of those things helps Boston's chance to win. When guys back off Rondo daring him to shoot, they're also daring him to well, be daring. With that much room Rondo can really see the floor and make his teammates' jobs much easier with obscenely open looks.
2) Oh Dude, That's Foul!- Fouls are going to be an issue. LeBron, Dywane, and Bosh are all very good at putting the ball on the floor for their respective positions, and they're going to get to the hoop. Expect one of Garnett/Davis/Shaq to get into foul trouble early. That's a storm we can weather though. What this team can't weather is two of them getting into trouble early. If Miami's smart they'll be taking the ball to the hoop early and often.
3) They're Long, But Not Strong, And We're 'Bout To Get The Friction On!- On defense, Miami is no joke. Excepting maybe Eddie House, everyone in their 10 man rotation is super athletic, and/or freakishly long. LeBron James is an All-NBA Defender, and beyond him Udonis Haslem, Dywane Wade, and Joel Anthony are all decent defenders. What Miami cannot do however is deal with physical play. Inside, they're not built for it, and that weakness permeates every aspect of their game. Miami cannot play the slow-down, hard hitting style Cleveland used to with LeBron. What they can do though is disrupt offenses with their quickness and their length, and score points like buckets in transition. LeBron James, Dywane Wade, and Chris Bosh make Miami probably the most capable transition team in the NBA. Boston needs to take care of the ball if they want to win here, and they need to play physically. Another huge part of that is rebounds; Chris Bosh only has 2 offensive rebounds through the last 5 games. Boston should have no problem getting boards.
So, In Conclusion: Tonight's game should be close, and it should be tough. Both teams have gotten better since game 1, and both teams are finding they still have something to prove to one another. Both Boston and Miami are prone to periods of stagnation on offense, so expect multiple momentum shifting scoring outbursts, from both teams.