Sunday, December 21, 2014
6:00 PM ET
Regular Season Game #25, Away Game #10
TV: CSNNE (Boston), Sun Sports (Miami), NBALP (National)
Radio: 1030AM WBZ (Boston), 104.3 The Ticket (Miami)
American Airlines Area (Miami, FL)
For the first time in a long time, the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics will face off against one another with neither of their superstars suiting up. Over the years, Celtics fans such as myself have come to love when the Celtics match up against the Heat. For some reason, Lebron has always brought the best out of Rondo and vice versa. Most Celtics remember Rondo's epic series during the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals where he averaged 20.9 points, 11.3 assists, and 6.9 rebounds. It was the point at which I thought Rondo would start to absolutely dominate the NBA, but injuries and a regression in the overall talent around him never allowed him to play at that level again. While this series has certainly lost the excitement that would've been felt in 2012 (or even last year), it should still be a great game. It is a battle of teams that would be the 7th and 8th seeds in the East if the season ended today.
Another reason this game should be exciting for Celtics fans is that we finally get to see what the "centerpiece" of the Rajon Rondo deal looks like in Celtics green. Brandon Wright is an analytics sweetheart, but he has never been given a role that required him to play more than 18 minutes per game. With the Celtics in desperate needs of some athleticism along their front line, he should have a much larger role here in Boston. I know Celtics fans across the nation feel like we got fleeced in the Rajon Rondo deal, but I want to give Wright a chance to prove his worth before I decide that he wasn't worthy of being the centerpiece of a blockbuster deal. Some guys just need an opportunity to prove that they are ready to break out, and with Wright's productivity in limited minutes, there is a decent chance he could be one of those guys. Jameer Nelson and Jae Crowder will also make their debut on Sunday night, but with their positions so crowded, it is hard for me to envision a steady role early on.
PG: Evan Turner vs. Mario Chalmers
SG: Avery Bradley vs. Dwayne Wade
SF: Jeff Green vs. Luol Deng
PF: Jared Sullinger vs. Udonis Haslem
C: Tyler Zeller vs. Chris Anderson
Celtics: Marcus Smart (Achilles, Day-to-Day), Vitor Faverani (Knee, Out)
Heat: Chris Bosh (Calf, Out), Danny Granger (Illness, Day-to-Day)
Key Matchup: Avery Bradley vs. Dwayne Wade
While Dwayne Wade has surely seen the effects of father time over the last few years, he is still a superstar when healthy and able to play. Avery Bradley has been struggling with his shot, but it is important that he locks down defensively and tries to minimize Wade's impact on the game. Hopefully, Avery Bradley will be able to break out of his shooting slump while locking down the future hall-of-famer. The argument could also be made that the Jeff Green and Luol Deng matchup is the most important, but if Bradley is able to shut Wade down, the Celtics stand a much better chance at extending their winning streak to 4 games.
Player to Watch:
Most Celtics fans know that Kelly Olynyk has been on a tear lately. He has been performing well in every facet of the game. Olynyk has been an adept passer, a lethal scorer, and a competent defender (yes you read that correctly). The Celtics just seem to be better off when Olynyk is on the floor. While there are a lot of games where Olynyk's value is intangible, he has a recent streak of dominant box scores running. Olynyk just seems more aggressive as the primary scorer coming off of the bench, and the Celtics stand a good chance of extending their winning streak to 4 games if he continues his stellar play.
Keys to the Game:
Ball Movement: The Celtics had some of their best ball movement of the season last game against the Timberwolves. WIth Rondo now suiting up for the Mavericks, it will be important to make up his playmaking by committee.
Bench Play: The Celtics bench has been playing very well as of late. With Kelly Olynyk in the zone and Marcus Smart healthy and hitting clutch shots, the Celtics bench has the opportunity to become one of its major strengths.
Pace: While this has been a recurring theme throughout the season, pace is probably more important now than it has ever been. With such a young team lacking dominant scorers and playmakers, beating teams up the floor and scoring easy buckets will take some of the scoring and playmaking burden off of the Celtics.