Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Celtics/Heat Mid-Series Check-In from Two Haters

Similar to yesterday's mid-series check-in on Spurs/Thunder with our man Thunderstolt, today two pathetic Lakers apologists bring you our updated thoughts on the Eastern Conference Finals match-up between the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat. 

The CDP and I have been fascinated in a series that like the Western Conference Finals, has taken a turn for the unexpected. In a two-game swing, Rajon Rondo and the C's have stormed back into the scrum where they were once not only left for dead, but reanimated as a Zombie and then put back down by Mila Jovovich. 

As a hardcore pathetic Lakers apologist, I'm going through a bevy of emotions on a night to night basis rooting for either the Celtics or Heat. I find that I'm consistently pulling for the team that's losing to win, hoping that every contest ends in a heart-breaking last second shot and ultimately in Game 7, just hours before the tip, all members of both teams get a debilitating, but eventually curable case of syphilis and they just have to cancel the Eastern Conference Finals. 

My sociopath tendencies aside, let's press on. Last night, the Thunder were able hand the Spurs their third consecutive loss after their 20 game winning streak, heading back to Oklahoma City with a 3-2 lead in their back pocket. Will the Heat be able to do the same?  

KOBEsh: Most of us on MAMBINO were calling for Miami in five games, or perhaps even the disgraceful sweep. If you had to distill the key to the Celtics' evening of this series, what would it be? Or could you even do that? 

The CDP: Interesting question. I think we're all a little surprised that Boston was able to strike back and really hit Miami in the mouth. There's no doubt that this C's squad is a veteran squad brimming with pride, but their team has less depth than ever and serious injury problems. Although there is no doubt that Miami is missing Chris Bosh, Ray Allen needs surgery and only came alive in Game 4. I'll be very interested to see how Miami reacts - will they fold like a house of cards or show the resolve of a champion? 

Boston has made an impressive series of adjustments and their stars have risen their game to accompany the stakes. Here's what I've seen Boston do right to even up the series:
  • Starting Strong: Instead of digging themselves a hole and trying to claw their way out, which would play into Miami's strengths, Boston has been impressively focused to begin games. Dwayne Wade was totally shut down in the first half of Games 3 and 4, while Boston went back into the locker room with the luxury of a double-digit lead. With Miami relying on Wade and LeBron so much, it takes a lot of effort for them to come back from these kinds of deficits.
  • Find a Way to Score: Miami is still a defensive team at heart and uses their athletic defenders to force turnovers and fuel its transition game.  On the back of a resurgent KG, a stunningly dominant Rondo, and some big games from Paul Pierce, Boston has been able to score points against this Miami defense, putting well over 100/game after only managing to score 79 in Game 1. 
  • Role Players:  There's no doubt that Miami overpaid Mike Miller/Joel Anthony and Shane Battier has been a bit of disappointment, but Boston played Keyon Dooling/Michael Pietrus/Marquis Daniel nearly 60 minutes in both Games 3 and 4. And won. Think about that! Boston always seems to get these kinds of performances from their role players when it matters. I'll never forget Leon Powe and PJ Brown burning my Lakers in the NBA Finals a few years ago. I'm still convinced the C's don't win in 2008 without those two.
  • Effective Team Defense: Although Boston hasn't been able to shut down Miami exactly, they did a few things in their victories that made the difference for them. First of all, they played tough defense on LeBron and Wade without giving them free throws. Boston actually went to the line more in Games 3 and 4, where Wade only got 5 free throws total.  In addition, Wade really struggled and shot poorly in both games in Boston, partially a result of Boston's swarming defense. LeBron still looked all-world, but limiting his free throws and his teammates was enough for Boston to get two W's at home.
This version of Miami is a two-headed beast that requires big games from LeBron AND Wade to win. If Boston can continue to disrupt Wade and make LeBron work for his points, their chance of an upset is a lot higher than we all thought a week ago.

Totally in agreement on all points. Watching the last two games, it's more apparent than ever that this is a Boston is the better overall TEAM, whereas the Heat clearly have the best player. LeBron has gone atomic these playoffs, but aside from his late 3 the other night, has largely disappeared in the fourth quarter, in a twist that I'm sure delights Bron's paid-by-the-hour manicurist.

Chris Bosh is a game-time decision for the Heat tonight. As I've said many many times before, Bosh is the key to Miami's offense and the most indispensable of South Beach's All-Stars; without his perimeter shooting, the floor isn't spaced enough for LeBron or Wade to get into the paint. Both of those guys aren't great jump-shooters, Wade in particular, and it's showed heavily in their two losses. With Bosh, I think this series would have been an easy 5 games for the Heat. If he plays in Game 5 (as well as whatever games are left after tonight), are you feeling like he'll have as big of an effect on the game as I do?

There’s no doubt that Boston is playing team basketball to perfection right now, which is what we knew they’d have to do to stand a chance in this series. At the moment, Boston has Miami on its heels and is counting on the return of a (mostly?) healthy Chris Bosh to regain control.  I tend to agree with you on all-fronts about the impact Bosh could have on the Heat and that this series might have been over tonight with him healthy.

Miami is a star-driven team, the basketball equivalent of having a Curt Schilling /Randy Johnson pitching combination. A couple of big performances from those two can seal a series. Likewise, with the Miami Heat, LeBron and Wade are good for 3-4 mind-blowing performances that can win a game on their own. All that they need is a big game or two from Bosh, Chalmers, or the Battier/Miller tandem to prevail in a series with relative ease. Unfortunately, the role players haven’t amounted to much this series. Chalmers has had decent offensive production, but failed to stop Rondo on the other end. Aside from Mario, the Heat role players have only mustered one double-digit performance in each game. It’s not enough.

Slimmer is better, but ugly is still ugly
Enter Chris Bosh. As a starter, he’ll soak up minutes and allow LeBron to go back to his natural position as a SF. Through 4 games, LBJ hasn’t played less than 43 minutes and has played 47 minutes twice, most of those minutes at PF. LeBron is a great PF option for a few minutes at a time, but it’s wearing him out and part of the reason he’s disappearing at the end of games. The Heat are thin, but particularly in their front court. Here’s a list of names they tried to throw at the problem over the last two years: Erick Dampier, Eddy Curry (yes that one, but he’s thinner now), Joel Anthony, Dexter Pittman, Ronnie Turiaf, and Juwan Howard. Not a keeper in the bunch – especially in 2012 – but there’s no doubt replacing ANY of these guys with someone who’s even smelled an All-Star game is a big improvement.

Bosh will make his biggest contribution on offense. Through four games, Miami has played good enough defense to beat Boston and held their own on the boards. Miami has been outrebounded only once through four games and thumped Boston by over 10 boards twice. In addition to an offensive pulse and SOME production from the center position, you’re right that Bosh’s shooting in particular adds a whole new dimension to the Miami offensive sets. Bosh sets great screens and is the only decent midrange shooter (sorry 2009 version of Udonis Haslem) on the roster. This enables him to pick and pop or serve as a safety valve for LBJ and D-Wade, both in the halff-court and in transition.

Through Game 4, the Heat have either gotten layups or three-pointers, with not much in between. Boston has played them perfectly defensively, clogging the middle to make Miami jump shooters and doubling LeBron and Wade like no one else mattered. Now, Boston has to treat the Heat as if there are more than two players on the floor. As a result, the Heat will benefit immensely from more generous spacing and less double teams with Bosh around. I expect this to be a totally different series if he can come back healthy, but otherwise I think the Celtics have the swagger and game plan to push the Heat to 7 or even pull the upset.

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