Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Series the Miami Heat Have Been Waiting For

Ever since the first game of the 2010-11 season, and perhaps ever since LeBron, Dwyane and Chris Bosh got together to bring honor to South Beach, the Miami Heat have been gearing up for this series against the Celtics. Not only did they build a team of superstars, but they built the team specifically to beat the Celtics. Armed with sharpshooters who could neutralize the Celtics' perceived defensive strength of interior defense and armed with interior players who could outrebound the rebounding-challenged Celtics, Miami wanted to be in this series.  Maybe not in the conference semifinals, but they wanted it nonetheless.

Don't underestimate Pat Riley's ego in all of this, either.  The Celtics took care of the Heat last year pretty handily.  Despite not being o the team last year, James and Bosh continually talked about the Celtics in revered terms that one would reserve for royalty.  They were obsessed.  It really seemed that this team's goal was to beat the Celtics rather than winning the NBA Championship.

Bosh is Crying just out of the Picture.              opposingviews.com
It all started with that first game of the season. Expectations were high at the beginning of the season prompting even an ill-conceived Miami nightclub's promotion of free drinks for every Heat loss (I wonder if that bar made it through the season). Everyone thought that the Heat were going to plow through the season with 70 wins and adoring children were going to throw flowers at their feet. That game was a wake-up call of sorts as the Celtics handled them easily winning that first game, 88-80. Surprisingly, Doc Rivers outcoached Erik Spoelstra in this game, letting the Celtics' stifling defense frustrate the nervous Heat.

It didn't get much better a couple of weeks later as the Celtics won their second meeting in Miami 112-107.  This game featured the Celtics big three outplaying the Heat's big three.  Exacerbating matters further, the team became uncoachable under coach Erik Spoelstra, while at the same time trying to define everyone's roles (leading to Chris Bosh crying about touches like 16 year old school girl at her first prom). Soon a couple of five game losing streaks followed.  Things were not going well for the Heat; things weren't going well at all.

Despite these initial setbacks, it appeared that the Heat were starting to come together, winning 12 of their last 14 games including a 100-77 shellacking of the Celtics just two weeks ago.  The Heat were again on track toward their ultimate goal - getting past the Celtics.

Meanwhile, the Celtics were limping toward the finish, just as they had last year.  Kendrick Perkins was gone (and you're not convincing me that this guy is the key to a championship) and the Rajon Rondo seemed distracted.  A four game sweep over the hapless Knicks really didn't prove anything to anyone, so the Celtics are looking to prove themselves once again. 

Instead of comparing the two teams line by line, it seems fitting to just compare the three most important aspects of this budding rivalry.  The Big Three, Defense and coaching.  In this Series, the Celtics have edges in both defense and coaching.  The Heat's idea of defense is to over play, hoping that LeBron or Wade come through with spectacular defensive stop.  That kind of defense simply doesn't work against a savvy offense in the playoffs.  Similarly, Spoelstra is out-classed by Rivers in this series.  Overcoaching, while hoping for Wade or James to make a spectacular play will not lead to a Series victory.

I would have said the same thing about each team's big three as well, until I watched that game toward the end of the season.  The Heat's stars played with fire and purpose.  They were beating the Celtics at their own game - intimidation and trash talking.  The Celtics, instead of fighting back, were generally content with just playing out the string.  A worrying sign when pride is at stake like that.  I give the Heat the edge on that one.

Ultimately, I think this is going to be a hard-fought seven game series.  The Celtics will prevail, however 4-3. 

Oh yeah.  Here we go Sixers!

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