Miami Heat will take on the Boston Celtics at home tonight, 8:30 ET, in the first game of the Eastern Conference Finals. A lot of fans and experts predicted to see a rematch between the Heat and Bulls at this point of the season. Derrick Rose went down with a torn ACL, and the next challenger in the line was Boston.
Both teams are banged up. Miami will still have to play without Chris Bosh, who is out with an abdominal strain, even though it is predicted that he could potentially return some time during the series. Celtics’ Avery Bradley picked up a season ending injury, and the young guard will be missed, especially on the defensive end.
Despite the injuries, you can’t be anything other than excited about this match up. Boston took down the season series 3-1, while Miami beat Boston in the 2nd round of the 2011 playoffs in 5 games. With both teams being excellent on defense, this should be a physical and low-scoring series.
Keys to the game
Boston are coming into game 1 with only 1 day’s worth of rest, following a tough game 7 victory against Philadelphia 76ers. Miami closed out the series against Indiana in 6 games, and should come out a little more fresh. It is no secret that the Celtics are a team of veterans, and the lack of rest might hurt them, especially early in the series.
Kevin Garnett will most likely be the focus of Boston’s offense, due to the absence of Bosh. If Garnett can discover that fountain of youth once again, he could potentially hurt Miami a lot, as none of Miami’s big men match up particularly well with KG.
On the flip side, you cannot overstate the importance of Avery Bradley. The young guard has been an amazing asset defensively this season, and his absence will really hurt Boston. With Dwyane Wade once again looking like “Flash”, no one on Boston’s roster will be able to guard Wade. Ray Allen has a bad foot, that will require surgery in the off-season, so look for Wade to go at Allen and the Celtics often and early.
LeBron James has been magnificent so far in the playoffs. He has rebounded the ball well in the absence of Bosh, and is averaging 29 points per game so far, while dominating on both ends of the floor. His versatility on defense will once again have to be utilized. While he is usually guarding Pierce, we could see him on both Keving Garnett and Rajon Rondo.
The perimiter shooting has been very erratic for the Heat so far. When the 3 ball is falling, Miami look nothing short of unstoppable. Boston might mix it up and throw some zone defense at Miami, so Chalmers, Battier and Miller will have to knock their shots down.
Rebounding will also be very important in the series. Having parted ways with Jermaine O’Neal, Boston are left without a natural big man, much like the Heat. The rebounds and 50-50 balls could just as well be the tipping factor in the series.
A lot of focus will naturally be around Rajon Rondo. Having established himself as an elite point-guard, Rondo runs Boston’s offense like a puppet master. Erik Spoelstra pointed out that the majority of Rondo’s contribution comes from random situations and his ability to read the game on the fly, rather than set plays. Rondo provides quite a big mismatch at the 1-spot, and if Boston want to win they need their facilitator to come up big.