The Chicago Bulls haven’t been the Miami Heat’s biggest competition in the Eastern Conference. Not this year, not years from now and not even two years ago when the two squads meet in the postseason.
The Bulls had a deep team, but they didn’t carry that fundamental approach and steel-trap type mindset that seems to be a kryptonite to the Heat. As dynamic a player as Derrick Rose, the Heat knew how to contain him by simply having LeBron James defend him in the fourth quarter. By that time, Rose had already exhausted his energy supply and going up against an elite defender in James wouldn’t allow the Heat’s efforts to be thwarted.
It’s not the Bulls or the New York Knicks or the Brooklyn Nets. It’s the Boston Celtics team that is seen as possibly being too old heading into the season, before turning on the jets in the postseason and playing like a team laden with veterans and a point guard who knew how to make his veteran teammates play well.
It’s the Celtics that’s going to contend with the Heat for a spot in the NBA Finals next May.
For the past three seasons, the Celtics and Heat have met in the postseason. The first meeting resulted in a 4-1 victory for the Celtics against a Heat team that was only a few months away from signing one of the most significant moves in professional sports with the acquisitions of LeBron James and Chris Bosh. That following Spring, the Heat would meet the Celtics again with a 4-1 series win in favor of the new ‘Big Three.
Last year’s matchup between the two squads was easily the most memorable. With Chris Bosh missing the first four games, the series was basically even with the Celtics’ aged trio plus Rajon Rondo proving to be quite the match for James, Dwyane Wade and the plethora of role players who stepped up at the right time. What developed in the series was one of the most heated and memorable battles between two teams at the top of their games, as the Heat took the series in seven games to move on to the NBA Finals.
But this wasn’t before Rajon Rondo dropped 44 points in an overtime loss in Game 2, as well as LeBron James going on to have one of the greatest postseason statlines in NBA history in his legendary Game 6 performance, a game where James led the Heat from the brink of elimination to a Game 7 back home in Miami. Of course, without a little help from Bosh in Game 7, the Celtics could have very well been the team representing the East against Oklahoma City.
Upon the conclusion of the series, we immediately suspected that this could have been the end of the Boston Celtics reign at the top of the East. Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen both had their contracts running dry at the end of the season, along with a number of other key role players. With the consensus’ belief of Garnett, Allen and Paul Pierce being too old to invest in by this point in their career’s, we mistakenly dismissed the Celtics.
They haven’t gone away; not with Garnett re-signing, Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo joining the team through the draft, Jeff Green returning from heart surgery, and Jason Terry, Courtney Lee and Jason Collins hopping on through free agency.
No, this pesky Celtics team isn’t going anywhere. Although they lost out on Ray Allen to the Miami Heat, they replaced him with Jason Terry–a player with a skillset extremely similar to Allen’s. Both players have the championship experience, possess the consistent outside shot to stretch the floor and have the same ice-water veins that allow their teams to have that extra leg-up in the waning moments.
With Avery Bradley only improving, the Celtics also possess a young, athletic defensive stopper at the guard positions for as long as they feel like keeping him around.
What the Heat need to worry about the Celtics most is obviously Rajon Rondo. The Heat are a team capable of making Derrick Rose look like a common role player, yet they are constantly being torn to shreds by the penetration and court vision of Rondo. If there is any player out in the NBA that shows no fear to the Heat and has the keys to beating the team, it’s Rondo and he has the blueprints drawn out.
The problem is that Miami’s defense allows Rondo to do whatever he pleases. Because his jump shot is dreadfully inconsistent, although it is improving, whoever is defending Rondo at the time will give him at least three feet of space. By the time the defender steps up to Rondo, he’s already at the foul line and 15 feet away from the rim. What happens next is Rondo will either call for a pick with Garnett, take it inside or suck in the defense and then kick-out to an open shooter.
What the Heat basically do is the equivalent to the Miami Dolphins backing off of Tom Brady in order to defend all the receivers. You may have the majority of your attention focused on those who are without the ball, but at some time the quarterback will find a target because he’s been gifted with those abilities. If you give a quarterback that long of a time to look and survey his options, he will eventually create a play.
The Heat don’t help themselves when they give Rondo that much time and space to work with. He’s arguably the best passing point guard in the league next to Steve Nash and unlike Nash, Rondo’s going to be here a lot longer so the Heat will eventually have to find consistent solutions when it comes to defending him. With the Heat having their trouble against good passing teams, the Celtics are the last team they want to face.
We get that Rondo’s jump shot is shaky, but it’s no reason to treat him as if it was Shaquille O’Neal standing there with the ball 20 feet away from the rim. There needs to be some sort of pressure being applied to him in order to create some sort of disruption, instead of giving him the easy-going feeling of not having to worry about getting the ball stolen. As active as the Heat are on defense, they need to disrupt Rondo and force him into making bad passes, rather than letting him get his passes off.
As long as Rondo is on this team and playing with dagger shooters in Paul Pierce and Jason Terry as well as one of the league’s top defenders in Kevin Garnett, this Celtics team is going to continue attempting to usurp the throne at the top of the Eastern Conference.
Now that Allen is on the team, the tension between these two teams is only going to rise. Although this team gives the Heat their greatest competition out East, it would be painful not to see them meet up in the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season because things are only starting to get a little strenuous between both sides.