Celtics vs. Heat
The second-seeded Miami Heat found an extra gear they desperately needed while playing without Chris Bosh to get past the third-seeded Indiana Pacers in six Games of their Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series. Meanwhile, the Fourth-seeded Boston Celtics are likely running on empty after going a full seven Games with the eighth-seeded Philadelphia 76ers in a back-and-forth series that ended on Sunday with an 85-75 victory at home.
The 2012 NBA Eastern Conference Finals may not be as exciting as either of those two previous series based on where each team is right now, although that may depend on whether or not Bosh returns from an abdominal strain that has kept him out of the last five Games. Miami (-8) playing without Bosh gives Boston some hope of an upset at some point, starting in Game 1 on Monday. The question is, would the Celtics even winning a single Game be considered an upset?
The Heat will probably be favored to win every Game in this series unless Boston somehow happens to play extremely well in the first two heading back home or if Dwyane Wade or LeBron James were to suffer an injury like Bosh that sidelines them. Miami’s dynamic duo played as good as any pair in NBA playoff history in the last three Games of the series against the Pacers, and their head coach Erik Spoelstra thinks they may need to continue to play at that high level if they are going to get back to the NBA Finals this year.
The Celtics do not offer a great test though and will have nobody to guard Wade or James in this series. Boston lost a key player in second-year guard Avery Bradley (shoulder), who could have helped contain Wade as one of the top young defenders in the league. Ray Allen will get more minutes starting in Bradley’s place like he has in the last three, and he will need to play much better on at least one side of the ball to make a difference. Allen has made only 9 of 29 shots from the field (31 percent) in those three Games, and he has scored more than 15 points just once in this year’s playoffs.
Another player who must step up for the Celtics is 36-year-old forward/center Kevin Garnett. Unlike Allen, Garnett has been a force in the postseason, averaging 19.2 points and 11 rebounds per Game. He is the one player who is capable of taking advantage of Bosh’s absence if he can stay healthy and continue playing like he did against Philadelphia. The only other individual matchup favoring Boston in this series is at point guard with Rajon Rondo, who is averaging 15.3 points, 12.3 assists and seven rebounds per Game in the playoffs.
The Heat beat the Celtics in the second round last year 4-1, but Rondo dislocated his elbow in a 97-81 Game 3 win and was never the same. Miami went 4-1 against the spread in those Games, and the OVER was also 4-1. Boston won the last three meetings during the regular season both straight-up and ATS, although the last one was played without many starters in the final week.