After all the rumors that the Boston Celtics would trade the “Big Three” or All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo this past winter; despite all the conversation that the team’s window of opportunity was nailed shut, the Celtics are heading to their third Eastern Conference Finals in the last five years after they defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 85-75 on Saturday night, winning their second round match-up in seven games. Rondo did everything for Boston except for sell tickets and make the popcorn, as he racked up a triple-double for the night with 18 points while Kevin Garnett had another strong performance in the series as he notched a double-double also putting up 18 points in the contest.
Thus ends the Cinderella ride for the Sixers; a pesky bunch that ended the regular campaign as the eighth seed in the East; who would top the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the Playoffs after the Bulls lost Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah to injury. Philadelphia gave Boston all they could handle in the second round, as they sent a message to the Association that they are a team on the rise.
They have one of the best coaches in the Association in former Sixers point guard Doug Collins; as well as a great one-two punch at the point with Jrue Holiday the starter and Lou Williams coming off the pine. Center Spencer Hawes showed flashes of what he is capable of this Post Season; if he can do that consistently his team will be one of the top-tier franchises in the East.
The Celtics now head to Miami as they will be the guests of the Heat in Monday night at the American Airlines Arena for the opening game of the Eastern Conference Finals. This is not the match-up that was expected when the Playoffs began as it looked to be a lock that Miami would be facing Chicago in this series, a repeat of last season’s Eastern Finals. That scenario fell apart when the Bulls lost Rose to a torn ACL against Philadelphia; however the current match-up has the potential to be very intriguing.
The Heat displayed that they are far from being invincible during their second round match-up against the Indiana Pacers, as they seemed to be a team on the verge of collapse after falling behind the Pacers 2-1 in the series. To their credit they engineered a comeback in the third quarter of game four to win that contest and then they intimidated their opponents in the fifth game of the round grabbing back the series lead and setting up Indiana for the kill in game six.
Miami is not going to be able to bully or get inside the heads of a veteran team like Boston; so they are going to have to get it done on the floor. The playing status of forward Chris Bosh who strained an abdominal muscle in the first game against Indiana and missed the rest of the series has yet to be announced. If he is ready to play it is yet to be determined how effective the Miami big man can be for the team coming off the injury as well as the time off at a critical point in the season.
NBA MVP LeBron James matches up against a player that has been a thorn in his side his entire career in the Association in Boston’s Paul Pierce. The Celtics All-Star forward was so effective guarding James in the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals that it led to rumors that LBJ had quit on the Cleveland Cavaliers as they dropped the series to Boston. It also may have been a factor in his decision to sign as a Free Agent with the Heat weeks later; frustrated that he could not lead the Cavaliers to an NBA Title.
Dwyane Wade played at a superstar level against the Pacers in game six and he will have to keep up that play in this series for Miami to advance to their second straight NBA Finals. The Heat are also going to need clutch performances from their point guard tandem of Mario Chalmers and rookie Norris Coles as well as someone from their front-court to step it up; whether it be Udonis Haslem, Shane Battier or someone else for them to come out on top in this match-up.
The Celtics have lost starting guard Avery Bradley to season ending shoulder surgery; which puts veteran Ray Allen back in the starting lineup. Ankle injuries have limited his effectiveness so far in the Playoffs and he is not going to get any better as long as Boston keeps playing. He had a good game on Saturday night as he played 38 minutes in the game scoring 11 points, 4 rebounds and a steal for the night. Whether he can consistently do that for Boston in their next series remains to be seen.
The keys for the Celtics to win this match-up will be if they can exploit their superiority at the point as well as at the four and the five slots. For all the negative talk about Rondo’s fiery temper; he is one of the top five point guards playing in the Association and capable of performances like he had against Philadelphia on Saturday at any time. The All-Star point guard has to take advantage of his ability as he goes up against Chalmers and Coles for Boston to advance to the Finals.
Garnett exploded on the court in the final game of their first round match-up against the Atlanta Hawks; when one of the team’s co-owners told reporters that the Boston veteran was a dirty player. Garnett once again has become the “Big Ticket” as he seemingly stepped back in time to 2008 when he helped the Celtics win their first Championship in 22 years. If he remains healthy the advantage will be on the side of Boston.
Brandon Bass has revived his career in the Association this season with Boston after it stagnated when he fell out of the rotation as a member of the Orlando Magic. The Celtics picked him up in a sign and trade deal for Glen Davis before the campaign began; although Davis came up big for Orlando as they lost to the Pacers in the first round series, Bass has been the far more consistent player this season. If he can do that against Miami, it just might be Boston taking on the West in the 2012 NBA Finals next month.