The Miami Heat had to sit through a long and dramatic Game 7 between the Celtics and Sixers to see who they would be taking on in the Eastern Conference Finals, and now they know an experienced and resilient Boston team stands between them and another NBA Finals appearance. The Heat are coming off a fine Game 6 performance against the Pacers that saw Dwyane Wade put up 41 while LeBron James remained as dominant as ever as the all-around best player on the court. Meanwhile, the Celtics are coming in banged up after a drawn out series against a weaker Philadelphia team after Boston never really looked like a truly dominant team. So the question now stands: Is there any way for Boston to beat the Heat?
To answer that question simply, no. Unfortunately for the Celtics, it never really mattered which team advanced in the Celtics-Sixers series, because neither team can live up to the task of taking on the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. There are a few key reasons why. The first reason is pretty obvious: LeBron and D-Wade are on the warpath right now. When Chris Bosh went down in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, I predicted that Indiana’s balanced scoring would be too much for two superstars to counter on their own. However, I made the mistake of underestimating just how dominant LeBron and Wade can be when they catch fire, which is exactly what they did for the last three games of the series. In fact, LeBron and Wade outscored Indiana’s starting five 197 to 184 in those three Miami victories. Any team that has two guys this explosive is tough to stop, but there’s a second key reason why these two should be even more dominant against Boston: the Celtics are banged up. Paul Pierce has been a true challenge for LeBron and he’s knocked both him and Wade out of the playoffs with dominant performances in the past. He’s one of the few competitors that can go toe-to-to with the league MVP and get the better of him, but there’s just one problem: Pierce is banged up. Against Philadelphia, Pierce played fine and helped his team out every now and then, but it was clear he wasn’t 100 percent playing on a sprained MCL. Then there’s the loss of the Celtics’ best perimeter defender, Avery Bradley. Bradley missed significant time in the Sixers series and will miss the rest of the postseason with his shoulder injury, leaving Ray Allen to guard the peaking Dwyane Wade. As hot as LeBron and Wade are right now, a banged up pierce and an aching Ray Allen aren’t going to cut it on the defensive end. We could see some truly dominant performances from LeBron and Wade against this hobbled Boston team.
Finally, there are a few intangibles that give the Celtics little chance, such as Miami’s home court advantage, the way Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller have been knocking down shots lately and how poorly the Celtics played in their last series against a quality defensive team. Overall, all signs point to the Miami Heat advancing in convincing fashion. Neither team gets much production out of their bench, but this favors the Heat, who have a significantly stronger starting five. The Celtics have an advantage in the paint with Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass, but the Heat’s offensively inept post players focus all their energy on the defensive end. If the Heat can limit Boston’s talented posts, this series won’t even be close. Rajon Rondo also has an advantage over Mario Chalmers, but given how inconsistent he was against the Sixers, that advantage won’t be enough to overpower LeBron and Wade.
Boston stands a better chance against the Heat than the Sixers would have but no matter who Miami faced in the Eastern Conference Finals, LeBron and company should be moving on. Although the Celts have an advantage in their talented post players, a limping Paul Pierce and a Celtics team with no Avery Bradley has little chance of slowing down LeBron James and Dwyane Wade for seven game series. LeBron and Wade might have an off game and the Celtics may be able to pull out a game or two at home because of their experience and team unity, but the Heat are clearly the superior team and should advance pretty handily. At this point, the only team that stands in the way of the Miami Heat advancing to the NBA Finals is the Miami Heat. But given the way LeBron and Wade have been playing lately, I don’t see the hobbled Celtics posing much of a threat.
Prediction: Miami over Boston in 6 games