One of the interesting joys of sport is the act of rooting against a team. We all do it, for one reason or another, and many of the teams we share. The Yankees, Duke basketball, Manchester United, the Patriots and the new flavor of the week, the Miami Heat. We hate them for many reasons. Their endless bankroll, the buying of titles, their douche bag quarterback, their arrogant coach, or the fact that they flop. But what we hate the most is that they are good. And they win. Well most of them. The Heat haven’t won yet, at least not what matters, and most of the population is united in the hope that they falter once again, and their season ends and LeBron is left with that stupid look on his face that just screams, “How did that just happen” and Chris Bosh is crying in a tunnel somewhere. The Eastern Conference’s Semi-Finals are set and with Derrick Rose’s injury, most have assumed that LeBron and Co. will walk right into the Finals. While Rose’s injury certainly made the path a little easier, Rajon Rondo, Boston’s dynamic point guard, poses a unique threat that Miami may not be able to deal with.
This is entirely hypothetical as the Heat still need to get past the Pacers and the Celtics need to get past the 76ers, but I think it is worth a look. Rondo is one of the most intriguing and distinctive players in the NBA right now. Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal summed him up rather well, “[B]ut his quirky talent must be witnessed to be understood; there are at least four or five times in every game that he does something that no other player can do quite like him.” Gay continues, “Rondo delivers something different—more elusive, unpredictable, an acquired taste not for shy stomachs. He’s an electric enigma, and he may be the least boring player in the NBA.” While his outside shot isn’t great, the defense is forced to pressure him because if they back off, his ability to see over the defense will allow him to pick them apart. It’s a lot like dropping eight against Peyton Manning. In theory the idea is good, there will be more people defending the pass, but if you don’t get any pressure on him and let him have all day, he will tear the defense to shreds. Rondo also has a very quick first step and is a very good finisher through traffic, creating quite a conundrum for the defense. You pressure him and he’ll blow by you, but if you give him space he’ll pick you apart. Mario Chalmers is a decent enough defender, but he’s not a physically imposing defender who has the ability to unsettle Rondo.
Boston also played Miami better than any other team this season, taking 3 out of the 4 meetings. In fairness, one of those games was the second to last game of the season and James, Wade, Bosh, Garnett, Rondo and Allen all were rested. So let’s say Boston took 2 of the 3 matchups, that’s still impressive. In those 3 games, Rondo averaged 18.7 points, 13.7 assists and 7.7 rebounds. In the game Boston lost, he had 7 turnovers, in the games Boston won, he had 3 turnovers and 2 turnovers respectively. Taking care of the basketball is one of the keys to victory for Boston as the Heat are way too good to give them extra possessions. Another key to victory is Kevin Garnett’s ability to shut down Chris Bosh. In Miami’s sole win in the season series, Bosh had 18 points on 8-11 shooting and 11 rebounds. In Miami’s 2 losses, he combined for 17 points and 20 rebounds on 7-24 shooting, less than 30%. The insertion of Avery Bradley into the starting line-up also improved the Celtics defensively, as he is able to cover Wade much more effectively than Ray Allen, and Allen can be a potent scorer and a dangerous threat on the second team. In the one game that Allen started, Wade has 24 points and 8 assists on 8-15 shooting, and the Heat won. In the two games that Bradley started, Wade averaged 17.5 points, 4 assists, and shot less than 40 percent from the field. Oh yeah, and Boston won both of those games. A large amount of Boston’s successes is dependent on the health of Paul Pierce’s knee. Pierce is their go to guy offensively and they need him healthy if they want a chance against the Heat.
While this is obviously a hypothetical match-up, I really don’t see Indiana giving Miami any sort or trouble, and I think Boston will be able to get by the 76ers, based on almost experience alone. Kevin Garnett has 111 playoff appearances. Spencer Hawes, Jrue Holiday, Andre Igoudala, Elton Brand, Thaddeus Young and Lou Williams combined have 119 playoff appearances. Of those six Philadelphia players, only Elton Brand has played a series past the first round. I’m really hoping for a Celtics-Heat Eastern Conference Finals matchup. To me, it remains one of the more compelling hypothetical’s, right up there with the Thunder-Lakers matchup that LA keeps trying to fumble away, but hopefully we’ll be able to see both.