May 26, 2012; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics fans holds a sign in reference to Miami Heat player Lebron James (not pictured) during the fourth quarter in game seven of the Eastern Conference semifinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE

Eastern Conference Finals Preview

Boston finally conquered the lowly Philadelphia 76ers in an all-or-nothing game seven on Saturday night.

Next up, the Miami Heat.

It doesn’t appear to be likely that Boston would be able to beat Miami in a seven game series–though in the regular season they were three and one against them. Miami seems to have gotten its stride at just the right time. Dwyane Wade and LeBron James are playing as aggressive as they ever have since they started suiting up in the same uniform.

The Celtics are coming off of two straight series where they’ve looked old and slow more often than not. They haven’t been able to score points at a consistent rate nor have they gotten many games where they’ve created outright clean looks for each other. Aside from the Brandon Bass game last series and the Hawks game four blowout, they’ve looked pretty pedestrian in certain moments of game play. If they come with that same attitude against the Heat, Boston will see a fate similar to that of last year’s semifinal round.

To beat Miami, Boston will need to stay consistent with the same team defensive strategy that they’ve rested on for years now. It has been the most consistent cog in the past five years for Boston. With Chris Bosh being out indefinitely the Celtics will be able to key more on James and Wade throughout the series. They’ll need to have Kevin Garnett protecting the rim at all times because James and Wade love to attack. Guarding off of the ball will be key because they will cut to the basket at the same time from plenty of different angles. With Bosh out they’ll need to play from the free throw line down which isn’t an easy task, but Miami can do it.

Something that will really hurt Boston is second year guard Avery Bradley being out for the remainder of the season. After receiving the starting role due to Ray Allen’s injury and inconsistency all year, he and Rondo were one of the best defensive backcourt tandems in the league. Now, with Bradley out, the pressure will be on Rondo to guard Dwyane Wade in spots throughout the series.

What Boston likes to do offensively is work the midrange area of the floor. That’s how they beat Miami during the regular season. According to Nba.com Boston shot 50% from midrange during the regular season. That’s eight percentage points above their average. I believe this is because of the extra help that Miami likes to give when contesting jumpers. They have elite athletes on the wings that are able to close out and run the floor instantaneously. With crisp ball movement, you can counter those speedy close outs. Boston moves the ball pretty well for open jumpers.

Miami’s next glaring weakness is on their corner threes. Because they tend to overhelp in the middle–due to lack of a defensive enforcer in the middle–they give up a lot of wide open corner threes. I’m sure when the film is put on during study sessions Ray Allen will salivate because of this. During the regular season, Boston shot a whopping 72% from the corner three. They made 16-21 of those shots and will need to capitalize on that if they want to have a chance in the series.

Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo will be of great importance to Boston. Kevin Garnett will need to have a good game each time they step on the floor if they want to win. He’s really been the key to Boston’s success since he’s moved to the center position. He’s able to stretch the floor to between 16-20 feet each time off of pick and rolls. His jumper is so hard to contest because of his height.

Rondo and Garnett have mismatches at the two positions that Miami is severely lacking at. If they can capitalize on their mismatches Boston’s chances will dramatically increase in the series. Rondo has to be consistent with his play, though. That doesn’t mean he has to average a triple double throughout the series–though that would be nice–but he needs to control the pace and flow of the game just as he did in game seven versus Philadelphia.

With the bad blood that already exists between these two teams, this should make a hell of a series. Stay tuned, folks.

Tags: Boston Celtics Eastern Conference Finals Miami Heat

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