Blakely: Celtics-Heat preview

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Blakely: Celtics-Heat preview

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

Celtics (56-26) vs Heat (58-24)
Celtics won regular season series 3-1, but the Heat will have home-court advantage.

How did they get here?
Celtics swept the New York Knicks, 4-0, in their first-round playoff series. The Heat defeated the Philadelphia 76ers, 4-1, in their first-round playoff series.

Playoff Team leadersCeltics: PPG Paul Pierce (22.3); RPG Kevin Garnett (11.3); APG Rajon Rondo (12.0)
Heat: PPG LeBron James (24.2); RPG LeBron James (10.6); APG LeBron James (6.2)

What to look for
The playoff series that we've all been waiting for, has finally arrived. You're going to hear a lot about Boston's Big Three versus their more youthful Big Three counterparts. But this series will ultimately be decided by the Celtics' point guard, Rajon Rondo, and the Boston bench. Rondo has a decisively lopsided advantage over Mike Bibby and to a lesser degree, Mario Chalmers. As for the bench, the C's backups finally showed a pulse in the Game 4 win over New York. They'll have to deliver games with a similar or greater impact against a Miami team whose bench has come under fire all season.

Matchup to watch
There are so many good battles to choose from, but Ray Allen versus Dwyane Wade sticks out. The C's won three of the four regular-season meetings in part because of Allen's accuracy shooting the ball (he shot 49.2 percent from the field, 57 percent on 3s and was perfect from the free throw line), and Wade's woeful play at both ends of the floor. Allen averaged a team-high 20.3 points against the Heat while Wade averaged just 12.8 pointson 28.1 percent shooting from the field.

X-factor
Again, the choices for this are plentiful. But it's a couple of injured players whose return - and the impact of that return - could tilt this series one way or another. For Boston, the C's have the ultimate wild card in Shaquille O'Neal. The issue isn't whether he'll play well, but will he play at all. If the Celtics can get 5-10 minutes from O'Neal, you figure that's four or five points or a couple of Miami Heat fouls. Miami has Udonis Haslem, who has actually missed more games this season than O'Neal. His ability to bang around the basket as well as knock down mid-range jumpers can be a major boost for the Heat against the Celtics' highly-regarded defense.
And the winner is . . .
NBA fans, because most would agree that the Conference Final will truly be anticlimatic after these two NBA Goliaths battle one another. Boston has experience and depth, while the Heat have arguably the most talented trio of players in the NBA with Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh. Both teams have their share of role players who will be counted on to step up and contribute in a big way.

But here's the thing about greatness. Before you triumph, you tend to go through your share of trials and tribulations. Each of Boston's Big Three had their share of trouble prior to coming to Boston. This current Big Three in Miami, haven't really gone through the rough times that all great teams must endure. Not having that experience, maybe more than anything else, contributed to the Heat's inability to initially get past the Celtics. And I think it will come back to bite them again. That's why I got Boston winning this series in six games.

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached atsblakely@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Celtics-Cavaliers preview: Game 5 is about respect for Boston

Celtics-Cavaliers preview: Game 5 is about respect for Boston

BOSTON – From the outset of this season, the Boston Celtics were swimming upstream when it came to getting respect. 

No matter how many wins they racked up, no matter how many upsets they managed to pull off, they were never going to do enough to satisfy the court of public opinion which wanted one thing and one thing only from the NBA: A third installment of Golden State against Cleveland in the NBA Finals. 

The Warriors did their part by running through the West with 12 wins in as many playoff games. 

Meanwhile, the Celtics will try to not just stave off elimination tonight, but continue to delay what so many believe is an inevitable Golden State-Cleveland Final.

Boston’s Al Horford understands that while the league this season has seen lots of individual success as well as teams that have overachieved, the thirst for Golden State versus Cleveland remains stronger than ever. 

“We understand that’s what everyone has been talking about since the beginning of the season,” Horford said. “For us it’s just to focus … and play the Celtic way. And just come out here and fight and we’ll take it from there.”

The Celtics did that in Game 3 with Avery Bradley delivering one of the more memorable shots in the Brad Stevens era, a game-winning three-pointer that hit the rim four times before falling with 0.1 seconds to play as Boston squeaked out a 111-108 win.

Boston did a lot of good things in Game 4 and seemingly went into the half sensing that maybe just maybe they would even up the series at two games heading back to Boston for tonight’s Game 5 matchup. 

But Kyrie Irving picked up the slack for a foul-plagued LeBron James, lifting the Cavaliers to a 112-99 win which puts them now just a win away from advancing to the NBA Finals. 

Not only have folks both in the media as well as fans who have rooted for this series to be over, even merchandise sellers like Dick Sporting Goods have anticipated this series as already being over.

“It is what it is,” said Boston’s Jae Crowder. “It’s been like that all year; a lot of guys counting us out. At the same time, we’re trying to put ourselves in position to win each and every game.”

While that has been the goal, it certainly hasn’t worked out that way in this series. 

Despite Games 1 and 2 being at the TD Garden, the Celtics lost both games by a total of 57 points. 

And while they won Game 3 and had the Cavaliers on the ropes in Game 4 before losing, they know their chance to play NBA Finals spoiler is just about up. 

“We know that’s the Finals that everybody wants to talk about, what everybody is looking forward to,” said Boston’s Marcus Smart. “We understand it. But we work just as hard as these guys. We just have to keep going out there and working. We’re not going to give it to them, and stuff like that. We just have to make it tough on them.”