By A.Sherrod Blakely
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.
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.