Sunday, June 3, 2012

Completing the Comeback: Five Keys for the Boston Celtics to Put Out the Heat


In Game 3, the Boston Celtics showed the reason they are a Conference Finals team. The original “Big Three” may be a group of aging Hall of Fame bound players, but they still have some gas left in the tank. Even with Ray Allen performing at a mediocre level, Boston won their first game of the series by 10 points, and was winning by more than 20 points at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

The reality is the fate of the series is pretty much in the hands of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and the Miami Heat, but there is a Ray-jon Rondo of hope for basketball’s winningest franchise. After all, they have playoff experience second only to the San Antonio Spurs, so winning on the road in the series isn’t an unrealistic proposition.

If Boston manages to control these areas of the game, they have a chance at pulling off a huge upset. Don’t forget, the city of Boston is familiar with the greatest comeback in sports history. A trip to the Finals this year would be right up there.

1. Rajon Rondo Plays Like a Superstar

Even though he discounts it as “irrelevant” because it was in a losing effort, Rajon Rondo’s play in Game 2 was one of the best playoff performances in recent memory. 44 points, 10 assists, and 8 rebounds don’t even tell the whole store of the energy Rondo brought to the court.

He has been criticized for his inability to knock down a mid-range jump shot (something that has at least in part to do with his incredibly large hands), but he showed in Game 2 that could he drain jumpers. To the pleasant surprise of the Celtics, he also hit a couple shots from behind the arc.

Rondo is a triple-double threat every night and even Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he’s “not sure” how to play the Celtics superstar point guard.

Rondo doesn’t need to put up 40 for the Celtics to win because he can create good shots for his teammates as good as any player in the game. If he continues to do that at a high level and can knock down the occasional jump shot, Boston will be more than happy with his effort.

2. Role Players (like Marquis Daniels) Continue to Step Up

As is the case for virtually any playoff team, role players are key. This applies even more so to the aging Celtics.

Look not too far back in the playoffs for examples: Steve Blake hit crucial three pointers for the Lakers. In the Western Conference Finals, Thabo Sefolosha came up big for Oklahoma City; on Friday, Marquis Daniels hit some clutch shots to help Boston win Game 3.

Star players will have off nights. Dwyane Wade did last night, not shooting a single free throw for the first time since his rookie year. The Celtics have more depth than Miami with Daniels, Pietrus, Stiemsma, and Dooling coming off the bench which gives them the edge when those stars do have off nights. Doc Rivers will find whoever is hot and roll with it (no pun intended).

The only problem is that Miami has two superstars and when one isn’t playing too well, chances are the other one will pick up the slack.

3. Kevin Garnett Goes for 20 and 10

With Chris Bosh still injured, Kevin Garnett may be the number 1 key for the Celtics to win. If he mans the key with authority and can get 10 rebounds and a couple blocks, Boston will be head and shoulders ahead of the Heat in terms of interior play.

Offensively, Garnett is the best big man on the floor in the series. Garnett can hit 17-foot jump shots from all over the floor, a dangerous threat when Rajon Rondo drives and kicks to Garnett. In the post, Garnett has the ability manhandle Anthony, Haslem, and Battier. If the Celtics can spread the floor and get it to him in the post the Celtics will take control of the pace of the game, something that has proven absolutely critical against a much more athletic Miami Heat team.

The C’s need Garnett to go for about 20 and 10 in order to win, something not unreasonable considering he’s averaging 19.7 and 10.6 over the 2012 playoffs.

4. Paul Pierce Stays out of Foul Trouble

The Celtics great has fouled out in two of the past four playoff games. That simply cannot continue to happen for the Celtics to compete in this series. His scoring ability and playoff experience make him the number one choice when the Celtics need a bucket.

Also, his strength and size make him one of the best players the Celtics have to defend LeBron James. Pierce may be more than a step slower than LeBron, but in terms of defending the Miami superstar in the post, Pierce does as good of a job as anyone on the Celtics. LeBron will certainly get his fair share of points but with Garnett defending the paint and the Celtics playing good help defense, Pierce can lead the way to containing LBJ as much as possible.

5. LeBron James Slows Down

Surprised the last member of the Big Three isn’t a key factor? The Celtics just can’t count on him. During the regular season, Ray Allen shot over 45% on three point shots—the best in his career. However, the career 89 percent free throw shooter is hitting a pathetic 61 percent from the line during the playoffs. Yes, it is mainly due to the ankle injury—this dramatic decrease doesn’t happen overnight to one of the best pure shooters the NBA has ever seen. Truth is, he needs two good ankles to help the Celtics.

So we arrive at the league MVP. He is the best player in the game and as such has the ability to take over games, like he has already done many times this year in the playoffs. Not only does this series ultimately come down to the play of LeBron James, but so does the rest of the playoffs.

If the Celtics can stop him or if he pulls a disappearing act like he did in the fourth quarter of last year’s finals, then the Celtics have a shot at delaying the end of an era for just a bit longer. If LeBron plays to his ability, we may be watching the final games of a trio that has revolutionized how the NBA builds successful teams.

You can check out this article in slideshow form at Bleacher Report here.

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