Potential Heat-Celtics Series Will Come Down to Big Men
ESPN recently held an NBA Roundtable discussion about what teams could pose a threat the the Miami Heat in the East. They general consensus among the panelists was that the Celtics stood the best chance of knocking off the NBA’s new super team.
It may be a little early to start talking about a potential playoff series between Miami and Boston. But given how weak the rest of the conference is (outside of Orlando, Chicago, and maybe Atlanta), it’s not hard to envision the two teams meeting in May. So who wins a battle of “Big Three”s? The answer will likely have little to do with each team’s star power.
NBA playoff series are often won and lost in the paint. Shooting touch can fluctuate throughout the course of a seven game series (look no further than Ray Allen in last year’s finals). But defense, rebounding, and the ability to draw fouls are less victim to the whims of the basketball gods.
The focus in the playoffs shifts, therefore, from the scorers to big men. From 1999 to 2007, all but one NBA championship went to either Tim Duncan or Shaquille O’Neal, the two most dominant post players of their generation. The two of them earned a combined six Finals MVP’s in that period. Since then titles have gone to Kevin Garnett and the defensive minded Celtics and the imposing Laker frontcourt of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum (not to mention Ron Artest’s defense or the 6’10” Lamar Odom coming off of the bench).
The point is that you don’t go far in the playoffs without rebounding and getting shots close to the rim. It would no doubt be fun to watch a thee-point shootout between Dwayne Wade and Ray Allen, or to see Lebron James and Paul Pierce go at it again. But in all likelihood, no matter what fireworks come from each team’s shooters, the battle between PF’s Chris Bosh and Garnett will have the biggest impact on any potential series.
So who wins this match-up in the paint? If Kevin Garnett can stay healthy (he’s looked more athletic this pre-season than he has last two years) he certainly has the defensive capability to contain Bosh, who isn’t the most physical forward in the league. But health isn’t a give-in for any of the Celtics’ big men. Last years starting center Kendrick Perkins is sitting out the start of this season after knee surgery. Free agent pickups Shaquille O’Neal (who is 38 and hasn’t been nearly as effective since his championship season with the Heat in 2006) and Jermaine O’Neal are both good bets to miss a significant amount of time with injury.
If the Celtics can somehow stay on the court and off of the injury report, it looks like they have the inside presence to take their talents to South Beach and come back with a win. If not, Magic center Dwight Howard could be the only thing standing in the way of the Heat and a trip to the NBA Finals (and another spike in carbon emissions in Northern Ohio).