Maybe things would have been different for LeBron James if he would’ve won that duel with Paul Pierce in 2008. The Cleveland Cavaliers took the Celtics to seven games, both teams winning all their games at home during the series. Boston, like Miami this season, managed to build a three all-star caliber team with Garnett and Ray Allen joining Paul Pierce. Pierce and James dueled it out in game 7, 45 for James and 41 for Pierce. Boston won 97-92 and the series, going on to beat the Pistons in the Conference finals and the Lakers, winning their first NBA title since 1986.
James’ Cavs rebounded from that loss with finishing 2008-2009 as the best team in the regular season. LeBron James won his first MVP award. He didn’t meet the Celtics in that post season. It was the Orlando Magic. Too much for James who was running on fumes when the series was over, trying single handily to battle for Cleveland. That didn’t change a year later.
Cleveland finished with the best record again. LeBron James won his second MVP. Again it was Boston in his way. Some say he quit, I don’t believe that. Boston were a better team than Cleveland, and had a better head coach. Mike Brown is now working for ESPN. All he could come up with during that series and pretty much throughout his Cavs tenure was – Give the ball to LeBron, he’ll figure it out. The Celtics made mince meat of the Cavs in games 5 and 6. That was LeBron’s final note played in Cavs uniform.
A year later, LeBron James, now with the Miami Heat, has home advantage against the Boston Celtics. This time he has Dwyane Wade, who has struggled against the Celtics this season (12.8 points, 28.1% from the field) and Chris Bosh (15 points, 8.3 rebound). Out of Miami’s big three, Bosh’s ability to be physical and raise his game is the most important. The Celtics won’t be able to handle James and Wade for the entire series. If Chris Bosh (19 ppg in wins) can make the Celtics pay for their Perkins trade and weakening their ability to defend the paint, I think Miami will take this series.
He needs to get over the ‘soft’ label attached to him every time the Heat lost a big game. He does, usually, but then comes another loss, and he needs to prove himself all over again. Unlike in the regular season (except for the last game, a 100-77 Heat win), Miami need to jump Boston from the start. Most importantly – jump Rondo. Rajon Rondo is averaging 19 points and 12 assists this post season. He killed the Knicks during their series. Mike Bibby can’t guard him, but Miami have to put constant pressure on Boston’s best player. Don’t let him cut inside with ease, don’t let him dictate play with ease.
As for the Celtics? Their first three meeting with the Heat weren’t won with ease, but there was no doubt on who was the dominant team. The Heat were overwhelmed by Boston’s aggression in the early goings and it took them time to bounce back. Still, there’s always a feeling that if LeBron and Wade were a just a little more creative in the final possessions, the Heat could win any of those games. They did finally, just before the season ended, 100-77.
They did a great job on Rondo. Allen, Garnett and Pierce had decent games, but that didn’t matter. Stopping Rondo and the guys off the bench (especially Glen Davis) meant it would be a long night for Boston. LeBron James scored 27 and the Heat’s bench contributed 32 points, with Joel Anthony, the best center Miami have, scoring 7 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.
Another question for the Heat and their coach will be who to start – Ilgauskas and Bibby, sticking to the original plan, despite their ineffectiveness offensively, waiting for a good moment to let Chalmers and Anthony enter, or will Spoelstra make a change to have a much faster and more dangerous starting five?
Wade’s a little banged up, but at this point of the season, no one is 100%. Boston are waiting for Shaq to return and get some major reinforcement to their big-men core. Keeping James and Wade shooting jump shots is crucial. Philly managed that at certain points, but not enough, and in Game 5 it was James’ jump shooting that won the game for the Heat. Miami would have a huge bonus in getting Haslem back, but like Shaq’s return, that is uncertain. Even if he does, I don’t know how much he can give.
One final point – Refs. Referees, at least in my opinion, usually let Boston get away with more than other teams. They’re known for being physical, and refs let them be physical. I just hope things are fair, and Miami get the same chance to beat up on guys in the paint as well. It’s going to be a great series anyhow. Too many players on the Heat have lost to the Celtics too many times. It’s going to be personal, and it’s probably going to be the most intense semi final series this time around. Maybe the best series in the playoffs when it’s all said and done.