Quantcast 2011 NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs: Semifinals - Miami vs Boston

 

2011 NBA Playoffs Eastern Conference Semifinals Preview - (3) Boston Celtics vs. (2) Miami Heat

 

 

When the Chicago Bulls earned the top seed in the NBA’s Eastern Conference, they didn’t just gain home-court advantage for three playoff rounds. Just as important – if not more so – was the fact that the Bulls won the right to avoid a second-round deathmatch. Indeed, while Chicago gets to face an inconsistent and not-as-threatening Atlanta squad in the East semifinals, the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat have to tear at each other before the Eastern Conference finals even arrive. It makes this best-of-seven battle that much more urgent for two franchises that face their own fair share of pressure.

Boston looked to be the best team in the East for much of the regular season until February, when General Manager Danny Ainge inexplicably traded away the bedrock of the Celtics’ interior defense, center Kendrick Perkins. Boston was able to go toe-to-toe with the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2008 and 2010 NBA Finals because Perkins was able to bang with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum in the low post. Without Perkins – or a legitimate substitute for him (Shaquille O’Neal is injured) – Boston isn’t as formidable a team near the basket. This is a deficiency that would have shown up even more against Orlando or (in a potential Finals rematch) the Lakers, but it’s still going to matter against a Miami team that lacks an imposing center of its own.

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Boston’s lack of a quality big man won’t give Miami an outright advantage in the paint, but it will reduce the extent of the Heat’s deficiencies in that portion of the court. Miami, of course, is a wing-oriented team thanks to the dynamism of open-court maestros LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. With Kendrick Perkins helping out Kevin Garnett in the middle, Boston figured to be able to boss around Heat pivot players Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Chris Bosh. Now, it’s a fairer fight, with Miami owning an edge on the perimeter in most respects. Yes, Boston point guard Rajon Rondo will be a load for Miami to handle in this series, and it’s true that Rondo’s rebounding ability makes him more than just a point guard, but it still stands that Boston’s reconfigured lineup, with Nenad Krstic occupying a spot on the low block, is not as powerful as it was before the Perkins trade. If LeBron and Wade can get into the paint with the dribble, Boston won’t have the same sturdy back line of defense it once owned. Miami can then claim ownership of a series it simply has to win.

 

 

Yes, while there’s some pressure on Boston to justify the Perkins trade and make one more push at the crown while its veterans are still able-bodied, the majority of the heat in this series will naturally be shouldered by Miami. The offseason acquisitions of LeBron and Bosh, accompanied by a huge and unseemly amount of fanfare, turned the Heat into the league’s most publicized and reviled team. It also created legitimate expectations of a championship run in South Florida. If this team can’t at least make the Eastern Conference finals with all its assembled talent, it’s highly likely that coach Erik Spoelstra will be fired. A second-round playoff exit would be truly humiliating for a team that added one genuine superstar (LeBron) and an upper-tier post player (Bosh) to a roster that already contained Dwyane Wade. Moreover, since Miami used so much money to create its star-studded roster, the Heat’s ability to reassemble a new lineup in future seasons is distinctly limited. If Miami falls two rounds short of the Finals and three rounds shy of the championship in year one of the LeBron-Wade era, the psychic impact could be enormous. Winning this series would at least tell the Heat that they’re one of the elite teams in the league. A loss to Boston would prevent the Miami organization from being able to make such a claim.

No pressure, LeBron. No pressure at all.

 

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By: Matt Zemek
Pro Basketball Fans Staff Writer


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