Bad Blood in the Water of South Beach: Eastern Conference Finals preview

This isn’t really what most basketball minds pictured when thinking about the Eastern Conference Finals. Most thought that we’d see Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, and Joakim Noah going up against Chris Bosh, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade. Instead the Bulls have been eliminated in the first round and the Boston Celtics have taken their place in the battle for the Eastern Conference crown.

I think its safe to say that most of us will take this. There is a lot more venom between these two teams that you’d think. LeBron has had his many battles with Boston in the past. Before recruiting everyone to come to his team, Dwyane Wade was also beaten by the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs. Boston was like the big brother that you could never beat no matter what you did because his game was too smart. He was too crafty–he knew all of the tricks of the trade.

Well now, its different. The little brothers have grown up and gotten much better. Now they’re looking to make a return trip back to the NBA finals after putting the big brother on his back and giving him the boot. Big brother wants his revenge–obviously–now lets figure out if he has a chance to get it.

These two teams are much different from when they met last season. Chris Bosh, a key piece to Miami’s puzzle,is now out indefinitely with an abdominal injury. Miami’s offense has changed dramatically since that game and has featured a lot more off the ball movement than usual. Also, they’ve been more aggressive on defense in trying to force turnovers because of their propensity to run the floor. With two of the best athletes in the game that’s their best option.

The Heat are not at their best in the half court. During the regular season, where Boston had the advantage against Miami, the Heat only shot 30 percent from midrange–where a large percentage of half-court points come from–against Boston. Boston does an excellent job of defending in the half court. They’ll probably switch their scheme up versus Miami multiple times throughout this series.

If you recall, in the first game during the regular season between these two teams, Boston was being blown about. About midway through the third quarter they implemented a zone scheme. It seemed to stifle Miami because of their lack of shooters. Boston continued to do so when playing the Heat throughout the regular season. They didn’t stick with it exclusively, but they ran it in spots. I believe that’s what they’ll need to do here as well.

If they play a zone, and play it right, they’ll be able to nullify Miami’s greatest weapon in penetration. That way there will be constant protection of the rim with a lack of consistent shooting. I don’t think the zone will be run exclusively, again, but I do think that it will be implemented.

How much it will help will depend on the role players of the Heat. Guys like Mike Miller, Shane Battier, and Mario Chalmers will need to knock down the wide open looks that they will receive from James and Wade. If they can knock down their shots that will eliminate the zone that Miami has been so stifled with throughout their time together. Shooting has always been their weakness; when they are able to knock shots down from the perimeter they are unstoppable.

During the regular season series, Miami let Boston shoot 50% from mid-range and also allowed Boston to shoot 51% from threes. More specifically, they allowed Boston to shoot 72% from corner threes according to NBA.com and their advanced stats team. When going back to the tape, you can see that Miami tends to overhelp off of the wings. Especially when the ball goes down into the paint. We can attribute this to their lack of an enforcer in the paint. James and Wade are forced to help on shots and that’s why we see Dwyane Wade and LeBron James among the league’s elite in blocks at their respective positions.

When they do that, they have to sell out the corner three for the help defense in the paint. The same thing goes for a lot of mid-range looks. There should be a lot of switching going down that doesn’t actually happen. Because of that, this creates open looks in the half-court against their opponents.

Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett have to take advantage of their mismatches throughout the series. Being consistent is key here; if Boston wants to have a chance they must get the Rajon Rondo from game seven and the Kevin Garnett from the Atlanta Hawks series. They play the center and point guard positions; two of which Miami severely lacks. Garnett is also deadly from mid-range which will be another mismatch.

Boston has to keep ball movement at its all-time best in order to counter Miami’s over-aggression in their attempt to force turnovers. The best way to stop the fastbreak is to make shots. Moving the ball will help facilitate easier looks on the floor for everyone suited up in green.

Miami must make sure to keep LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in constant motion just as they did throughout the latter half of the Pacers series. The defense isn’t able to focus on both players at the same time because of their ability to consistently slither through holes in the defense and beat the defense to the rim. They keep the defense in a constant shift if both are moving at the same time and that will lead them each to some wide open looks.

Last series, when Hibbert was in foul trouble a lot, that’s the formula that they used to do it. If that didn’t work, Miami was losing that series. They need to do the same thing here with Garnett.

Regardless of the outcome this should be one of the best series in these playoffs. The implications are huge, emotions will run high with both teams, and they have a past history of altercations. There will be a hell of a fight going on in the East on both sides. I know how much we all love predictions, so I’ll take Miami in seven games.

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