Even after “Spiething” away the last two contests against Atlanta and Charlotte respectively, the Celtics have a golden opportunity to make the world right again tonight. With a win against Dwayne Wade and the visiting Heat, the C’s will most likely clinch the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference, and along with it, the ever so important home court advantage in round 1 of the playoffs starting this weekend. To put into perspective just how significant home court will be moving forward (especially against good competition), Stevens’ bunch are 27-13 at the garden this season, compared to 20-21 on the road. So yeah, this is a big one.
The good news? Boston has won the first two games of the season series, with a 10-point triumph (105-95) in Miami back in November and a 12-point victory (101-89) at the TD Garden at the end of February.
The bad news? The Heat are built for this time of the year, with a roster full of playoff-tested veterans such as the aforementioned Wade, midseason acquisition wing Joe Johnson, a well-rested Amare Stoudemire and forward Luol Deng (Chris Bosh remains out indefinitely with blood clots). Let’s break down this matchup…
X-Factor (Heat): With all that said, Miami’s most important player in my opinion is 7-foot center Hassan Whiteside, who is a major catalyst of their success on both ends of the floor. The big man is averaging 14.2 points a game, 11.9 boards, and a ridiculous 3.7 blocks. I expect Sully/Amir to have their hands full keeping Whiteside off the offensive glass, and for Isaiah and Turner to have a great deal of difficulty getting clean looks in the paint with him in the game.
X-Factor (Celtics): Can it really be anyone but Marcus Smart? It’s been a roller coaster season (offensively…) for the sophomore, with a perfect microcosm being the last two games. Smart had one of his better shooting nights of the season against the Hawks on Saturday (19 points on 7-12 shooting, 4-6 from three) and followed it up with an absolute dud on Monday against the Hornets (1-8 from the field, 0-2 from three). We know what Marcus brings on the defensive side, but if the C’s want to make any noise tonight and over the next month or so, Smart is going to need to string together plus performances on offense.
Key Matchup: Avery Bradley vs. Dwayne Wade
I know Dwayne Wade is a 3-time NBA Champion. I know Dwayne Wade is a 12-time NBA All-Star. I know Dwayne Wade has been on an All-NBA team 8 times and has led the league in scoring. I also know Dwayne Wade and his wobbly knees want absolutely, positively nothing to do with Avery Bradley and his tenacious defense for 40 minutes a night, never mind a 7 game series, if the chips fall that way.
Who remembers this?
That’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner money, folks. You bet your ass D-Wade and his ego remember that one. Advantage, Bradley.
Prediction: I’ll take the Heat to…ha, who am I kidding? The C’s come out on top in a back and forth contest, lock up home court, build momentum and set the tone for a potential matchup with these guys in Round 1 of the playoffs. In Brad We Trust.