Blog: Preview of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals

Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra asked the question, “Was there any doubt that it’d be us and Boston?”

Did he watch the Celtics play? Certainly, they cast some doubt into our minds about a Celtics-Heat series after failing to close out the 76ers in Game 6 before finally edging out the pesky eighth seed.

Nevertheless, the stage is set for another battle between Miami and Boston on Monday night for the third consecutive season in the playoffs, this time in the Eastern Conference Finals. Check out our staff’s predictions, and click here to hear Chris Sheridan’s day-of-game views in our latest podcast.

Boston (0-0) at Miami (0-0):

heat small logoBoston has been a thorn against LeBron James and Dwyane Wade since the big three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen assembled in the 2007-2008 season, when they beat James and the Cavaliers in Game 7 of the semifinals. Two seasons later, the Celtics once again took James out of the playoffs in six games after dispatching Wade and the Heat in five.

The losses against Boston played a role in helping James decide to team up with Wade and Chris Bosh to form their own trio last season, and it’s why James nearly came to tears after defeating them for the first time last season in the postseason.

Playing against an injured Rajon Rondo made things much easier, but they have no such luxury this season. He averaged 14.1 pts, 7.4 rebs, and 12.7 against the 76ers and has three triple-doubles so far in the playoffs. The Celtics are 21-1 in when Rondo has a triple-double, and he will be the main focus of the Heat’s defense.

From Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: “In an Eastern Conference postseason shaped by injuries to star players, it will be an injury from last season’s playoffs — Rondo’s dislocated elbow — that will serve as the backdrop to the Eastern Conference finals between the Heat and Celtics. The best-of-7 series begins at 8:30 p.m. on Monday at AmericanAirlines Arena. For the Heat, which struggled against the Celtics this season, somehow finding a way to limit Rondo will be the No.1 objective. Much of that task will fall to Chalmers, who Wade called the Heat’s most important player in the series. Rondo, who averaged 18.7 points, 13.7 assists and 7.7 rebounds, has more postseason triple-doubles (nine) than the rest of the league combined (seven) in the same time span… In the three games he played against the Heat this season, Rondo averaged 18.7 points, 13.6 assists and 7.7 rebounds per game. The Heat lost two of those games and finished the season 1-3 against Boston.

Chris Bosh remains out indefinitely due to an abdominal strain and had an insightful conversation with Tom Haberstroh of ESPN in regards to his injury situation.

With the absence of Bosh, James and Wade, who averaged 26.2 points in the semifinals, will have to continue to shoulder the load.

celtics small logoThe Celtics will be without Avery Bradley, who had surgery on both of his shoulders, for the remainder of the playoffs.

That will force the team to start Ray Allen, who is still dealing with an injured ankle and has been ineffective in the playoffs, shooting just 40.8 percent from the field and 26.9 percent from the 3-point line.

The team will look to rely heavily on Kevin Garnett as they have done throughout the playoffs.

From Mark Daniels of Boston Herald: “Aside from Game 4 of the conference semifinals, the 76ers couldn’t contain Garnett. During the 85-75 Game 7 clincher Saturday night, Garnett not only anchored the defense but hit big jumper after big jumper while collecting his ninth double-double of the playoffs. Garnett is averaging 19.3 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game in the postseason. He’s attempted the most field goals on the Celtics, shooting 51 percent. Through the first two series, the Celtics are 7-2 when Garnett takes 13 or more shots. “He’s been great. He’s been our go-to guy. He’s been the guy that we’ve gone to on a consistent basis,” said guard Ray Allen. “He’s always had the matchup. So it’s like, go to him on the block. This series, we’ll see, you know, who puts it on him. We obviously know the team but it does change a little bit.”

James Park is a regular contributor and blogger for SheridanHoops.com. You can find him on twitter @nbatupark.

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