It’s hard to argue with this series having the most star power. Rajon Rondo. Ray Allen. Paul Pierce. Kevin Garnett. Jermaine O’Neal. Dwyane Wade. It’s chock full of bonafide superstars. But I wouldn’t expect a high flying series of highlight reels and spectacular shots.
We’re talking about the third best team in defensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions), versus the fifth. The surprise? It’s Miami with the better statistical defense. This is going to be an absolute slugfest the likes of which we haven’t seen since the late ’90’s. You’re going to see a lot of pick and rolls devolve into contested pick and pop shots, lots of rolling on the floor, and probably some injuries.
You’ve got Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O’Neal and Dwyane Wade who have all suffered through multiple injuries this season. With as physical as this series is likely to be, you can bet someone is going to get knicked up.
The Heat? 12-1 in their last 13. Outscoring opponents by 9.2 points. Everything’s been working for them, and against the Celtics, Wade has been unstoppable. 33.7 points, 8.7, 5.0 rebounds. That’s the Wade that’s been in fine form as the season has wound down, waiting until it was vital to really step up.
We’ve told you time and time again about the Celtics’ struggles. But they’re still crafty, still tough, and still have guys that will defend like the Samurai. They’re proven leaders that have been telling everyone not to worry, that they’ll turn it on. Well, it’s time to flip that switch. There’s no more games to drift through.
Important things to watch today:
- Jermaine O’Neal has length to combat Kendrick Perkins and the meat in the middle not to have his legs taken out like Perkins has done to Dwight Howard. O’Neal has to neutralize Perkins’ rebounding and put back potential, while also being a matchup advantage.
- Udonis Haslem shoots 45% from 16-23 feet. The pick and pop from the power forwards at that range will be a huge factor. The way these teams play defense, those are the only shots you can depend on to be there. Kevin Garnett shoots 46% from that same range this year.
- The Celtics will run their usual pick and roll defense on Wade, showing with the big, then letting their deep defender rotate. The problem lies with Wade’s ability to drive and dish to the man of the rotator. Spacing is going to be absolutely vital in this regard for the C’s.
- The Celtics’ bench has to step up. If Marquis Daniels can get get some points, if Glen Davis can create some rebounds and hit a few of those jumpers he made last year, if Tony Allen can continue his surprising play, that might be enough to win in a series with scoring that should be as low as can be.
- You have to wonder if the Celtics will have Rondo guarding Wade while Allen takes Mario Chalmers or Carlos Arroyo. Asking Allen to guard Wade is too tough a task and would require way too much help defense. The Heat offense is bad, but they can still hit open shots. Sometimes.
And of course, health. We’ll have an update on that, including some news on Rondo, within the hour.
Wednesday night in Boston Gordon Hayward underwent surgery to repair his dislocated ankle and fractured tibia suffered just five minutes into the season-opening game, a gruesome injury that put a pall over the rest of the night.
There had been hope from some Celtics fans that Hayward could return this season, likely for the playoffs, but now that the surgery is complete Hayward’s agent told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN not to expect him back until next season.
This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who saw the injury. Hayward is in the first year of a four-year deal with the Celtics, they were always going to choose a cautious path rather than rush him back. Under Danny Ainge Boston has always taken the long view, even with all their moves this summer — specifically bringing in Hayward and Kyrie Irving — the target was to be the team set up for next as LeBron James and the Cavaliers faded. That plan does not change now.
Earlier in the day, Hayward had sent a video message out to Celtics fans thanking them for their support in the past 24 hours.
Without Hayward, the Celtics now will focus more on smaller lineups, rookie Jayson Tatum will get more run, as will Marcus Smart in his contract year. Jaylen Brown will be thrust into a more significant role. Also, Kyrie Irving will be asked to do more as the team’s second-best playmaker is now out for the season.
The Celtics will take a step back this season without Hayward, who was going to be crucial for them on both ends of the floor. That’s evidenced by their 0-2 start, falling to the Cavaliers and Bucks on the first couple nights of the season. Boston should still be a team well above .500 and in the playoffs, but they will not be quite the same this season.
Any controversy over C.J. McCollum‘s suspension for the season-opener should be put to rest. The Trail Blazers fared fine without him.
More than fine.
Portland beat the Suns, 124-76, Wednesday. The 48-point margin is the largest ever in a season opener, even as the Trail Blazers let a 58-point fourth-quarter lead dwindle.
Here are the most lopsided season-openers in NBA history (openers for both teams appearing twice):
The 48-point defeat is also the Suns’ worst lost in franchise history, topping a 44-point loss to the Seattle SuperSonics in 1988. It could be a long year in Phoenix.
Marcus Smart and Matthew Dellavedova thrive on aggravating opponents, so when matched up, of course they aggravated each other.
Deduct points from Smart for pulling the hold-me-back charade behind a referee. Plus, Dellavedova’s Bucks beat Smart’s Celtics, 108-100.
The Nets’ projected record this season came under greater scrutiny when the Celtics traded Brooklyn’s unprotected first-round pick to the Cavaliers in the Kyrie Irving trade. After finishing third-to-last and last the previous two years, were the Nets poised to take a step forward, or would they convey a very high pick to the Cavs?
Jeremy Lin, who missed 46 games last season, getting healthy was a reason for optimism in Brooklyn and pessimism in Cleveland. But it appears the veteran guard could be out a while.
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:
Billy Reinhardt of Nets Daily:
If the injury is as bad as feared, what a bummer for Lin. He came to Brooklyn expecting to play a leading role on a developing team, and he just can’t stay healthy.
The Nets were probably more focused on developing their younger players, but – especially without their own draft picks – there was no harm in shooting for the playoffs. This appears to a blow to that (already unlikely) dream.
It’s a boon to the Cavaliers, though. And whenever something significantly affects LeBron James‘ team, it has ramifications into the entire power dynamic of the Eastern Conference. For an injury to a player on a team most expect to be bad, the medical developments here will be tracked closely around the league.