After dispatching the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 7 of their second round series, the Boston Celtics have earned themselves a place in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics will face off against the favorites in the conference the Miami Heat.
While Lebron James and Dwyane Wade are the obvious players of importance for the Heat, there is a lot of factors that will go into deciding who represents the East in the NBA Finals for both teams.
Point Guard Rajon Rondo: A-
On any given night Rondo can be the most dominant player on the court, even when sharing that court with Lebron James or Dwyane Wade. However Rondo's temperament continues to be an issue creating a lack of consistency in his game. His outside shooting is again his greatest weakness this year but he has shown a knack for hitting big shots in clutch situations during this playoff run.
Rondo's offense isn't really the worry for this series however as he may have to defend Dwyane Wade at the other end of the court. With Avery Bradley now out for the season, and Ray Allen not fully fit, the Celtics could ask the more athletic Rondo to front the dangerous shooting guard.
The Celtics need to get four dominant performances from Rondo if they are going to surpass the Heat and reach the NBA Finals.Mario Chalmers: B
Chalmers has had an under-appreciated season this year for the Heat. So long as Dwyane Wade and Lebron James are in their prime, Chalmers will never be a dominant point guard like Rondo is but he is a very prominent role player. Chalmers is a very good defender and consistent outside shooter.
Chalmers will regularly forfeit his responsibilities as the playmaker to allow Lebron James or Dwyane Wade carry the ball up the court. When Chalmers does lead the offense, it is important to keep him out of the lane as he showed in spurts against the Indiana Pacers that he can attack the basket with success.
Ever since Chris Bosh went out injured, Chalmers has been the third most potent scorer for the Heat.
Ray Allen: C+
Allen is blatantly being held back by his injured ankle. The normally outstanding shooting guard is struggling to score on offense, despite two huge three pointers in Game 7 against the 76ers, while his limited movement makes him a liability on defense. Allen's threat as an outside shooter will still be a key part of the Celtics' offense however.
It would not shock me if Mikael Pietrus played more regularly during this series. Despite the fact that Allen lodged 38 minutes during the team's last outing, guarding Dwyane Wade is not the same as guarding Evan Turner. Turner is a good young player, but Wade is a superstar who will expose Allen if he is struggling at all.
Dwyane Wade: A
Wade didn't have a very consistent series against the Indiana Pacers, but he did prove his worth as a closer once again. Without Avery Bradley to guard him, Wade could explode against the Celtics. Keeping him away from the basket will be very difficult which should afford him some easier opportunities to shoot field goals.
Without Chris Bosh there is a lot of pressure on Wade to carry the scoring, but he will get more of a respite at the other end unless Ray Allen is at 100 percent. Wade can score from anywhere on the court even when he is being expertly defended, without that defense to hold him back he can win games single-handedly.
Paul Pierce: A-
This series will be full of games that Paul Pierce lives for. Pierce is a clutch performer who will be very determined to bounce back after fouling out in Game 7 of the 76ers series. Like Allen, Pierce is playing through pain with an MCL injury but it is not affecting his game as severely. The Celtics will be looking for Pierce to average 20+ points per game and repeatedly get to the line if they are to advance.
Offensively Pierce needs to be consistent, but defensively his performances may be even more important. Pierce has proven in the past that he can contain Lebron James which is all you need to do against this Heat team. Because James and Wade are the primary scorers, and there is very little else behind them without Bosh, Pierce will be trying to lessen James' impact just enough to allow the Celtics to win.
Lebron James: A+
The three time MVP, and winner of the award this season, has had a phenomenal year leading the Heat to this stage of the playoffs. Averaging 27.1 points per game, 6.2 assists and 7.9 rebounds, the 27-year-old has dominated statistically this year but that doesn't tell anything close to the whole story.
James should have been the defensive player of the year ahead of Tyson Chandler this year. Even though he played all five positions defensively, James' performances were dominant night in and night out this year. He won't need to show much of his versatility off during this series as James' main priority will be shutting down Paul Pierce.
Shane Battier: C+
Even though he is not a power forward, the Heat should start Battier and let him defend Brandon Bass. Bass, despite being a power forward, is not overwhelmingly physical and Battier should be able to contain him.
*Chris Bosh: A-
It is unclear as to whether Bosh will be back at any stage during this series but if he is he should be able to have plenty of success against the Celtics. Going against Brandon Bass he will be able to shoot clearly because of his height. That is presuming that the Celtics wouldn't switch Kevin Garnett onto Bosh. Garnett on Bosh would be a fascinating affair that could be a major tipping point in the series, Bosh's athleticism would really test Garnett's defensive intelligence.
Brandon Bass: B-
It didn't make much sense to me when the Orlando Magic traded Brandon Bass for Glen Davis. Bass has proven himself this year to be a much more consistent performer than Davis was in Boston. The key to Bass' game resides in his ability to shoot the outside shot consistently. Bass is similar to Chris Bosh in playing style if not as effective.
Kevin Garnett: A
At this stage of his career, Garnett shouldn't be playing to the level that he is. That doesn't change the fact that he is playing dominant basketball right now. Fortunately for the Celtics, the Heat don't have a dominant presence inside to take advantage of his lean body inside. The biggest worry for Garnett is if Lebron James moves into the post, Garnett would really struggle to deal with James one-on-one in the post.
Garnett should be able to average a double double in points and rebounds against this Heat side.
Joel Anthony: C+
Joel Anthony is a terrible statistics player, but an impressive basketball player. He has his limitations on offense, but his energy and defensive ability is invaluable to the Heat. Ronny Turiaf may be listed as the starting center, but Anthony should play most of the minutes inside during this series.
Mickael Pietrus: C
Pietrus is a good defender who will give the Celtics quality minutes in short spurts against Dwyane Wade.
Ryan Hollins: C-
Hollins' athleticism is a good fit for the Celtics bench as the big forward has developed a decent rapport with his Celtics' teammates.
Mike Miller: C-
Miller lacks the consistency to really be considered a factor entering this series, but he has the potential to be a major contributor on his day.
Norris Cole: C
For this series, Cole should see a lot of minutes as the Heat try to expose the Cetltic's lack of athleticism in the front court.
Ronny Turiaf: C-
Turiaf should see some action against the Celtics but he isn't as good a fit for this series as Joel Anthony.