MIAMI – In 2010, Boston ousted Dwyane Wade in the first round and LeBron James in the second round. A year later, Wade and James were teammates and turned the tables, sending the Celtics into the offseason.
Here comes the tiebreaker.
Celtics-Heat, one more time – with a berth in the NBA Finals as the reward.
For the fifth time in seven years, it’ll be Boston or Miami winning the Eastern Conference championship. Game 1 of that title series is today, with the Heat saying it almost seemed predestined that they would be seeing the Celtics again, and Boston’s perspective being that the team in green is exactly where it expected to be as well.
“Inevitable. It’s the matchup the game of basketball wants,” Wade said Sunday. “Obviously, with the Chicago Bulls being out, this is the biggest matchup the Eastern Conference can have. So we accept the challenge, and we look forward to the series.”
Added Heat coach Erik Spoelstra: “Was there any doubt that it’d be us and Boston?”
Well, maybe a little.
Spoelstra watched Boston’s Game 7 East semifinal matchup against Philadelphia without a notepad, not wanting to start game planning until the winner was decided. That didn’t come until Rajon Rondo – forced into the closer’s role after Paul Pierce fouled out with 4:16 left – delivered time and again late, carrying the Celtics to an 85-75 victory.
“This is a good time right now,” Celtics forward Kevin Garnett said. “This is the cream of the cream. This is what it’s all about, you know, conference finals. We definitely didn’t like the way we left last year. So we’ll see what happens, man. We’ll see what happens. Let’s get it on.”
Miami beat Boston in five games in last year’s East semifinals, and the Celtics took three of four games from Miami this season. Both sides cautioned against reading too much into those results.
James said the game changes in the playoffs, especially as teams get deeper into it. The Celtics know what he wants to do, he knows what the Celtics will try, familiarity born from James having faced Boston in 18 playoff games.
“I wouldn’t have it no other way, personally,” James said. “It’s really the only team I’m accustomed to playing in the playoffs. No matter where I go, I find a way to play Boston. … We’ve got a lot of history.”
The Celtics are averaging 88.1 points in the playoffs. James and Wade are averaging nearly 53 in the postseason by themselves, responding to the Heat’s need for them to carry the scoring load with Chris Bosh sidelined indefinitely by a strained lower abdominal muscle.
Clearly, a clash in styles is possible, and the Celtics are leery of what Miami can do in the open floor.
“We will lose in a track meet,” Boston’s Ray Allen said. “This team, they get up and down the floor. They want to score in transition. They pride themselves off of getting easy baskets. Defensively, we have to get back. Offensively, we can’t play with the ball, we can’t turn the ball over, we can’t not execute.”MIAMI VS. BOSTON
■ WHEN: 5:30 p.m. today
■ WHERE: AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami
■ TV/RADIO: ESPN (30), KWWN (1100 AM, 98.9 FM)
■ LINE: Heat -8; total 180