The Miami Heat, up three games to one, return to South Florida to try and close out their Eastern Conference Semifinals series against the proud 17-banner Boston Celtics team tonight. Coach Erik Spoelstra’s guys were 30-11 this season along Biscayne Bay. Boston had their opportunities at the end of Game 4, but failed to make critical baskets and weren’t able to match Miami’s intensity and clutch shot-making, losing 98-90 in OT. Twenty-somethings LeBron, D. Wade and Chris Bosh may prove to be too much for the aging thirty-something Celtics. The three combined for 83 of Miami’s 98 points and 35 of their 45 rebounds and scored all 12 of Miami’s points in overtime. Kevin Garnett (who scored 28 points in the Celtics’ lone victory) could not produce the same type of numbers that helped his team to victory in Game 3. Fifth-year PG Rajon Rondo performed admirably considering his dislocated left elbow, but the Celtics just didn’t have enough.
To survive Game 5 Boston must play the best game of their season and find a way to stop at least one of Miami’s Big Three from having an impactful game. The C’s must also attempt to prevent King James and D-Wade from putting up monster scoring numbers so that the Heat’s much maligned bench unit will be forced to contribute. Coach Doc Rivers said that he doesn’t expect 19th-year C Shaquille O’Neal to play. Boston’s only concern tonight is winning one game to get the series back to their building. I’m sure they would feel confident that they could win Game 6 at home. If Miami can end this contest tonight it may allow them some time to rest up before the next round as the Chicago-Atlanta series could very well go to seven games.
Over in the Western Conference, the Oklahoma City Thunder regained home court advantage by winning Game 4 and turning this into a best of three series. They will return to the highly-charged environment of their own arena with extreme confidence after coming back from 18 points down to win the fantastic triple overtime classic. Led by their two young superstars third-year PG Russell Westbrook and 2X NBA scoring champ Kevin Durant, the Thunder were able to get big stops down the stretch and find enough offense to produce a huge victory over the Grizzlies.
Memphis has to get some better play out of their backcourt in Game 5. Although C Marc Gasol and PF Zach Randolph played a great game on the front line, fourth-year PG Mike Conley getting into early foul trouble was instrumental in enabling Oklahoma City to get back into the game. He had to sit on the bench for too many minutes and ultimately fouled out. In order to retake the momentum and home court advantage in this series, the Grizzlies’ perimeter players need to step up and get off to a quick start in Oklahoma City’s building. Memphis must also limit their turnovers. The 19 turnovers by Memphis in Game 4 led to 26 points for the Thunder including a number of fast break opportunities.
Field goal percentage has been difficult for both teams. As they grow more familiar with each other after every game it becomes tougher to get open looks. Baskets from transition opportunities, second shot opportunities and free throw opportunities become more and more important to whichever team is going to wind up winning this series. Due to the Thunder winning Game 4 and having two out of the remaining three games on their home court, I see them moving on to the Western Conference Finals against the Dallas Mavericks.