The 2012 Eastern Conference Finals begin tonight in Miami and the Celtics might be just where they love to be: the underdogs. During the New Big Three Era, they have been here before. Many picked them to defeat the Hawks in 2008, while there were some detractors for the series against the Cavs, Pistons and yes, even the majority picked the Lakers in The Finals.
In 2009 once KG was out for the playoffs, many still felt that they would defeat Chicago in the opening round but then it got divided after that against Orlando. In 2010 they were the ultimate underdog even in the first round where if memory serves, the majority of them even picked the pre-LeBron/Bosh/Wade Heat to defeat the even then old Celtics. Obviously they weren't favored against either the Cavs, Magic or Lakers again and they thrived nearly all the way to banner 18.
Last season there may have been a handful that picked the Knicks in round one, but the majority favored Miami in round 2 and were correct. This year, they did what many felt that they were supposed to do once the playoffs started (including Derrick Rose tearing his ACL) and disposed of the Hawks and Sixers even though it took longer that it should have. But now it's Miami. And the Heat is on Boston big time.
Scouring the interwebs for the "expert" predictions the overwhelming majority have chosen Miami. In fact, the Miami Sun-Sentinel went as far as to entitle their online poll by asking how many games will it take to defeat the Celtics, not IF they will. Somehow, this all seems fair and in a normal season it would make perfect sense.
This season has been anything but normal and for the Celtics to be such huge underdogs that will suit them just fine. I'm not about to say it will be as easy as say, Stephen A. Smith proclaimed on SportsCenter this morning, but here are what the pundits around the league are saying:
As you can tell, there's not exactly a green colored set of preditictions there. Here are some links for some other predictions:
- Our own John makes a great case as to how the Celtics CAN win here
- Brian Mahoney of the AP has Miami in 5
- Dan Shaugnessy of the Boston Globe says the Celtics have no shot at beating Miami
- A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com has Miami in 7 games
- Paul Flannery of WEEI.com has a great preview in which he also picks Miami in 7 games
- Dan Devine from Yahoo!'s Ball Don't Lie blog isn't feeling a long series and is going with Miami in 5 games
Theses are the majority of the predicitons out there and most of them have Miami basically in 6 games. That would indicate that a lot of people envision the New Big Three Era ending in Boston. While that is possible I don't think it's likely. I also don't see the Celtics getting swept nor do I see them repeating last year's disappointing series loss in 5 games.
Barring no further health issues for either team (that is clearly no guarantee at this point), I've always felt that once this era comes to a close, it will end at the very last possible moment. The 2010 NBA Finals is sort of what I'm referring to. The Celtics opponent needed every last possible second of every possession to finally knock them out. I don't see this series being much different from that, all the way down to the ending.
As tough as it is to say it, I think Miami defeats them in 7 brutal games. To defeat them, they will need Rondo to be that player to literally win games and carry his team through a series. The highest level of play that critics often say he can't accomplish to put him in that ranking of top 10 players in the NBA. They'll need a series of masterful and dominating 2008 KG performances. They'll need Paul Pierce to at the very least neutralize LeBron James. They'll need Ray Allen to become even 50% of what he was. They'll need an entire army of wing players to at least contain Dwyane Wade for 7 games. They'll also need to hope Chris Bosh stays at home while they try to steal a game on the road.
There you have it. This Celtics team truly has played with grit and balls and they will go out guns blazing, screaming, clawing and burning the house down while they're still in it. While I think Miami will win I don't know just as nobody truly knows. I do know that it's going to be a joy watching this series just like it has been a dream watching these guys revive the Celtics franchise that was dead for far too long. Enjoy it because if the majority of basketball minds are correct, it just may be coming to an end. But, just like Kevin Garnett screamed to the world after bringing home banner 17: