2012/2013 Season Opener Preview: Celtics v Heat

The post-lockout 2011/2012 season was shortened and brutal, to say the least. The compressed game schedules placed tremendous strain on player bodies, resulting in injuries even before the postseason kicked off. The traditional 82 game format however is returning, ensuring better rest in a fresh new season, one that promises exciting new playoff contenders in the race for that elusive trophy.

What better way to kick the season off, than to revisit a newly minted rivalry? The 2011/2012 NBA champions, the Miami HEAT will host the Boston Celtics on the NBA season 2012/2013’s opening night – 31 October 2012, Wednesday 1100hrs Australian Eastern Daylight Time (AEDT)

This game is sure to evoke painful memories of that Game Seven loss last playoffs, especially for the Celtics of last season. As the HEAT championship banner gets hoisted up onto the rafters, the Celtics are set to light that competitive fire for game night, and most definitely for the season ahead.

Let us look at a few changes the new lineups are expected to bring in this upcoming game:

Sonics, Reunited
The HEAT have retained most of their lineup, adding two big veteran names to their guard roster – Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, incidentally reuniting the ex-Seattle SuperSonics teammates.

Both prolific shooters from deep (with one being the league’s most lethal sniper from the left corner last season), it will be interesting to see how well they perform in a team that thrives on open shots, generated mostly from the drive-and-kick passes LeBron James and Dwyane Wade excel at.

Will the Celtics be able to close out effectively on this deadly long range barrage?

The retooled C’s bench – lean, and mean and green
Danny Ainge has done a tremendous job in strengthening the Celtics this offseason, putting together an impressive lineup without overspending.

It remains to be seen how effective the new bench unit will be against the small lineups the Heat favour, but one thing is certain; the Celtics bench this season will hold the fort down with Jason Terry, who is known for his shot creation and playmaking. His presence will greatly benefit players like Chris Wilcox, Courtney Lee and Jeff Green, who can and will finish with ease, given the right passes.

Bradley’s absence, and Lee’s impact
Avery Bradley made an impressive impact in the later half of the season as a starter, showcasing his defensive quickness with a highlight reel block against Dwyane Wade.

His brilliant performance was abruptly cut short before the playoffs due to shoulder injuries, and he has since undergone corrective surgery. According to a recent CSNNE interview, he has not confirmed a date on his return, citing the focus on a full recovery as priority over a defined deadline.

While Bradley’s absence will be missed, he leaves a spot on the starting lineup that is likely to be taken by Courtney Lee, who is also a solid defender at the two spot, and a much more aggressive attacker. While this fills the gap nicely on paper, Lee’s real impact remains to be revealed on court.

Defending the Flying Death Machine
The Miami HEAT boasts the quickest ever transition offense the league has ever seen in the one-two combo of Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. Nicknamed the Flying Death Machine, the new Celtics will have to find an answer to easy points like this, if a win is to be taken on a road trip.

Will the younger legs of Courtney Lee, Jeff Green (or even rookie Kris Joseph) help? This leads us on to the next key, something that might well decide the way the coin falls.

Glass dominance
One way to limit easy buckets on transition, is to toughen up on offensive rebounding. Of course, the Celtics’ defensive philosophy has always been to get back on transition defense over offensive rebounding, but an improved performance on the offensive glass would minimise the touchdown passes Wade and James use in transition for the easy finish.

With Jared Sullinger’s record as a solid rebounder (8.6 RPG in 2012 summer league*) and Rajon Rondo’s unorthodox yet effective rebounding abilities (6.7 RPG last playoffs**), it is hoped that the Flying Death Machine would be slowed down.

To limit the amount of second chance shot attempts the HEAT get, rebounding needs to be a top priority. This was what Miami got away with last playoffs, definitely something that needs to be improved on.

The usual, yet unknown
There are of course, the usual storylines that were not touched on. Will Rondo pull another triple-double effort yet again in his emerging role as the leader of the Celtics? Will Kevin Garnett revert to his usual mid-range game, or seek to force the low post in a bid to either draw double-teams, or finish in the paint?

Will LeBron focus even more on his post game this season? How much more of a load would Mario Chalmers carry this year in his rise to prominence? Does Chris Bosh continue his pick and pop attempts all the way out to the three the way he did last postseason?

All of these and more are to be unveiled. Don’t forget to sign up for NBA.TV if you are planning to watch the game live, since it is unlikely that free-to-air TV will be broadcasting this game.

Mark this down on your calendar folks: game time is 31 October 2012, Wednesday 1100hrs AEDT.

As always, let us know what you think. Who will you root for? More importantly, who do you think creates the most impact? Feel free to leave a comment, and thank you for reading.

* Statistics from NBA.com
** Statistics from basketball-reference.com

Doc Rivers Shoulders Blame For Ray Allen’s Departure?

We have all been through the Ray Allen “Decision” debate, where reasons varied from differences with Rajon Rondo, to the Celtics management’s lack of appreciation, to an active dislike about the bench role were tossed about – all of which probably played a part.

In a recent interview with Doc Rivers, Yahoo! Sports correspondent Adrian Wojnarowski reveals interesting nuggets from the Boston Celtics coach, most especially on the Ray “Decision”, with Doc actually blaming himself for the exit.

He began with his decision for Rondo to take the reins of the team:

“People can use all the Rondo stuff – and it was there, no doubt about that – but it was me more than Rondo,” said Rivers, who is working as an NBC analyst during the Olympics. “I’m the guy who gave Rondo the ball. I’m the guy who decided that Rondo needed to be more of the leader of the team. That doesn’t mean guys liked that – and Ray did not love that – because Rondo now had the ball all the time.”

Despite Ray’s clutch performances in past years, he has definitely been on the decline with every season. He had a world-class one-on-one against Sasha Vujacic in the championship 2008 Finals:

That ball handle unfortunately, has all but vanished. No longer able to break down opponents off the dribble, he evolved into a specialist running off screens and pulling up for shots in transition with deadly accuracy, showcased by his eight three pointer performance in the 2010 Finals:

Doc’s reasoning is perfectly logical; you would definitely want your All-Star passing point guard to have the ball and to decide the course of attack, as opposed to giving the ball over to an aging shooting guard with limited ball-handling abilities.

On the other hand, it was difficult for Ray to give in to reality. He was no longer in his prime, not able to do everything. By refusing to surrender to the team’s best option, he was adding his own pride to the discussion; an adamant refusal to surrender to his declining abilities or accept a smaller team role along with the fact.

It should be noted that Doc emphasized the need for a coach to make decisions for the team over the player. This is part of what makes Doc a great coach – he is a player’s coach and bonds with them really well, but does not hesitate to do the right thing, even if it means upsetting someone on the team.

“As a coach, you’ve got to do what’s best for the team. If guys don’t like it, they’re going to leave. If they stay and don’t like it, well, your team’s going to suck anyway. Even if this happens, you still have to do it. You can’t coach worrying about any individual. You’ve got to coach worrying about your entire team: whether that gets you a championship or whether that gets you fired.

I think it allows you to coach free. You’re coaching with freedom because you know you’re doing what you think is right.”

The entire interview is well worth a read, but one great take from this interview would be the way Doc Rivers emphasized the team over Ray Allen, something not every coach is willing to do in this era of NBA super-stardom.

For that alone, a tip of the hat goes to Doc Rivers, Boston Celtics coach.

What do you think of Ray’s “Decision”? Do you agree with Doc’s point of view? Was Ray not enough of a team player by not staying on? Let us know what you think in the comment section below.