at American Airlines Arena, 3:30 p.m. | ABC, WEEI (850 AM)
PAYNE'S THREE THINGS TO WATCH
Runnin' Rondo: The one clear matchup advantage the Celtics appear to boast over the Heat lies at the point guard spot, where Rajon Rondo should have the edge over any of Miami's traditional options, be it Mike Bibby or Mario Chalmers. Miami will most likely sag off of Rondo on the defensive end, but that won't deter Boston's point guard from still attempting to slash into the middle and create better looks for himself and his teammates. But Rondo having to fall back on the occasional elbow jump shot isn't such a bad option anymore, as they've been falling with more and more regularity lately.
Garnett vs. Bosh: In terms of matchups, Paul Pierce vs. LeBron James will steal most of the headlines heading into Game 1, but Kevin Garnett vs. Chris Bosh will be one of the series' most important duels. It's a matchup the Celtics will most likely have to win over the course of the series, and Bosh won't have any time to chill with the super-intense Garnett breathing down his neck whenever they're on the floor together. Garnett's expected defense will be as important as ever, but the Celtics will also need to utilize him as an offensive weapon, particularly down on the low blocks.
Ball Don't Lie: The prospect of foul trouble hasn't been discussed much in the build-up to this series, but neither team can afford to have any of its stars sit for extended stretches on the bench, particularly early in the game. Both teams will most likely try to lure one another into such a predicament, particularly if any player picks up his first personal in the opening minutes. The most likely candidates for the Celtics are Paul Pierce and anyone who rotates over to help on an attacking LeBron James (most likely Jermaine O'Neal or Kevin Garnett early in the game). It's difficult to imagine James settling for too many jump shots in this series, and it'll be up to Pierce and Co. to contest and alter James' shots as best they can without committing personal fouls. Easier said than done, of course.
Film from this season, that is.
No need to watch the Celtics inflicting past playoff wounds on him. Those remain fresh -- and time has not yet healed them.
The inability to beat Boston is one of the biggest reasons why James is now wearing a Miami Heat uniform. He'll get a third attempt to top the Celtics in a postseason series starting Sunday when the teams collide in Game 1 of what may easily become an epic Eastern Conference semifinal.
"It is personal," James said Saturday as the Heat finished practice. "It is. Absolutely right. You don't want to keeping getting beat by the same team, the same team keep sending you home to plan a vacation. So it is personal."
The Celtics expected him to say nothing less.
"It would be personal for me," Boston forward Paul Pierce said. "I'm sure he's going to take it personal and you've got to expect his best."
Unwittingly or not, the Celtics played a huge role in setting up an offseason unlike any other in NBA history. Boston gave James a big push toward Miami for a strength-in-numbers approach with the Heat that wasn't possible during the two-time MVP's stint with the Cavaliers.
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