Can Boston Celtics even the series?
5-on-5: Five questions heading into Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals
The Miami Heat dominated the Boston Celtics in Game 1. Can the C's bounce back and win Game 2 (ESPN and WatchESPN.com, 8:30 p.m. ET)? Will we see Miami players "hit the deck"? We break down the series' biggest questions with another playoff edition of 5-on-5:
1. Fact or Fiction: Injuries are the Celtics' main issue.
Chris Forsberg, ESPN Boston: Fiction. Boston has been an inconsistent offensive team all season; injuries have simply exacerbated matters. Sure, you can't help but wonder what a completely healthy Ray Allen and Paul Pierce would do to eliminate some of Boston's offensive woes (and having Avery Bradley would only improve the defense), but the Celtics showcased similar difficulties this season even when they had all their horses.
Tom Haberstroh, ESPN.com: Fact. Jeff Green. Jermaine O'Neal. Chris Wilcox. Avery Bradley. Ray Allen. Paul Pierce. That's a lot of damaged goods. This is a team that at full strength would give this current Heat team a run for their money. But for now, it appears the battered C's are only providing a speed hump on Miami's route to San Antonio.
Justin Verrier, ESPN.com: Faction. The Celtics sure looked like a crumbling dynasty in Game 1; if Ray Allen missing free throws isn't a sign of the Apocalypse, it's surely some other, potentially equally scary omen of impending doom. But the malady that may have caused the most damage is the one that knocked out Avery Bradley for the rest of the season. Boston's paint defense was rough, but it was two wings (LeBron, Wade) doing most of the damage. Who left among the Celtics' collection of old dudes on the outside can stop at least one of them?
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: Fact. But that's inevitable when you're pushing through an extended playoff run with an aging core. Avery Bradley's shoulder surgery and Ray Allen's gimpy ankle have set this team back. Paul Pierce is also dealing with a problematic knee. There's only so much Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo can do to carry this team. All that said, I still wouldn't say the Celtics are down for the count.
Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: Fact. It is the central reason they've got an uphill fight in this series, with Allen, Pierce and Greg Stiemsma all hurting, plus their depth has been decimated with previous injuries. They also have issues with the Heat's athleticism and problems scoring.
2. Fact or Fiction: The Heat are better than last season.
Forsberg: Fiction. Without Chris Bosh on the floor, this team is missing its third spoke, so it's hard to suggest they are better (at least at the moment). LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are simply playing at an insane level right now, and that might make you think they are playing better ball than last year.
Haberstroh: Fiction. Well, they don't have Chris Bosh, so that's no small thing. And secondly, I'm not sure Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem are much healthier than they were last season. Giving more minutes to Mario Chalmers and Shane Battier helps matters, but it's tough to say that a Big Two team is better than a Big Three.
Verrier: Fiction in its current Bosh-less state, but fact overall. Miami has essentially the same roster, just a few years younger at certain (relatively innocuous) reserve spots and with Shane Battier, despite suffering from onset rigor mortis in his shooting stroke, providing much-needed defensive flexibility. But LeBron and Wade's in-game synergy appears much improved.
Wallace: Fact. Shane Battier's addition alone puts this team ahead of last year's in the personnel department. But you can also see LeBron James and Dwyane Wade playing with a better understanding of one another's approach. Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller are healthier, even though the Heat are without Chris Bosh right now. And last but not least, Joel Anthony -- yes, Joel -- is far less of a liability, it seems.
Windhorst: Fact. Last year they weren't as deep or as healthy. Even without Chris Bosh and with Mike Miller limping, the Heat have a healthier and more confident rotation this year compared to last. Last year Erik Spoelstra was constantly changing his rotation, even midway through the Finals. Then there is the Wade/James component -- they are playing the best combination ball of their time in Miami together. That has made everything better.
3. What's the big takeaway from all the "Hit the deck" talk?
Forsberg: The Celtics pretty much admitted they were a little bit (Larry Bird voice) S-O-F-T in Game 1. While Rajon Rondo said he didn't mean Boston would get chippy, it'll be interesting to see how things escalate when the Celtics give a hard foul on James or Wade early in Game 2. One thing is clear: Boston can't allow 19 layups like in Game 1.
Haberstroh: It's sad that it's come to this. This is a Boston club that prides itself on sharp defensive precision, and now it's resorting to childish threats of pseudo-violence. Play better defense and you wouldn't have to worry about having to give hard fouls. Did we learn nothing from the Pacers series? David West tried to hack LeBron James and the Indiana power forward bounced off LeBron like a rubber ball. Players have tried sending a message through physicality and most have failed.
Verrier: That it would be far more interesting if Rondo was inviting the Heat to smoothies on the porch of his summer share? It's nice that the C's are aware of their problems defending the paint, but Danny Granger pretty much exhausted all intrigue in tough talk involving Miami.
Wallace: Absolutely nothing. Tough talk and bully tactics didn't necessarily work against the Heat last series. Ask the Indiana Pacers how that turned out. Plus, it's not as if the Celtics can afford the foul trouble, considering how much they're counting on Rondo, Allen, Pierce and Garnett. Their rotation doesn't go deep enough to compensate for the spare fouls it would really require to send a physical message to the Heat.
Windhorst: The Celtics realized they gave up 78 percent shooting in the paint and allowed the Heat to make 19 layups. Nineteen. That isn't acceptable in a preseason game. It is common sense that they need to get tougher inside. They cannot win otherwise.
4. What's the key to a Celtics turnaround?
Forsberg: Their offense. The Celtics can't shoot 39 percent against the Heat and expect to win. Boston has to make shots and force Miami to play against its half-court defense. Eliminating the Heat layups will help, but you know the Celtics defense will typically be stout. It's the offense that's a nightly wild card.
Haberstroh: Postponing the series six months to get healthy.
Verrier: A literal turnaround from their sluggish Game 1. This team looked nothing like the one that has pestered the Heat so often of late. Fatigue was likely a factor, but they'll have the same amount or rest heading into this one. Some basic improvements include: defending the paint better; create more spacing on offense (someone hitting an outside shot would help), which would greatly aid Rondo's cause; fly Allen to Germany and back; increased naptime.
Wallace: Finding an offensive rhythm. I think part of their struggles in Game 1 had to do with the quick turnaround from a draining seven-game series against Philadelphia. The more rested and ready team had its way in Miami on Monday. Beyond that, I just don't see Allen, Pierce and Rondo all struggling at the same time like that again. Those three combined for 30 missed shots and 12 turnovers in Game 1.
Windhorst: A dominating Rondo. When he's on the attack, the Heat, like most teams, don't have an antidote, and it forces concessions everywhere on the floor. Rondo has the ability to control an entire game, not unlike James or Wade. The Celtics desperately need that counter.
5. Who wins Game 2?
Forsberg: Conventional wisdom suggests that a 2-0 hole is a death sentence for teams (those that win the first two games prevail 94.3 percent of the time in the playoffs), and Rondo admitted that this is a bit of a must-win for Boston. If the Celtics play with urgency, they win. Alas, the Celtics have a way of making things extremely difficult on themselves this season, and it's hard not to think they'll head to Boston down 2-0.
Haberstroh: The Heat. Don't see how the Celtics win in Miami without Ray Allen or Avery Bradley. If they can't get Bradley's D, they need Allen's O. They're getting neither.
Verrier: Miami. No way you can pick Boston with the scummy taste of Game 1 still lingering, even with Chris Bosh rocking fluorescent pants and not game shorts. Which should push us one game closer to the next phase of the Celtics' three-year-long excuse that they haven't lost a playoff series with a healthy starting lineup.
Wallace: There really is no reason or evidence to suggest that picking against the Heat at home right now is a logical decision. Miami wins Game 2 and protects home court, but it'll have to work a bit harder to do so than in Game 1. Really, it's Game 3 that will truly define what this series is all about and how much Boston wants to be a part of the Eastern Conference finals.
Windhorst: I expect a much stronger effort from the Celtics. But I don't think the Heat played all that well in Game 1, either; they have areas they can shore up. I think Miami takes a 2-0 lead in a fight.