With apologies to the Atlanta Hawks and Philadelphia 76ers, there hasn’t been a significant amount of juice in terms of built-in story lines emanating from Celtics opponents in this 2012 playoff run.
That will not be the case going forward. In fact, it’s hard to digest the amount of feud fuel Miami and Boston bring to the table as their Eastern Conference Finals series gets underway Monday night (8:30 p.m., ESPN).
Three things to look for in the series:
All Garnett all the time
Kevin Garnett has been spectacular over the past few months for the Celtics. He now has a chance to put up MVP-like numbers in a conference final.
Garnett had his way with Chris Bosh in the 2011-12 regular season, but with Bosh still injured (he’s highly unlikely to be available even if the series goes six or seven games) Garnett should be able to dominate the likes of Ronny Turiaf and Joel Anthony.
Garnett has scored at least 13 points in every game except one this postseason (Game 4 loss at Philly) and has seven 20-plus point performances to his credit.
Ray of light
Ray Allen offered up hope to Celtics fans in the fourth quarter of Game 7 against Philadelphia as he came up with two clutch 3-pointers and a pair of pure free throws. Allen looked all but done throughout much of the series as he continues to be bothered by bone spurs in his right ankle.
Offensively, Allen should contribute to Boston’s cause in the series. It’s the other end of the floor that should have Celtics fans terribly worried.
Allen will likely draw the assignment of covering Dwyane Wade, who is fresh off a 41-point, 10-rebound game in the series clinching win against Indiana. Since his bench blowup with head coach Erik Spoelstra, Wade has been dominant on the offensive end.
Pietrus on LeBron
With Paul Pierce still banged up and lacking to quickness to shut down opposing small forwards on the defensive end, expect Mickael Pietrus to see a significant amount of time guarding league MVP LeBron James.
There was a time when Pietrus was considered something of a “LeBron-stopper” during his days with the Orlando Magic. Pietrus played James much like Bruce Bowen did in the 2007 NBA Finals, using a straight-up approach. Nothing fancy.
“I feel I can stay with him, get in front of him, get my feet set and go out there and fight,” Pietrus told ESPN about guarding James in Orlando’s series victory over James’ Cavaliers in the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals. “I’m not trying to say to myself that I’m going to stop him; I’m just challenging myself, because I want to say I came from nothing to something, and there are only so many opportunities in life where you can be in this kind of situation.”
James had three 40-plus point performances against Pietrus and the Magic in the 2009 ECF but the Cavs lost each of those games. Expect the Celtics to use a strategy of allowing James to put up shots in the half court but not allowing James to get out on the break.
James had just one double-digit assist game against Pietrus and the Magic in the ’09 ECF. Not surprisingly, the Cavs won that game.