Thursday, June 7, 2012

Celtics vs Heat, It's All About Heart

Heart, pure and simple. That's what tonight's Game 6 at Boston's TD Garden comes down to.

Ahead 3-2, the Celtics, with a surprising road win on Tuesday and a three-game win streak, have the Miami Heat on the ropes, ready to claim the NBA's Eastern Conference championship with a victory in the best-of-seven series.

The teams are fairly even. The Heat, boasting LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, is younger and quicker but their third big cog, forward Chris Bosh, is shaky, playing for the first time Tuesday after being out with an abdominal pull. The Bosh factor drops the Heat down a peg, making the team fairly equal to the Celts, who have three old players--Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. With Bosh totally healthy, the Heat, which started out in this series 2-0 without him, would have won in four or five games. Bosh returned Tuesday for Game 5 in Miami and was impressive in a short 14-minute appearance. Undoubtedly, he'll play longer in tonight's game and could be a bigger factor. When Bosh is out or in less than top shape, the Celts' Garnett rules the interior and frees defenders to focus more on Wade and James, making them less effective. Also, with Bosh out or hobbled, it's much easier for the Celts' best player, point guard Rajon Rondo, to penetrate the Heat defense.

Here's where the heart factor comes in. Under fire for losing last season's NBA finals to Dallas, the Heat's James has been roasted mercilessly since then. If the Heat lose again, he'll naturally be blamed. So for another year, he'll be blasted for failing in the clutch. James will do anything to avoid that misery. On the Celtics' side, this is definitely the last hurrah for the senior trio of Garnett, Wade and Allen. Just reaching the NBA finals will be a victory for them. Unquestionably, there'll be no next year for them. This is it.

So will James play ferociously and efficiently and lead the Heat to a Game 7 in Miami, where the team will be heavily favored? Or will the Celts' senior citizens rise up, fight off the fired-up Heat and propel the Celts into the finals, one last time? It's who has the biggest heart, who doesn't fold under pressure.

The Heat does have more to overcome. First of all, the team is on the road, in a hostile arena where it usually plays badly. In recent years, Miami has bombed in Boston, losing 14 out of their last 15 at the TD Garden. In that stretch, the lone Heat victory came in last year's playoffs, in a second round overtime game. Not only that, Boston is nearly invincible at home, losing only twice, barely, since the All-Star break. Also, for Miami, the pressure is really on because there's no tomorrow. If Boston loses, at least the team gets another shot, even though it's on the road.

Surprisingly, the road team, Miami, is the favorite, by 2 points. Smart bettors will avoid this one. With the X factor--heart--so huge, the game could turn either way.