Our next matchup represents the greatest generational divide in our tournament. The Miami Heat’s first year of operation was 1989, while the Boston Celtics have been in existence since 1947. Eleven of the twelve players on Boston’s roster were either retired, or near retirement, before Miami ever existed. However, since that time, Miami has won the Eastern Conference five times, which is three more times than Boston. Miami has three titles, while Boston has one. Does this give Miami any sliver of hope in the battle between the All-Time Boston Celtics vs. All-Time Miami Heat? Here’s a breakdown of our first Elite Eight matchup.
Larry Bird vs. LeBron James: The two greatest small forwards in NBA history square off in a dream matchup. Both were elite passers who will serve as the fulcrum of their team’s offenses. James was a better defender, while Bird was a better outside shooter. James won two MVP awards in his four years in Miami, while Bird won three MVP awards in a row from 1984 to 1986. Expect LeBron to guard Bird for large stretches of each game, while Boston will make Kevin McHale their primary LeBron defender. Miami also has to deal with a couple of other Hall-of-Fame small forwards off Boston’s bench: John Havlicek, the perpetual motion machine, and LeBron’s old nemesis Paul Pierce. Miami will play James at power forward at times, meaning Dwyane Wade, Eddie Jones, and Glen Rice will be needed to slow Boston’s trio down.
Red Auerbach vs. Erik Spoelstra: Both coaches will have several matchup dilemmas to figure out. How will Boston adjust when LeBron James moves to power forward? They can put Larry Bird at the four, and bring in one of their wings off the bench, or they can stay big and have Bird guard one of Miami’s wings (preferably Glen Rice). Who will be left out of Boston’s rotation? It’s almost impossible to play 12 players, so expect Jo Jo White and Tom Heinsohn to stay glued to the bench, and to only be used if others are in foul trouble. Expect Spoelstra to go primarily with an eight-man rotation, with his starting lineup, Jones, Rice, and Shaquille O’Neal. Spoelstra has a decision on how to use his big men in this series. Chris Bosh can play the five when they go small, but he’d be at a severe disadvantage on the boards against Bill Russell, Dave Cowens, or Robert Parish. On offense, O’Neal will give any of Boston’s big men fits, but he won’t be able to protect the paint as well as two-time Defensive Player of the Year Alonzo Mourning. Expect Spoelstra to play stretches with a deadly defensive lineup of Jones, Wade, James, Bosh, and Mourning to slow down Boston’s offense.
Celtics bench vs. Heat bench: Much like the real-life playoffs, expect teams to shorten their rotations to feature their best players in this tournament. Miami’s eight-man rotation should create issues for Boston. However, depth is still important, and Boston’s players should be less taxed than Miami’s as the series goes on. James and Wade may play 40 plus minutes per game, and will be working hard on both ends of the court. The fact that they have to play against two players who were known for their constant movement, Sam Jones and John Havlicek, will only exacerbate Miami’s problems.
Miami’s wing athleticism vs. Boston’s wing athleticism: While Boston has a great athlete on the wing (Havlicek), they also have several others who weren’t known for their athleticism (namely Bird and Pierce). Miami’s greatest strength is the athleticism of their dynamic duo, Wade and James. Eddie Jones is another terrific athlete for Miami off the bench, and expect him to get heavy minutes alongside Wade and James to smother Boston’s perimeter players defensively, and to create mismatches on the other end of the court.
Generational comparisons: One of the guiding principles of this tournament is to consider the relative dominance of players from previous generations, so the results aren’t skewed toward the bigger, more athletic players in the modern era. Bob Cousy and Bill Russell are two of the greatest players ever, and will be favored to win their matchups in this series against Tim Hardaway and Alonzo Mourning, respectively, even if the latter looks like the Incredible Hulk next to the players that Russell faced in his era. This helps to provide some context for Boston’s depth advantage, and the problems their opponents will face trying to stop them.
Remember when LeBron left Bill Russell off his NBA Mount Rushmore? Bill Russell doesn’t forget these things. He leads the Celtics to victory.
Boston wins, four games to one.
Boston faces the winner of the All-Time Spurs vs. All-Time Warriors.