All-Time Boston Celtics vs. All-Time Miami Heat

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.

All-Time Boston Celtics vs. All-Time Miami Heat

Key Matchups

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.

Biggest Mismatches

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.

Bill Russell's reaction to being omitted from LeBron's Mount Rushmore Copyright © Lipofsky
Bill Russell’s reaction to being omitted from LeBron’s Mount Rushmore
Copyright © Lipofsky

Boston wins, four games to one.

Next Round

Boston faces the winner of the All-Time Spurs vs. All-Time Warriors.

All-Time Miami Heat vs. All-Time Orlando Magic

Our next Sweet Sixteen match features the two youngest franchises remaining in our tournament. The Heat acquired many of their franchise icons through free agency and trades, led by the front office mastery of Pat Riley. The Magic used the draft (and specifically, holding the number one overall pick in the draft three times) to acquire many of their stars, all of whom helped them deliver a first-round upset over the Pacers. How do the All-Time Miami Heat vs. All-Time Orlando Magic compare to each other?

Heat vs. Magic 3

Key Matchups

Miami’s athleticism vs. Orlando’s athleticism: The Heat have one of the most athletic starting wing pairings in the tournament in Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. The Magic have one of the most athletic starting backcourts in the tournament in Anfernee Hardaway and Tracy McGrady. Both have athletic big men who can protect the rim (Alonzo Mourning for the Heat, Dwight Howard and young Shaquille O’Neal for the Magic). The defensive matchups in the starting lineups will be fascinating; Tim Hardaway suffers from a huge size disadvantage, while Rashard Lewis will struggle to keep up with either of Miami’s wings. Will Miami dare put Hardaway on Lewis, so Wade and James can guard Penny Hardaway and McGrady? Who will Orlando put Lewis on?

Miami’s small-ball lineup vs. Orlando’s small-ball lineup: Miami’s jack-of-all-trades, LeBron James, will play power forward at times, and will be surrounded by shooters in this configuration (most notably Eddie Jones and Glen Rice off the bench). Stan Van Gundy had great success in Orlando surrounding a big man with four shooters around him, so expect him to utilize this tactic and stagger O’Neal and Howard’s minutes with Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu, and Dennis Scott alongside them both.

Biggest Mismatches

LeBron James vs. Orlando’s small forwards: It’s unclear how Orlando will guard James in this series. Rashard Lewis has the length to bother him, but doesn’t have bulk or elite athleticism. Tracy McGrady has the athleticism and length, so he’ll see plenty of minutes on James, but he’ll likely start each game on Dwyane Wade. Expect Nick Anderson to get many minutes alongside Hardaway and McGrady to help Orlando match up better with Miami.

Orlando’s size vs. Miami’s size (in the starting lineup): Orlando’s starting big men (Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard) are far bigger and bulkier than Miami’s (Alonzo Mourning and Chris Bosh). Orlando also has the tallest backcourt in the tournament, and a 6’10” starting small forward. There’s no good defensive matchup for Tim Hardaway, who may cede a lot of minutes to Eddie Jones and Glen Rice since Miami already has two ball-dominant players in Wade and James.


In the mid-1990s, the Magic had the makings of an NBA dynasty. Shaquille O’Neal was one of the greatest prospects ever coming out of college, and Penny Hardaway made two all-NBA first-team appearances in his first three seasons in the league. However, they never fulfilled those expectations, getting swept out of the playoffs in the first round (1994), the NBA Finals (1995), and the Eastern Conference Finals (1996), before O’Neal left the team via free agency. In 2010, the Heat had the one of the greatest free agency coups in sports history, re-signing Wade and signing-and-trading for James and Bosh. In their four years together, that group became champions, making four straight NBA Finals berths and winning two championships.


These two franchises engage in a classic battle. While Orlando has the talent to defeat Miami, the Heat have the championship mettle, and James shines as the best player in the series. It’s party time in Miami.


Heat win, four games to three.

Next Round

Miami faces the All-Time Celtics.

All-Time Miami Heat vs. All-Time Utah Jazz

It’s easy to look at our next first round match up as a contrast of styles. The athleticism of the All-Time Heat vs. the precision of the All-Time Jazz. Wade and LeBron vs. Stockton and Malone. Alley-oop vs. pick-and-roll. However, both teams have strengths that go well beyond these stylistic differences. During the latter part of LeBron James’s tenure with the team, Miami mastered a beautiful offense based on ball movement and spacing. Expect their all-time team to implement this, especially when they play James at power forward and surround him with shooters. Jerry Sloan’s flex offense was ahead of its time, and will maximize the offensive talent of the high scoring team he leads in this tournament. These tactics and several key advantages held by each side will help determine the outcome of this series.

Miami’s Advantages

Perimeter athleticism: Utah doesn’t have a good option to defend Dwyane Wade. Pete Maravich and Jeff Hornacek are outclassed athletically. John Stockton will be busy guarding Tim Hardaway. The Wade and James combination can overwhelm people on both ends of the court, and Utah doesn’t have many rangy wings who can slow them down. Speaking of James…

Jack of all trades: LeBron James should dominate in this series. Adrian Dantley has no chance of slowing him down. Expect Utah to use Karl Malone on him at times, and to play Andrei Kirilenko big minutes as the primary LeBron defender. Neither is an ideal option; Malone isn’t quick enough to defend him on the perimeter, and Kirilenko doesn’t have the bulk to contend with the brilliant post-up game James developed with the Heat.

Battle of the big men: Alonzo Mourning and (an older) Shaquille O’Neal vs. Mark Eaton and Mehmet Okur. Enough said.

Utah’s Advantages

Offensive efficiency: Dantley, Stockton, and Malone are not only three of the great offensive players of all-time, but also three of the most efficient (ranking fifth, ninth, and 56th ever in true shooting percentage). No defense will be able to completely shut down this trio. Add in Maravich’s playmaking ability, and the long-range shooting of Hornacek, and this offense has the potential to be deadly.


Jazz’s pick-and-roll vs. Heat’s aggressive, blitzing defense: Can Miami’s aggressive approach disrupt one of the greatest orchestrators in NBA history?


Despite the brilliance of Utah’s offensive playmakers, the two-way dominance of the Heat overwhelms the Jazz over the course of the series. How do you feel about that LeBron?

LeBron celebration pose

Miami wins, four games to two.

Next Round

Miami faces the All-Time Orlando Magic.

All-Time Miami Heat Team

All-Time Miami Heat Team Infographic

Is this the new dominant NBA franchise? After only 27 years of existence, the All-Time Miami Heat team has a mix of dominant wings, Hall of Fame big men, and clutch point guard play. With three championships in that short time, they enter our tournament as the ninth seed.

The team’s only true point guard is Tim Hardaway, who helped them amass a .664 win percentage during his five full seasons with the franchise (the equivalent of 54 wins per season). Although he no longer had the speed and quickness from his Golden State days, he was a clutch performer with Miami, and finished fourth and sixth in the MVP voting in 1997 and 1998. The starting shooting guard is the franchise’s signature player, Dwyane Wade, who’s emerged as one of the greatest shooting guards of all time. John Hollinger rated Wade’s 2006 NBA Finals performance as the greatest ever, and he’s led the league in scoring (2009), playoff scoring (2010), and PER (2007) during his Heat career.

Remember what I said about Milwaukee’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? The same applies for Miami’s LeBron James, who might be the most versatile player in this tournament. James’s ‘four years of college’ produced an NBA Finals appearance in every season, a 27 game winning streak, and the only two regular season MVP awards in franchise history. The underappreciated Chris Bosh is the starter at power forward. Bosh’s deadly midrange game fits beautifully alongside Wade’s slashing game and James’s all-court dominance.

Hall-of-Famer and two-time Defensive Player of the Year Alonzo Mourning is the team’s starting center. Mourning dominated the paint defensively, and putting him alongside James (a dominant defender), and Wade and Bosh (solid defenders) will make this team very difficult to score against.

This team’s bench consists of long-range shooters and big bodies. Expect Eddie Jones and Glen Rice to get plenty of minutes alongside James and Wade to space the floor. Jones was a good all-around player who defended wings very well, and Rice will play small forward when this team downsizes and places James at the four. Voshon Leonard is another three-point shooter who will play sparingly behind Hardaway, Wade, and Jones. P.J. Brown and Brian Grant provide nice size at power forward. Brown was a very solid defender, and both bring toughness and energy off the bench. Shaquille O’Neal and Rony Seikaly are the bench’s centers. Although Shaq was past his prime, he could still score on anybody one-on-one, and he finished second in the MVP voting in his first year with the franchise.

This team should be exceptionally versatile, largely due to James. Want to play big? Play James at point guard. Want to play small? Play him at power forward. Need a defensive stop? Have James guard the opposing team’s best perimeter player, and trot out a lineup of Wade, Jones, James, Brown, and Mourning. While their bench isn’t great, they have many effective players who fit well around their superstars. Despite the franchise’s youth, this team holds great potential, and will be a threat to advance far in our tournament.

Coach: Erik Spoelstra

All-Time Franchise Winning Percentage (through 2014-15): .518