"It doesn't matter," Doc Rivers said Monday. "At the end of the day, if you're still playing in June, does it really matter who people chose?"
Maybe he's right, but the Celtics have a golden opportunity in Tuesday night's season opener to set the tone for the Eastern Conference race this season. The TD Garden is about to play host to two of the league's best, and when the dust settles, one will emerge as the early favorite to win the East. The Celtics open their season against the vaunted Miami Heat.
Heat at Celtics
Tuesday, Oct. 26, 7:30 p.m. (TNT)
TD Garden, Boston, Mass.
The Celtics thoroughly dominated the Heat last year, both in the regular season and in the playoffs. They swept the season series 3-0, and they nearly swept the first round of the East playoffs as well. It took a dazzling 46-point effort from Dwyane Wade to stave off elimination in Game 4 of their postseason series but the Celtics won Game 5 at home and convincingly slammed the door on the Heat's postseason.
Paul Pierce vs. LeBron James
Right off the bat, you notice two distinct differences between Pierce's matchup with LeBron last year versus now. One, Pierce is without Tony Allen as a defensive-minded backup that can help him out, and two, LeBron has a pair of stars next to him drawing the Celtics' focus. It's now more important than ever that Pierce stand up to King James on his own. He'll get a little bit of help from the Celtics' quick-rotating team defense, but for the most part, it's all on the C's captain to contain the King. Not only that, but he's got to conserve the energy to be a difference-maker on the offensive end.
Point guard: Rajon Rondo
Shooting guard: Ray Allen
Small forward: Paul Pierce
Power forward: Kevin Garnett
Center: Shaquille O'Neal
Point guard: Carlos Arroyo
Shooting guard: Dwyane Wade
Small forward: LeBron James
Power forward: Chris Bosh
Center: Joel Anthony
We know from the start that the Celtics' Big Three will have their hands full with the Heat's younger, equally big leading three. But the C's also know they'll have distinct matchup advantages at the other two positions on the floor. Rajon Rondo will have a chance to shine in Tuesday's opener, as will a pair of Boston centers named O'Neal. This is a star-studded Miami team that Boston's drawn for game one, but the C's have a clear advantage in their depth. The goal will be to outlast, and eventually to outplay, the mighty Heat.
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