In one corner, you've got the perennial East heavyweight — winner of two of the last three conference titles, back to make another run. In the other, you've got the new juggernaut on the scene. They're ready to take the floor and show what they've got. What can we expect from the Celtics-Heat opener?
It's a matchup tailor-made for TV — you have the old Big Three, a rising superstar point guard and a Hall of Fame center taking on a new Big Three and a thoroughly overhauled supporting cast. Could you ask for a better marquee matchup? You've got Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo, Shaquille O'Neal, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh all on one court. It's the new Greatest Show on Earth, and it's coming to the TD Garden on Oct. 26.
One team won a championship in 2008 and all its major players are looking for a second ring (save for O'Neal, who's seeking a fifth). The other won it all in '06, but has since brought in two stars hungry to win a title.
The atmosphere in the Garden on opening night will be electric. Boston's fans, 18,000 strong, will be on a two-fold mission: to put their support behind their Celtics — who came painfully close to Banner 18 in the NBA Finals last June — and to boo the Heat, the new most hated team in American sports, into oblivion.
The house will be packed, America will be watching, and time will stand still. And at some point, a basketball game will take place.
Amid all the hype and all the hoopla, buried underneath all the star power is a very intriguing matchup. What happens if LeBron and Wade are too athletic and too powerful for the aging Pierce and Allen? What if the Heat simply have no answer for the dashing Rondo? In a battle between two of the deepest, most dangerous teams in the NBA, who will find an edge?
As great as the Heat are, all signs are initially pointing to the Celtics.
Pat Riley has put together a great team in Miami, and he's compiled the pieces for an absolute dynamo, a potential 70-game winner and multiple-title contender. In the long run, the Heat could well be the better team. But not on opening night.
For one thing, the Celtics have continuity. Pierce, Garnett, Allen and Rondo have played together for three years, going on a fourth when the season tips off next month. They know how to play together — they always know where everyone's going to be, what they're going to do and how they're going to do it. The C's have perfected team basketball through years of repetition.
The Heat don't have that luxury. They're still feeling around — figuring out who takes on what role, who defers to whom, who hits the big shot when it's needed. Wade, LeBron and Bosh are still learning to coexist, and they won't have it all figured out at the opening tip. They'll have growing pains, and Boston will capitalize.
The Celtics have their home crowd. Just as the TD Garden faithful were there to celebrate the demise of Wade's Heat last year in the East playoffs' first round, and the end of LeBron's run with the Cavs in round two, they'll be there to make life miserable for the Miami superstars in October. The Garden will be on its worst behavior with the Heat in town for opening night. Not a friendly place for the visitors to go to war.
The Celtics will have the energy that comes with a fresh new season. The C's are old, and injuries will no doubt set in over the course of a long season. But on day one, their core players are refreshed and ready to rumble. This is the same Celtic squad that started 23-5 last season; from the opening tip on opening night, the competitive juices are flowing and they're ready to rock. This season could open with another big Boston start.
The Heat have put together a monster basketball team, and they can expect good things in due time. But when the ball's in the air and this season gets underway, the Celtics will start with the upper hand.
NESN.com will analyze 25 key NBA questions this September.
Sept. 2: When will the Knicks become relevant again?
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