EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 15, 2010

Playoff nightmare: Celts draw Wade, Heat in Round 1

On Pro Basketball

BOSTON — For nearly an hour after their game ended, members of the Celtics lingered around the TV in the locker room at the TD Garden.

The game on the television may have been a matchup between the worst team in the NBA and a squad with its best player on the bench resting, but to the Celtics it was Must See TV. After all, their playoff future depended on it.

Finally, at 10:57 p.m., after some serious conversation and more than a few jokes, the matchup was set, and it was far from what Boston was looking for.

Dwyane Wade now waits in the near future.

The Celtics lingered to watch Wade-less Miami down the lowly New Jersey Nets in double overtime, setting up a first-round playoff matchup between Boston and the Heat.

"Miami is a tough team that just attacks," said Boston guard Nate Robinson, who hung around for the outcome, exchanging commentary with Rasheed Wallace and Glen "Big Baby" Davis. "They'll be ready for this meeting. They will be a tough team, but we feel ready."

While none of the Green players would show their hand, no one would have blamed them for rooting a bit for the Nets. After all, a first-round matchup with the struggling Milwaukee Bucks — who looked horrible last night — would look a tad more comfortable than a meeting with the Heat.

But, again, the likes of Ray Allen stuck with their poker faces while the Heat finished off the win.

"It's all about what we do out there," said Allen. "I'm not out looking at the other team."

The Celtics have had plenty of success in this matchup, holding a 10-1 record against the Heat over the past three seasons. But No. 5 Miami presents a very tough playoff opener for the fourth-seeded C's for one simple reason: Dwyane Wade.

In a sport where a single player can mean the difference in the series, Wade will be the undisputed top player on the court when the two teams meet up at the TD Garden starting this weekend.

Now in his seventh NBA campaign, Wade finished fifth in the league in scoring this season at 26.6 points a game, trailing just fellow superstars LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant.

While the powerful Wade has done his work against every team in the league this season, he has been especially tough against the Celtics, who lack a defender that is a natural matchup with the speedster.

In three games against Boston this season, Wade has notched 33.7 points per game, his second most against any team he played more than once, behind just the struggling Golden State Warriors (35.0 ppg).

"Wade is the whole team's matchup," said Robinson. "We're going to have to key on Dwyane. He's a phenomenal player."

Maybe even scarier is what Wade has done in the playoffs in his career. Few players can say they carried a team to an NBA title, but the Heat were firmly on Wade's shoulders as he scored 28.4 points a game in the playoffs to lead Miami to the 2005-06 NBA championship.

On top of all of that, Wade is a free agent to be and will be looking to make a final statement before he hits the market, not that he wasn't already bound for a max deal.

The only other significant player left from that title team is veteran big man Udonis Haslem (9.9 ppg), who helps lead Miami along with center Jermaine O'Neal (13.6 ppg) and Michael Beasley (14.7 ppg), the second overall pick in the 2008 NBA draft.

But, it is abundantly clear that the outcome of this series will depend on Wade. Slow down Wade, and the C's have a shot. But if Wade gets hot, Boston may not have the chance to worry about LeBron James and the Cavs in the next round.

It will likely be the crafty Ray Allen who draws the duty of guarding the much younger Wade in a battle of future Hall of Famers, as he did against Kobe Bryant two years ago in the finals.

"I think they have a good supporting cast," said Celtics point Guard Rajon Rondo. "But the bulk is going to be stopping Wade. I don't have the answers to that, but hopefully (head coach) Doc (Rivers) does."