May 1, 2011, 1:18 AM EDT
Often, the first game of an NBA playoff series can feel like the first round of an overhyped boxing match — a lot of dancing around, a lot of feeling each other out, a lot of jabs but no haymakers.
Not Boston vs. Miami.
Game 1 is going to set a tone in this series. Game 1 matters. A lot. Both teams are going to come out swinging.
These are two teams with question marks and one is going to leave more confident than when it came in. The other team is going to have to adjust what it wants to do.
More than any other series, whichever team can set the tone early here has a huge advantage.
For Boston, that means it needs to be physical, as scouts told CSN New England. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade may be able to take the punishment, but the Celtics need to still dish it out. They have to establish themselves as the more physical team, and if you drive the lane on them, you will pay a price. How well Boston can do that without Kendrick Perkins or Shaquille O’Neal remains to be seen.
The other key for Boston will be point guard Rajon Rondo. Ray Allen will have Wade on him, Paul Pierce will have LeBron as his shadow, and Kevin Garnett will have to deal with the long arms of Chris Bosh. But Rondo? He has Mike Bibby on him. Then maybe Mario Chalmers. This is a matchup Boston should exploit, but Rondo averaged just 7.5 points on 37 percent shooting (with a dozen assists) in their regular-season meetings. He must do better.
For Miami, the questions are defense and Wade. With defense, they have been one of the better defensive teams this season, but they do not create a lot of turnovers. They need to do that so they can get out and run this series. You don’t want to just let the Celtics get back and set in their half-court defense, they are still very good at that. You need some easy baskets against this team.
As for the Heat’s offense, LeBron will get his as always, and Bosh actually had some success against the Celtics in the final regular-season matchup.
But Wade averaged 12.8 points (less than half his season average) on 28 percent shooting. Maybe he got tired chasing Allen off all those screens on the other end of the floor, but the Heat will need all of the Big Three to win this series.
There are questions about who will control the boards, about which team’s bench will perform better, about a lot of things.
One team will answer enough of those questions to get the win Sunday. And just as important that team will have set the tone for this series. They will set the other team back, force them to adjust what they want to do.