Monday, May 28, 2012

Mad Props! Hello, Old Friend

Behind Rajon Rondo’s ninth career postseason triple double (which, for those scoring at home, is the fourth most all time) and another solid (though lackluster by recent standards) 18-point (7-of-17 FG), 13-rebound showing from Kevin Garnett, on Saturday night the Boston Celtics finalized the NBA’s final four.

The Celtics started their third Eastern Conference Finals in five years staring down some familiar foes in South Florida. For the third straight season and the fourth time in five years their path crosses with that of now three-time MVP LeBron James. By his side is an incredibly in-form Dwyane Wade, who is also facing the Celtics for the third straight postseason. Many will point to league-best defensive prowess (just 98.2 points allowed/100 possessions) and regular season success against the Heat (won three of four) as evidence of the Celtics’ ability push Miami to the brink and perhaps pen yet another disappointing chapter in the story of LeBron James.

Don’t bet on it. Yes, Kevin Garnett is balling at a level approaching that of his 2004 MVP season. Yes, the timetable for Chris Bosh’s return remains uncertain. And yes, equally uncertain is Bosh’s condition upon return. However, if the Celtics are unable to score consistently (using the league’s 27th ranked offense) against the league’s fourth stingiest defense – with the most devastating perimeter defender on Earth checking Paul Pierce – any success they have in slowing Miami’s offense will be rendered moot. The new adventures of old KG may push this matchup to six games, but the storyline in unlikely to vary greatly from last year.

On the prop front, the Western Conference Finals (some thoughts to come here) is effectively a three-on-three battle between the Spurs’ bejeweled trio and the NBA’s best 1-2-3 perimeter combo. Back East, meanwhile, the menu boasts five familiar faces, with cameos from a variety of supporting characters:

Brandon Bass Over 18½ Points + Rebounds – Speak of the devil! Bass has been solid for the C’s all season, scoring 15+ in a game 20 times and grabbing at least seven rebounds on 25 occasions, but make no mistake, his appearance on the prop radar is owed almost entirely (if not entirely entirely) to his 27-point outburst in Boston’s Game 5 win over Philly.

Interestingly the added attention may be somewhat justified. Bass has combined for 20+ points + rebounds in three of his last four, posted P+R totals of 18+ three times against the Heat in regular season and fared no worse than 16 – 8 & 8 on April 24’s no stars affair. I didn’t think I was ready to trust Bass to turn in a big performance in a road series opener, but discovered that doing so at a plus price does not feel entirely nuts.

Dwyane Wade Under 26½ Points – What a difference a week makes, huh?

Eight days ago, Wade, fresh off as bad a playoff performance as any bona fide superstar in recent memory has had, facing questions about his health… and ~23.5 scoring lines. Three games, 99 points and 40-for-65 (61.5%) later, we’ve seen a three-point spike.

Under my “don’t bet against greatness” rule of thumb, fading Wade is not really a viable option, but, given recent line inflation and a failure to reach 25 in any 2011-12 game against Boston and the premium price tag, decided that there are occasions to break certain rules.

LeBron James Over/Under 30 points – Forget the numbers. There was a decided “fuck you” element to LeBron’s disposal of the Celtics last spring.

This year, Bosh is out, adding to LeBron offensive workload, and Avery Bradley’s absence does nothing to help the C’s on the perimeter. Try as I have, I am totally unable to concoct a scenario in which this year’s evisceration is any less brutal.

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