Almost inevitable battle between Celtics and Heat in NBA Eastern Conference finals


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MIAMI -- In 2010, Boston ousted Dwyane Wade in the first round and LeBron James in the second round. A year later, Wade and James were teammates and turned the tables, sending the Celtics into the offseason.

Here comes the tiebreaker.

Celtics-Heat, one more time -- with a berth in the NBA Finals as the reward.

For the fifth time in seven years, it'll be Boston or Miami winning the Eastern Conference championship. Game 1 of that title series is tonight in Miami, with the Heat saying it almost seemed predestined that they would be seeing the Celtics again, and Boston's perspective being that the team in green is exactly where it expected to be as well.

"Inevitable. It's the matchup the game of basketball wants," Wade said. "Obviously, with the Chicago Bulls being out, this is the biggest matchup the Eastern Conference can have. So we accept the challenge and we look forward to the series."

"Was there any doubt that it'd be us and Boston?" added Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.

Well, maybe a little.

Spoelstra watched Boston's Game 7 East semifinal matchup against Philadelphia without a notepad, not wanting to start game planning until the winner was decided. And that didn't come until late in the night, when Rajon Rondo -- forced into the closer's role after Paul Pierce fouled out with 4:16 left -- delivered time and again down the stretch, carrying the Celtics to an 85-75 closeout victory.

"This is a good time right now," Celtics forward Kevin Garnett said. "This is the cream of the cream. This is what it's all about, you know, conference finals. We definitely didn't like the way we left last year. So we'll see what happens, man. We'll see what happens. Let's get it on."

Miami beat Boston in five games in last year's East semifinals, and the Celtics took three of four games from Miami this season. Both sides cautioned against reading too much into any of those results.

James said the game changes in the playoffs, even more so as teams get deeper into it. The Celtics know what he wants to do, he knows what the Celtics will try, familiarity born from James having already faced Boston in 18 playoff games -- more than any other active player, and more than any club the reigning MVP has squared off with in the postseason.

"I wouldn't have it no other way, personally," James said. "It's really the only team I'm accustomed to playing in the playoffs. No matter where I go, I find a way to play Boston. ... We've got a lot of history."

James and the Cleveland Cavaliers lost in seven games to Boston in 2008.

In 2010, the Celtics topped the Cavaliers in six games, one round after easily beating the Heat in a series punctuated by Wade vowing that he wouldn't lose another first-round series for a long time to come.

Last season, Miami's five-game win was far from easy. And this time, the perception of the Celtics is that they're old, tired and weary.

The Heat dismiss those notions as "ridiculous," Spoelstra said.

"No. Get out of here with that," Wade said. "I don't believe none of that. No feet hurtin', no tired, no nothing. This is the Boston Celtics. They're all 100 percent to me because when they play the Miami Heat, different ballgame and vice versa. Ain't no story lines, no excuses. ... Last year, yeah, we beat them in five, but man, it was like a nine-game series, it felt like."

Boston did not hold practice Sunday, instead handing out scouting reports and flying to Miami. Celtics coach Doc Rivers was packed with the hopes of making a Miami trip even before Game 7 of the Philadelphia series, just so he could take every possible moment after the game Saturday night to watch film of the Heat, and he planned more of the same on the flight from Boston.

"We'll be ready," Rivers said. "It's going to be a tough turnaround, but listen, we're not an excuse team. We'll be ready."

Both sides agree, this won't be easy for either club. "It's great theater for the fans and everybody out there," Spoelstra said.

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