With the Boston Celtics running out of gas in the third and fourth quarters against the Heat in Game 1, they face their toughest challenge of the season thus far in Game Two. Teams that go up 2-0 win their series 94 percent of the time, and to avoid such a hole, Boston will need to put together a strong performance.
Here are some key factors to Game 2 not named LeBron James or Dwyane Wade:
1) Rajon Rondo
The fate of this year's team swings with the performance of its point guard, according to Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. Rondo showed that thought process could be right in his last two games.
In Game 7 against the Philadelphia 76ers, after three decent quarters by Rondo, the Celtics had a three point lead to start the fourth quarter. Rondo started the final frame strong, assisting on four of the Celtics' first five buckets. But with Boston up eight and five and a half minutes remaining in the game, Rondo lost the ball in transition leading to Paul Pierce's fifth foul.
That foul came back to haunt him as Pierce fouled out shortly after. Rondo later said he blamed himself, and the upstart 76ers were three points away from tying the decisive game, before Rondo flipped the script and took over.
Over the next two and a half minutes, he scored nine straight points on the way to a 10-point lead. Rondo imposed his will on the game, and as he worked his way to his ninth career playoff triple-double, the Celtics were dealing a knockout blow to the troublesome 76ers.
In Game 1 against the Heat, the team's fortunes continued to follow Rondo's. The young point guard had probably his worst first quarter performance of the playoffs. He turned the ball over four times and failed to score on three shots. The Celtics ended that quarter with 11 points: Their lowest first quarter output in the playoffs.
Rondo recovered with a strong second quarter and the Celtics tied the game at halftime, but he disappeared for the rest of the game and the Heat blew the game open in the fourth quarter, winning by 14.
If the Celtics hope to have even the slightest chance of stealing a game in Miami, Rondo will have to dip into his bag of tricks and pull out another triple-double. The Celtics cannot win without Rondo playing at his best; the last two games have exemplified that. He will have to be heavily involved on both ends of the floor and inject some life into the aging Celtics roster.
2) Ray Allen
Speaking of aging, Ray Allen is our next key to Game 2. Allen has built a 15-year career on his silky smooth jumper and ability to stay in phenomenal shape due to a rigorous and methodical workout routine.
But both his jumper and his body are now failing him at the worst possible time.
After missing the final nine games of the season, Ray Allen has averaged 9.6 points per game during the playoffs. His bone spur-filled ankle is evidently bothering him as Allen has no lift in his jumper and can be seen limping around the bench when not in the game.
Doc Rivers had previously shut down Allen from practicing in order to save his ankle for game days. The Celtics head man even flirted with the idea of sitting Allen for Game 2, but Allen would have none of it.
Allen's recent struggles came to the forefront in Game 1 when he missed four of his seven free throws, an unbelievable statistic given his reputation. Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra said after the game, That's never going to happen again for the extent of his career. The Celtics hope not, if they expect to win the series.
Boston's Big Three simply isn't a Big Three without Allen. Even with Rondo's emergence and Kevin Garnett experiencing a career renaissance after embracing the role of starting center, Ray Allen is a necessary part of Boston's offense that they cannot win without.
3) Shane Battier
Former NBA head coach and current ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy called Battier a no-maintenance player, during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Throughout his career, Battier has been just that; a glue guy who contributes whatever he can so that the team can win. Known for his staunch defense and excellent shooting, Battier brought his talents to South Beach in December, signing on with the league's biggest Big Three.
Battier was brought in, not for numbers, but for intangibles, and in Game 1, he did all that and more. Battier posted his first career playoff double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds and was a huge part of the Heat's relentless protection of the basket. Boston never found any offensive rhythm -- except for a 35-point second quarter -- and Battier was one of the main reasons that the Heat held Boston to 33 second-half points.
With Chris Bosh still out indefinitely with an abdominal strain, Battier will most likely start Game 2 and play for at least 35 minutes. His physicality, defense, and hustle are a big reason that the Heat won Game 1. In order to protect their home floor, the Big Two of James and Wade will lean heavily on this seasoned veteran. Don't look for a huge statistical night from Battier though; he makes a living by making life difficult for the other team.
4) Mike Miller
It may be hard to believe, but this veteran swingman is vital to the Heat's success against Boston. Miller's eight points in Game 1 led all bench players and he was perfect from beyond the arc. His ability to space the floor with his jump shot and take pressure off of inside players like James and Wade is a key component to Miami's offense.
The former Sixth Man of the Year is the Heat's best scoring talent off of the bench and they will need his production going forward. His eight points in 12 minutes in Game 1 is a good start, and he will need to keep it up as the Heat go to battle with one of the NBA's premier defensive teams. When Miller is hitting his shots, it keeps defenses from clogging the paint and opens the lanes for their superstars to get easy buckets.
With Bosh missing in action, Miller has to score or the Heat will be unable to pull away from a Boston team that has trouble scoring itself. A low-scoring, defensive battle is just what Boston wants, and Miller putting up big numbers could be the weight that tips the scale in Miami's favor.
5) Big Men Off the Bench
When the Boston Celtics lost in seven games to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2010 NBA Finals, they did so because The Lakers pounded the boards in Games 6 and 7 and won the last two ugly games simply because they out-muscled Boston when it counted.
When the Miami Heat lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals, it was a similar story. As a result, the team spent all summer looking for a good center to rebound and protect the rim, eventually settling on a committee of Joel Anthony, Ronny Turiaf, and rookie Dexter Pittman.
Basketball is a make-miss league. No matter how talented you are, sometimes your shots just don't go in. When that happens, you need big men to collect rebounds leading to second chance opportunities. The Boston Celtics have miraculously survived this long while posting the lowest offensive rebound rate in league history this year and finishing dead last in rebounds per game. To win this series, Boston will have to prove that the regular season doesn't matter and rebound the ball well.
Neither team has the prototypical starting center in terms of height. Boston has the undersized Brandon Bass playing power forward and Kevin Garnett reluctantly playing center. Miami, without Chris Bosh, has resorted to a frontcourt of Battier, James, and Turiaf -- not the best combination if you want to win the battle on the boards.
The real big men in this game will be coming off the bench, with Anthony and Haslem battling in the paint with Celtics' Ryan Hollins and Greg Stiemsma. It may not be the perfect murderer's row of talent, but the team with the most rebounds usually controls the game. The Heat won the rebounding battle in Game 1 by 15 boards, and subsequently outscored the Celtics by 14.