By Dan Shaughnessy
April 25, 2011

Celtics-Heat. Coming soon to a television screen near you.

What a field day for the Celtics.

What a field day for the Heat.

It's what America wants. This is going to be a mere conference semifinal, but we all know it's much more than that. Celtics-Heat is bigger than Celtics-Bulls or Heat-Bulls in the conference final. If the Lakers somehow get stopped en route to the championship round, Celtics-Heat will be even bigger than the NBA Finals.

The Heat put a hold on everything by blowing Sunday's Game 4 to the Sixers. So now we have to wait until Wednesday when the Heat play host to Philadelphia in Game 5. But it's only a matter of time.

This is the series we've all wanted to see since LeBron James' "Despicable Me" television special announcing that he was taking his talents to South Beach. That was the day before the smoke show and fireworks at Miami's arena when LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh talked about winning multiple NBA championships.

Remember that odious exhibition? Multiple championships. "Not one, not two, not three, not four ... ''

On and on it went.

This is why we were all so happy when the Heat got off to a chaotic start. The 70-win stuff went out the door pretty quickly. They were 9-8. Young coach Erik Spoelstra was bound for the recycle bin. The Heat were a national punchline and Wade went all Nixon on us, telling us that America was happy because Miami was struggling.

The Celtics defeated Miami twice by mid-November and then again in early February. The Green Meanies wanted to remind the all-talk-no-walk Heat that Boston was the defending Eastern Conference champion. The road to the NBA Finals was going to lead through Causeway Street.

Things have changed since the All-Star break. The Celtics were 41-14 when Danny Ainge blew up his team, trading starting center Kendrick Perkins to the Thunder for Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic. Ainge brought five new guys on board and the Celtics quickly lost their grip on the top rung of the Eastern Conference. At the end of the season, the Celtics went to Miami and endured their most embarrassing loss of the year. Boston looked old and confused. Miami looked young and mighty. The Heat seized the No. 2 seed and that's why it will have home-court advantage for what might be the most hyped conference semifinal in NBA history.

The Celtics looked great in Game 3 against the Knicks, and they played pretty well again Sunday to complete the sweep in New York. Unfortunately, this tells us nothing. It's easy to seem impressive against the Knicks. They choke every time they play Boston. They don't play any defense. Carmelo Anthony is an overrated ball hog who hasn't won anything since college. When Chauncey Billups and Amar'e Stoudemire got hurt, you knew it was over for the Knicks. And New York made Boston look better than the 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers.

It's hard to tell how good the Celtics can be this year. They still have Hall of Famers Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. They have Rajon Rondo, a moody point guard capable of a triple-double any night.

But they are attempting to win an NBA championship without a starting center. They keep talking about the return of Shaquille O'Neal, but that's become a joke. Shaq is 39 years old, weighs close to 400 pounds and has played only five minutes of NBA basketball since Feb. 1; in that game, he came up limping with a calf injury even though he was never touched.

Calcification project Jermaine O'Neal is officially starting in the pivot for Boston. He had a good first game in the New York series, but that was it. Krstic did not score in the first three games against the Knicks. That leaves 6-foot-7 Glen "Big Baby" Davis. Good luck to Doc Rivers when the Celtics face athletic teams who can now go to the basket with no fear of Perkins, or anyone else.

The Heat know this. They laughed at the Celtics when they thrashed Boston 100-77 on April 10. They are not afraid of the Celtics anymore. The Heat are playing good defense and appear to have figured out roles for James, Wade and Bosh.

After that loss in Miami, Rondo told The Boston Globe, "We'll be right when the time comes.'' That's what the Celtics said last year and they were right. Can they flip the switch again? We'll find out when they play the Heat.

At times like this I really miss Red Auerbach. Red would have hated the whole concept of the Heat. And Pat Riley hates the Celtics with the power of a thousand suns.

Game on. Celtics-Heat. This could be the best conference semifinal series of all time.

Dan Shaughnessy is a columnist for The Boston Globe. Read more of his columnshere.

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