By now, everyone has heard the disheartening news that Kevin Garnett is likely to miss the 2009 Playoffs with his knee injury. Whether you are a Boston fan or Cleveland fan, no one can disagree with the fact that it will certainly send a ripple-effect throughout the playoff scenario.
Operating under the assumption that KG will indeed be out for the duration of the playoffs, what's the next step for the defending champs? Are they an "upset special" to the up-and-coming Chicago Bulls? And who must step up if they want to advance deep into the playoffs? Here's my take on the Celtics' playoff future.
With Garnett out, the Celtics compiled a 15-7 record. When assessing what the Celtics miss most with Garnett out, it is his defense. While their offensive numbers only suffered by about two PPG, they were giving up about nine more PPG to opponents with KG on the sideline.
When pondering these numbers and watching the Celtics play, it really is no surprise. Glenn "Big Baby" Davis and Leon Powe can score admirably off the bench, and they grew into bigger roles when Garnett went down. While the Celtics are definitely more versatile and spread on offense with Garnett on the floor, the raw scoring from the power forward position should not suffer too much.
However, the similarities between Garnett and Davis/Powe end with the scoring. Both Davis and Powe are very undersized to be playing a power forward position. Davis makes up for it with width, and Powe makes up for his lack of height with hustle and aggression. However, hiding their shortcomings in the regular season is completely different than doing it in the playoffs.
Teams will try to expose Boston's lack of size and depth on the inside early in the game/series, and the Celtics' only chance is if "Big Baby" becomes a man, and Powe is able to do what he does in 15-20 minutes a game for 30-35 minutes.
So how will the Celtics fare?
I am a huge believer in Leon Powe. He is the most underrated player in the NBA, and he is a true hustle player who brings it on every possession. If he gets the deserved minutes to where he is logging 30-35 a game, he will certainly average a double-double in the playoffs: no doubt about it.
Davis has shown that he has taken strides in his young career, but I am in serious doubt of what he can bring to the court in a playoff game. At times, he is very selfish with the ball and takes shots that are not acceptable in a playoff game.
Even if he does average double figures, his lack of defensive intensity and defensive rebounding are major concerns for the Celtics. I think Powe almost certainly has to get the majority of the playing time at the "four" spot.
Many people then go on to talk about how Rondo/Allen/Pierce have to step up and score more to make up for KG. I do not buy this one bit. These three definitely can't have off-nights; but if they play how they are capable of playing on a normal night, the Celts should be fine offensively.
Without a doubt, the one starter that now takes on the biggest extra load is Kendrick Perkins.
Now the only true big man playing down low, Perkins will have an incredible responsibility for cleaning up the glass and playing help defense. It is crucial that Perkins is a monster on the boards, and he will also have the responsibility of blocking shots with Garnett now out.
When I look at the Chicago matchup, the Celtics still have an excellent matchup with the Bulls. Chicago does not have a true post player that poses a legitimate threat to the scimpy Celtics post, which means it will be a game of run and gun, as well as perimeter play.
With Rondo, Allen, and Pierce, the Celtics should have no problem taking down the Bulls. Powe should also average about 10-15 PPG in the series against the weak staff of Bulls big men.
It is the potential second round matchup with the Magic that should expose the lack of Garnett in the middle. With only Kendrick Perkins being able to realistically guard Dwight Howard down low, Howard should have a field day (or field series) against the Celtics.
I think the Celtics still have a shot in the series if Leon Powe can play inspired basketball and somewhat contain Howard. Their gameplan must be to try to go small against the Magic and hope to get Howard in foul trouble as much as possible.
With Howard out of the game, the Celtics have the clear advantage at all other positions, and could stand a chance in the series.
My forecast says the Celtics win two series and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals against Cleveland. The Cavs will prove to be too much, as they were just a few days ago, and the Celtics will fall short of defending their championship.
While the future of Garnett is not set in stone, it has certainly put a damper on the great hope Boston fans had going into the playoffs, where they thought they would have their superstar back and completely healthy.
All they can do is hope for inspired play by the rest of the Celtics, or for Garnett pulling a Willis Reed. If neither of these happen, expect it to be a shorter-than-they-had-hoped-for NBA Playoffs for the Boston Celtics.
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