Now that the Celtics have officially wrapped up their immensely entertaining first-round series with the Chicago Bulls, they will be presented with a far more greater task of defeating the Orlando Magic.
The winner will advance to the Eastern Conference Finals which many presumably think will be against the Cleveland Cavaliers. With that much at stake both teams must play at their best and only the team who executes at the greatest rate will proceed to the Conference Finals.
With that being said, here are the keys for the Celtics going into Game One.
The Absence Of Kevin Garnett
The Celtics were 2-0 this season against the Magic when Kevin Garnett played and there stands a high chance he won't be suiting up for the Celtics.
Of course, when you take away a team's best defensive player and the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year, the dimensions of the squad will be different, which explains why the C's lost to the Magic by 13 points in their second-to-last meeting (without the Big Ticket) and only managed to score 79 points while missing 46 of their 70 shots and only making two three-balls the entire game.
They also lost their last meeting of the year to the Magic which almost propelled Orlando to the second seed in the East.
Paul Pierce and His Wizardry
During the regular season, Pierce scored at least 21 points in three out of their four meetings and averaged 23.3 points and eight boards against the Orlando Magic. The Magic did not have an answer for "The Truth" and sent everyone from Mickeal Pietrus to Tony Battie in efforts to slow down the reigning Finals' MVP
On offense, Paul Pierce is deceptive enough to keep Orlando's hands full and Stan Van Gundy will most likely assign Hedo Turkoglu to start the game on Pierce and as the game progresses use a quick perimeter player to frustrate Pierce as Kirk Hinrich did in Round One (this where Courtney Lee could have really helped the Magic), and then S.V.G will demand that a big (Rashard Lewis).
Cheat towards Pierce when he begins his post-up motion and before he initiates his patent back-to-the-basket offense.
If Pierce can coax Turkoglu into a few fouls early on in the game before the switch occurs, it could really change the game for both sides of the floor, obviously an advantage for the C's.
With Hedo on the bench, the Magic loses a number of things:
1. Most importantly they lose one of their best three-point shooter and their best clutch player down the stretch; the one true guy that can really rival Pierce at the small forward position in the playoffs (other than LeBron James).
2. They also lose their "third guard" as Turkoglu will often direct the offense himself and push the team forward through offensive sets and will either look to penetrate towards the rim and find the open man or simply use his massive advantage at 6-10 to look over his defender at the rim.
3. They're blatantly not as good a team without him on the floor just as any team is without one of their best players.
The Play of Rajon Rondo
Against Orlando, he only averaged 6.3 assists and three turnovers which is just about defamation when compared to his recent streak of 38 straight assists without a turnover during the Bulls-Celtics series.
Rondo also wasn't as focused on the defensive end and failed to average a single steal, despite averaging about two per game during the regular season (fifth best in the NBA
) and in Round One, 2.7.
Rondo also didn't play in their 13-point loss, so he may have to spend extra time during film sessions studying the habits of the Magic and their tendencies on both ends of the floor.
One area Rondo will now will most likely in the help defense of Dwight Howard. Earlier in the year, Rondo wasn't given the passage to cheat towards Dwight Howard because of Orlando's threatening outside shooting led by Jameer Nelson.
He had to exert the majority of his energy on defense chasing Nelson around and under screens as well as off the three-point line and into the paint when Nelson reacted.
Now that Jameer is out with a shoulder injury and Nelson's replacement Rafer Alston only shot a paltry 33.8 percent from long-range including 0-of-3 in the last face-off of the year, Rondo can now be a little less lenient on guarding the arc and begin to fester Dwight down low in the post.
He has the length, speed, and reaction time; all the tools necessary to effectively poke the ball loose from Dwight Howard when Howard is being occupied with a Celtics' big and the change of speed to start the fast-break when the ball comes loose.
The only true problem the Celtics' and Rondo should be worrisome about is the chances of Dwight "accidentally" throwing an elbow in Rondo's direction when comes to pry the ball from Howard's mitts.
We've already seen the damage that can be done i.e Samuel Dalembert and Courtney Lee possibly being out for the rest of the playoffs and the Celtics' simply cannot afford a injury of any type to one of their players this late in the postseason.
Game One will be played Monday back at T.D. BankNorth Garden in Boston.