Rockets-Celtics: Set To Wonder What If?

stephen rileyCorrespondent IMay 15, 2009

PHOENIX - FEBRUARY 15:  Yao Ming #11 of the Western Conference goes up against Kevin Garnett #5 of the Eastern Conference during the 58th NBA All-Star Game, part of 2009 NBA All-Star Weekend at US Airways Center on February 15, 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Postseason injuries to superstars in the NBA are never fun. They shorten fans the chance to witness greatness and mask the true identity of a team because the ball club in question is operating without its key performers.


However, for sportswriters, postseason injuries give us something to talk about. It allows us to see the overall depth of a squad. It also allows role players to expand their games in the national spotlight and leave us all wondering what if?


What if the team in question had all hands on deck? What if this guy was playing, would the outcome of the series be different? What if this team comes back healthy for the next post season? What if, what if, what if?


Although Stan Van Gundy and Phil Jackson probably are the last two people wondering, NBA fans across the world have to be watching two splendid series between the Rockets versus the Lakers and the Magic battling the Celtics that will conclude in epic game sevens this Sunday and pondering the question, what if?


Although Van Gundy could argue in his own right that he is missing his first year All-Star point guard Jameer Nelson, c’mon. The Celtics are missing 12-time All-Star, nine-time All-NBA, 2008 NBA Defensive Player of the Year, 2004 NBA MVP and Olympic gold medalist Kevin Garnett. Not to mention their backup power forward Leon Powe.  


This post season has allowed Rajon Rondo to show he is a top five point guard in this league and Glen “Big Baby” Davis has used the Garnett injury to display the skills that made him a tantalizing prospect while dominating at LSU.


It is no secret the Celtics are loaded, we saw that last year in their game six wipe out of the Lakers, we just did not know that the other guys outside of Pierce and Allen were this good.


While the Celtics stand just one game away from their second consecutive Eastern Conference Finals appearance, is anyone really that surprised? The Celtics are still a deep team with two bona fide superstars remaining in Pierce and Allen even in the wake of Garnett’s absence.


While Garnett is an integral piece to the Celtics championship puzzle, it was Pierce, not Garnett who took home the Finals MVP last season. The fact that they have gotten this far without "The Big Ticket" is not a biggie, now the Rockets on the other hand are another story.


Playoff ending injuries to Dikembe Mutombo and Yao Ming left the Houston roster quite short, literally. Taking away two behemoths have left three guys in competition for the tallest player remaining at 6'9".


By comparison, starting small forward-power forward Lamar Odom is 6'10" and reserve swing man, sometimes a starter, Trevor Ariza, stands at 6'8", just one inch below the starting center for the Rockets now.


If it's any team left in the playoffs that is counting their lucky stars, it has to be the Lakers. The fact that Houston has pillaged their way into a game seven without Mutombo, Yao and Tracy McGrady, who was lost for the season in February, is beyond impressive.


While they have been blown away in the last couple of games at the Staples Center, they have returned the favor in the last two games at the Toyota Center, mopping the floor with the preseason favorites despite a shortened roster.


Although Ron Artest could start for most teams, the rest of the Rockets roster is a lunch pail group battling just for the sake of battling. The Lakers were thought of to be the deepest team in the league, but the performance of the Houston reserves the last few games has put a serious challenge to that theory.


While the McGrady is better than Kobe discussion has not been a topic since T-Mac left Orlando, he is still a capable scorer who is primed to explode on any given night. Yao showed the Lakers did not have an answer for him before a foot injury shelved him and even the living legend Mutombo was still a defensive presence.


While the Rockets and Celtics may very well go home for the summer after this Sunday, their performances this post season have been heroic. Beginning the playoffs without their best players, not many gave these two teams a chance to make it this far.


You have to believe it is a serious mental hurdle to get over when you realize you are getting ready to go to war without your most effective weapon.


The healthiest team at the end is usually the championship team. Even the Lakers had to wonder what if had they had Andrew Bynum at full strength for last year’s Finals appearance.


While at this point no one can truly predict how much longer two shortened rosters will continue scrap, should the Rockets and Celtics lose their game sevens, two words will accompany the minds of both teams as they head to their locker rooms for the final time this season. What if?