Did the Playoff Run Make Boston A Better Team?
The Celtics didn’t play their best in game six against the Pistons. To be honest, the Celtics haven’t played their best game since game one against the Atlanta Hawks. They fell into ruts, allowed the Pistons to come back, and on occasions were not defensively positioned correctly ( Billups had three open three’s in that game; a no-no in my opinion.)
But the Celtics played their best all-around game of the season. What made them win was not through their talent or their game-plan, but the ability for players to go above and beyond their normal style and still get through the adversity of being on the road at the Detroit Palace.
Rajon Rondo was really good in holding Billups down most of the game. He did miss him on transition defense a couple of times, but he wore him out on both sides of the court by the end of the contest. he eluded the traps that threatened his quarterbacking, and was able to relegate the offense through the pressure pretty well. The clutch dagger-in-the-coffin in the late 4th quarter wasn’t too shabby, either.
Kendrick Perkins took Rasheed Wallace to the hole a couple of times, and made an outside jumper. He stepped up parts of his offensive game that is usually non-existent ( considering the amount of options the Celtics have during possession).
The Celtics’ offense held firm in the face of the many traps ( including the Gundy trap a couple of times ), and with that, the legs of the Pistons’ could not keep up ( did you notice how many decent looks were clanking off the rim for Detroit in the 4th quarter? That is what you get when you double-team too many weapons on the Celtics’ squad).
On offense, the team begin to utilize during the series is a team approach to being selfish. It might sound like Kobe Bryant’s Summer Camp slogan, but what it meant for the Celtics is the ability to take charge and take the shot if you have it.
How many times did we see Rondo have a clear shot and pass it up? How many did we see Garnett get 8 feet from the hoop and pass it off to Pierce? It occurred throughout the playoffs, and it showed the Celtics had a lack of players ( even with the three big guys ) who didn’t want to take the big shot. This is really apparent during their lapses, where they would pass up a good shot in hopes of finding better chances, only to lose out to the shot clock or throw up a low-percentage jumper.
The Cleveland Cavaliers game seven proved that they needed someone to step up and take over the game. Everyone says Pierce struggled against Lebron because Lebron was so strong and powerful and unbelievable. Bullshit. I know people are still scared of what he can do in the playoffs because of one “Detroit Basketball!” game last year. But it was one game. And what does that mean? Does it mean Paul Pierce is going to struggle for the rest of his LIFE every time he face Lebron on the court. He did struggle against Lebron & the Cavs through the regular season, and the Celtics did go 2-2 against them (losing all their road games might I add ). But in the playoffs, he stepped up like he had to. And it demonstrated that the unselfish play of the Celtics offense is only rewarded if their is someone willing to take those shots.
The main reason that the Celtics had a need for the Big-3 to step it up was because the Gundy Trap, which is th trap they put on the guards if they try to implement a play off of a pick or a screen toward the 45 degree edges of the 3-point line. This congestion only forced Rondo away from his game, took precious time off the shot-clock, and forced jump-shots further away from the hoop. With the isolation, post-up, and one-on-one game, almost every player on the court ( including Rondo & Perkins ) had some offensive advantage over their player. This is in turn lead to a lot of slashing to the hoop, which broke down the Detroit defense. This in turn lead to even more openings for other players without the ball.
The traps ( not just the Gundy, but also the backcourt ) caused some confusion in the late-3rd/early 4th quarter, but Rondo’s ability to penetrate them nullified their advantage. And the energy used performing that defense was non-existent when Detroit needed to make their final run at the end of the game.
The Celtics have clearly shown from all of this that all of their players can contribute offensively, that although the isolation game was abandoned most of the season to give their Big-3 enough touches, isolation and posting-up can be a positive element to break up opposing defenses ( especially on mismatches ). They have also been able to handle a great defensive team in one of the hardest arenas in which to come out with a victory. The hard-fought contest between these two teams made the Celtics a lot tougher, and can only expect the toughness to carry on without fear right into Boston on Thursday to host the Lakers.
The Celtics’ Lapses
They can be up by 10. Rondo makes a great play. Garnett gets a bounce pass from Posey and with authority, a two-hand slam silences the crowd. The opposing point gets the ball of the inbound, quickly pushes it up pass half-court, and a timeout commences. The opposing team is up against the wall, and the Celtics look amazing on both sides.
Five minutes later, the crowd is roaring with insanity after seeing the open Billups three. Perkins is waving his hand saying he was pushed on the former offensive run. Rondo looks up at the scoreboard. They call a timeout, without bothering to even bring it up the court. The Celtics are now down by 3, and have not scored a point in a half-quarter.
The lapse is the single most destructive symptom of the Celtics game plan. It comes so suddenly, and wreaks so much havoc on the the team that it still stands as the main reason there is a great deal of wariness about this team and its current position. I could call it choking, but they have done it at home and as well on the road, throughout the regular season and continuously in the post-season. They have lost due to these lapses, but they have also won ( and even blown out teams ) with the same problem continuously arising.
The fact that they have three players who are superstars, the fact that they have a 2nd year point guard who has to quarterback of NBA Finals-destined squad, a point guard who passes up the open shot because of his psychological place in the scoring chart and his need to quarterback the better point-creators, a bench of players of have never played more than four seasons, two mid-season trade veterans who have become engulfed in the playing-scheme chaos, a backup point-guard who is a shooting guard and is not named Cassell, a team that has not had a set lineup throughout most of the season, a team that gotten use to the routine of not having a routine, and Big Baby Glenn Davis.
When you have all this shifts, these changes, these styles, and these interplays, there is no reason why anyone couldn’t foresee that these lapses would come up many times during the season. What makes these drop-offs in the game hair-pulling excruciating, what gets the Celtics fans so fist-pounding angry, is the fact that they have three great superstars. They have a young point guard who can quarterback these egos, and pass up the shot to create a better offense. The team has a young bench that is exuberant in their on-court work and skilled on both sides of the court. Their mid-season pickups have solidified their bench and have given them positive minutes throughout the season. They have a coaching rotation that is so unorthodox no opposing team could predict or take advantage of any upcoming matchup. And Big Baby is the man regardless of how much time he plays!
But what hurts the most about their inability to play consistently, to finish out games and keep teams from making runs, is the fact that there really is no explanation on how they get to that low point. The worst part of the matter is, their next lapse can end up in losing a game more important than any game they will ever play.
The Rise of The Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers have breezed by teams with the authority not seen since the late 90’s Bulls’ teams. They make their shots, they are relentless on both sides of the court, and the chemistry between all the players give them a talented sum that is tough to match in any game.
Gasol has been the key in propelling this team into full-fledged contender for the NBA crown, and Kobe Bryant has finally realized that the core of this team is more important than his floor talents. His sacrifice, and his legendary skill of coming through under pressure, along with the amazing front court talent, will not make an enjoyable series for this Celtics team. But I do have one question to ask: has the ride been so enjoyable for the Lakers, that they might not be as good as everyone thinks? (Gasp! I am going to cause controversy. But with knowledge, mis amigos. With knowledge.)
The Lakers in the Playoffs
The Lakers have failed to encounter one crucial element that good defensive teams have: physical & intimadating interior defense. They never had to face a core athleticism looming around the hoop. Against Denver, although I think both Camby & Martin are Top 10 in defensive Center/Forwards in the league, the run & gun style both teams put out there impedes any of their big man’s defense ( which is better in the half-court set the Celtics are good at enfocing ) to have any value.
The Jazz had given them a better bite on the defensive end, but they don’t really have a player that is tough under the hope to stop the Laker slashers from cutting up fort towards the hoop. And in the mindset of of a Kobe or Gasol or Farmer cmoing close to the glass, you think they are going to be scared of Mehmet Okur & Carlos Boozer? Because when I think of defense, I think of Mehmet Okur and Carlos Boozer. When I think of sarcasm and a laugh track, I take a look at the sentence before this one
You can’t even fault the Jazz for having a bad game plan. They had some games close of enough that a few plays could’ve changed the outcomes of teams we currently have in the Finals.
The Lakers-Spurs series is more of an enigma. The Spurs played their game well, but simultaneously it also seemed as though the Lakers, the veterans, the stars, the bench, the shots, and the defense were all coming together. It could’ve been that it took a little bit for Gasol to get use to ( Let me say this, the Triangle Offense is beautiful when it works. If you ever want to use it, all you need is A) A slashing guard who can also shoot real well, and B) A slashing guard who may be one of the top 5 NBA players of all-time. Once you have those two things, the offense is a piece o cake!). but once he got into the groove in the postseason, it just didn’t look like anyone was stopping their crusade to the championship series.
DIGRESSION: That Brent Barry foul issue has to be closed. First off, he wasn’t in the act of shooting. Every time I see the replay, he gets fouled, and I go to the kitchen to get cereal ( I like to eat in the midst of important game moments). When I come back with my Rice Krispies Treats, Brent Barry jumps up to let go of a shot to get foul shots in the act of shooting. Dude, doesn’t count. It took him five minutes to get that shot off after the foul. I know, because I was making a bowl of cereal at the time. You have to get fouled in the act of shooting, not laying your body down on Derek Fisher’s torso. He wasn’t even looking at the hoop when the foul was called, let alone be able to have a shooting foul be called.
The Kobe Factor
Well, that series is over, and now they are here. Kobe is dangerous in isolation. He was always dangerous in isolation, and he always will be dangerous. What beats Kobe is not necessarily stifling his game of going to the hoop, but defeating his game of having options.
Kobe has enough of a supporting cast that he doesn’t have to lift his team unless trying to close out a game or continue a scoring run. If his teammate is open under the hoop ( and if you told me he did this two years ago, I would’ve been like this), he will pass it off to him. This is the Finals, and if he can keep the defense honest and include other players in the beginning parts of the game, he will have more one-on-one opportunities as the game intensifies down the stretch.
His maturity factor and how it relates to their play in the Finals is key. He wants to win that ring, he wants to win one without Shaq, he wants to have more rings than Jordan: There is probably no better series to do so than this one against the Celtics.
How will The Lakers Match Up?
The Lakers will be able to win and stay close because they have the shooters to do it. The Celtics will not be able to stay up with all of their shooters. But the defense that the Celtics will impose is unlike any defense the Lakers have played all season ( except the Celtics, losing both games ). Gasol is a new member that the Celtics have not seen when they have won both games in the regular season. But Gasol hasn’t had to play interior defense with the likes of Garnett and Perkins pushing him off the block and forcing him to make tough decision sunder the hoop.
Consider this as well: Since the 2006-2007, the three games Garnett has played against Gasol ( two with Minnesota & one with Boston ), Gasol is averaging only 12.6 points a game. This is a small sample, and Gasol is a player who moves his body well enough to get shots really close to the hoop. He also rarely takes bad shots and will pass it up before doing so ( It shows: he has only had one year where he shot under 50% (2003-04) and since coming to the Lakers, he is shooting 59%!). But these shots will not be available to him on the strong or weak side. He will accumulate a lot of assists in the series, but I see him getting taken out of the game.
This will place Odom into a position of taking advantage of a defense that has its eyes in many directions. He has the prowess to take the outside shot, to slash, to post-up, and to take advantage of the opposing team’s mismatches. What is going to hurt him is that his main opponent will most likely be Garnett. His job is going to be to keep Garnett away from the hoop if Bryant or Gasol are moving towards it, and he is going to have to go after Garnett to put pressure on his defensive stature. taking down Garnett is the equivalent to snatching the queen off the chess board. If Odom can win this battle, or nullify Garnett’s defensive advantage, it will make for a tough series for the Celtics to win.
Derek Fisher is no match for Rajon Rondo. There, I said it. People talk about Fisher’s “leadership” and the fact that he has been to the big dance before. But against the Jazz, he was clearly over-matched by Deron Williams, and against the Spurs, Tony Parker made him look like this was his first date to the junior prom. The senior prom date Rajon Rondo has just as many tricks as the last two point guards ( not saying he is as talented. I mean he has the threat of taking him down one-on-one), and what is scary is that Rondo has played really well against the much-better defensive point guards in the Eastern Conference ( Delonte West & Chauncey Billups ). Farmar is going to have to come to the rescue, but if you have to send a backup in to quell a starter who is 4th/5th on an opposing team’s scoring chart, what does that say for your defense?
What will probably happen is The Gundy Trap might be employed on occasion to keep Rondo from coordinating the offense correctly. The Celtics have gotten away from the pick & pops and pick & rolls and more towards isolation and perimeter passing, but the Lakers can utilize the trap that the Celtics have folded under so many times in these playoffs ( especially on THE ROAD).
Kobe, like I said above, is going to be Kobe. They will put Allen on him, they will put Pierce on him, the will put Garnett on him, they will place ACNE magnets around the court and will slip metal nails secretly in his soles. He can be stopped, but there hasn’t been a gameplan yet that has done such a thing. Kobe’s offense will be created / stopped based on how much pressure the Celtics want to push on him or his teammates. Either plan will be a positive disruption, since Kobe has yet to face this team and do well this year ( 15-46 from the floor, an average even Chipper Jones is passing up these days ). But with Kobe, anything can happen. He won’t have Tony Allen coming in to pester him much this series, either. The ball is in his court on the offensive end.
Everyone is pointing out that the Lakers’ bench is better than the Celtics bench, and this is where I point to my laugh track, and ask those critics to push the red button.
Celtics Bench vs. The Lakers Bench
The Lakers have four people coming off their bench. Four. Just four. Not five. Not a defensive energizer. Unless you count Trevor Ariza, who has barely played in the playoffs. Just four guys who can shoot and make plays. They make amazing plays. Luke Walton is a budding youngster whose impact for the Lakers in the future will be prominent. He makes his shots. He guards well. He rebounds well. His court intelligence is very good regardless of who’s around him. But he is their best player coming off the bench.
The critics who harp on the inconsistencies of the Celitcs bench, albeit they are correct on that matter, do they believe that James Posey, the guy who helped Dwayne Wade & Co. win in Miami, the guy who ( I gotta find the reference, but cross-my-heart I read this somewhere ) Wade said was the MVP in the playoffs for that year, is worse than Luke Walton?
And for Ronny Turiaf, no way you can say this guy somehow is going to matchup with P.J Brown or Leon Powe ( even though in the end he could since Powe has been struggling defensively). Regardless, Turiaf automatically would get blown away by Big Baby’s smile alone.
The prowess of Farmar and Vujacic to hit those jumpers and make good offensive plays offset the fact that they are not good defensive players. Their transition game will quickly get stifled by the likes of Posey & PJ Brown, and the quickness of Rondo, Cassell ( haha, I take that back ), House and Allen will impede them to have any jump to an area to open up their offense.
The Celtics backcourt 2nd team in defense is weak. Cassell can run for maybe two minutes at a time, House is solid at best, and Allen is hurt. But their quickness, and the veteran knowledge of the 1st two gives them enough talent to keep opposing teams at bay.
On offense, the 2nd team is really strong, and Doc Rivers keeps an offensive flow going by usually leaving Ray Allen or Pierce to help out the second squad. They have no true scorers like the Lakers, but Rivers hybridizes the 2nd team with starters so much that they are rarely lacking in the ability to make a basket. the Lakers also do the same, but at the same time they don’t use their bench as often as the Celtics do. The fatigue factor becomes more of a problem for the Lakers, whereas the Celtics’ bench is deeper, and more players have contributed on both sides of the court throughout the regular and postseason. Although the bench has been inconsistent, it has been more apparent because they play more minutes. Let’s see the Lakers fare when the Celtics’ defense tires out their starting squad.
Oh yea, I forgot! Sam Cassell comes off the bench. In the West Coast, he is sort of a big deal.
Ray Allen has been heating up, and he has gained his confidence to shoot the ball in the Detroit series. He is going to be played by Kobe Bryant, and this may be ideal for him on the offensive end since he will have him do the run-around until he finds his shot. Even if he doesn’t, that factor alone can keep Bryant busy, and the perimeter help-defense/zone can be held honest. If they employ any traps on Rondo or try to collapse/congest the area of the pick & roll, this is where Allen can leave his outside shot behind, go to the hoop, and get some contact. If he goes with touching any bodies, which in the West Coast, defenses are well-taught in the art of giving up layups without contact, he will have a field day against this team.
Kobe Bryant is a brilliant defender; if Allen goes on isolation, we are going to have ourselves a show. If there is any remnants of the former bad blood between this two, they will go after each other on both sides of the court. The advantage is automatically in Bryant’s favor, but the tangibles is not as clear-cut for the entire Lakers’ team.
Wipe that drool off your jersey, Pierce!
He will have no problem against Radmonivic. Or Turiaf. Or Luke Walton. Or Lamar Odom. Or anyone on that team for that matter. There is no one that matches up well against Pierce, and he is one of four ( yes, four, you will know why in a bit) threats that this team has against them. He can slash through this defense with his quick 1st step, and force the interior defense to converge on him. He has gotten a better passing game going as he is going to the hoop, but if he plays to put one or two of their forwards in foul trouble, he can open up the game for most of his teammates.
They probably will switch off and use Kobe Bryant on him, but this would leave a more hilarious mismatch with Ray Allen being guarded by a 6-11 forward. From there, the Lakers defense would have to begin playing with a smaller team, or allow isolation with two of the Celtics superstar threats. The Lakers’ tall front will make it tough for the Celtics to be able to shoot over their defenders; the passing game and the slashing game must be adopted more than any other series the Celts have been involved in. Pierce will be a key catalyst for those schemes.
He is the bodyguard that makes sure the back door doesn’t get infiltrated by groupies. His weak side involvement on defense and offense will be a much-needed asset against the Lakers’ front court. He has more talent than most people think; In the Detroit series, he took Rasheed Wallace one-on-one a few times, and has made some outside shots as well.
He gets to the ball on both sides of the court and is a monster when it comes to posting him up. After going through the likes Ilgauskas, The Josh Smith/Al Horford tandem, and Rasheed Wallace, I don’t think Gasol or Odom are going to give him much pain.
If he ends up with Odom on the defensive side, it will be a mismatch since Odom is really good at taking his defender inside with good post moves. Gasol is also the same, but his talent lies with getting to the hoop before the ball reaches his hands. In both situations, Perkins has an advantage only if he uses his body to move players off the block and away from the basket. In some games, this could mean early foul trouble. If he keeps out the officials’ peripheral, his defense will wreak havoc for the the tall guys on the Lakers. Those road games ( where officials like making it easy for the road team by calling a foul every five seconds ) might hurt this advantage, especially if the West Coast softer fouls are called.
He has dreamed of this day where he will be someday be able to play to win a championship. He had a chance to do it alongside Kobe Bryant. Well, he’s going to get his chance along with Kobe Bryant, but not as teammates.
When they meet each other on the court is Thursday, Garnett will feel the pressure, the energy, and the intensity the second his name is mentioned. From there, he has to understand that it is his championship to lose. Gasol & Odom are amazing players. Kobe is arguably in the top 5 of all-time. But it will be Garnett’s game that will get the Celtics another banner in the rafters.
It isn’t as though he has been unselfish in the playoffs. If anything, it is more of his inability to want to take the shot. He has had many open shots, and instead of moving closer to the hoop, or draining the shot ( which anywhere on the court after the 3-point line is his range ), and passes it up, and forces the team to find another way to get points.
Pierce can do it. Allen is doing it now. Garnett was doing it in most of his playoff games. But now it can no longer be games where he has to bite down and make his moves, but it has to be EVERY TIME he touches the ball. He has to know that he cannot be guarded by anyone on the other team, and he has to know that he can guard ANYONE on their team. he has more components to do more damage on both sides of the court than anyone else.
If he plays his game, he will give the entire team a chance to win. If he doesn’t play his game, he will give his team a fumble, and it will be picked up by the Lakers. His game will be the reason that the Celtics will win the championship, but he is NOT the most important piece of the Celtics. That piece, that position, that player who is going to make the biggest difference for the Celtics is:
His talent far outweighs any statistic you will find on ESPN. His behind-the-back-pass fakes are in no comparison to what he accomplishes for this team. His clutch jump shots are just the tip of the ice-berg for what he represents to the club.
His importance to the Celtics, and to their ability to win, is to bring it all together. I know, it is cheesy, and every point guard has to do it for every team since the sport began. But Rondo has been impeccable at managing a system of players who all have great offensive talents. He has been able to sacrifice his own abilities ( he was a good scorer in Kentucky ) for the sake controlling the offensive output for the entire team throughout the game.
When he struggles on offense, it shows as the struggle of the entire offense. When he struggles on defense, it shows with the struggle of the entire defense. If there is one thing to point out about the Celtics lapses, here it is:
The lapses occur when Rondo struggles or doesn’t play. I can easily go over all the old videos to bring up examples, but it would take too long to bring it up in a already long diatribe about the series. But his ability to play, his ability to make plays, his ability to shine, and his talent to make others better, is the one component the Celtics MUST HAVE TO WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP. If he struggles, they will lose. Or Cassell will have to have a resurgence in a way not comprehendible this far into the season.
Prediction: If I am going to be honest about how I would envision the series playing out, I would say that the teams are so properly matched, the home-away-home scheme gives an advantage of the Lakers to pull back if they are down, the role players have so much important to the standards of each team’s system ( Screw the resurgence of the Lakers with Gasol, I can identify the Celtics’ current makeup due to James Posey), that I won’t be surprised who wins the Finals regardless.
But I am not going to have this long tirade and not choose who is going to come off with the Golden Trophy. If I am going to write for this long, I might as well put a prediction down. Anyone can analyze, but what does my analysis say about the series?
The Celtics win Game 1 & Game 2
The Lakers win Game 3 & Game 4
The Celtics win Game 5 & Game 6
Rajon Rondo will make a name for himself in the series, and will do what is necessary to get this team a trophy. The Celtics will win in six games. But regardless, this is a series I’ve been waiting for. I
have butterflies in my stomach, and no confidence who will come out of the rubble from this rumble. I do know, I am going to enjoy the ride, and hope my Celtics reach the top.