Saturday, May 29, 2010

Always listen to your Doctor

Time after time, it kept happening.

Inexplicably, the collapses happened against the horrible teams. Houston, New York and worst of all New Jersey, all at HOME, in the TD Garden.

The defense was lacking, their was no set substitution patterns, poor rebounding nights plagued the Celtics. Oh their were flashes of brillance followed by the unexplained, from game to game, sometimes quarter to quarter, as on Easter Sunday when Boston blew a 20+ point lead to Cleveland, only to rally and win the game.

But through it all, Celtics Coach Glenn "Doc" Rivers had a plan and stuck too it. Injuries plagued the Celtics through the regular season, and Doc would tell anyone who would listen that players were resting, not logging heavy minutes, which explained the lack of a defined playing rotation.

But because people are impatient and live in the now, Doc was looking to the future, knowing the only way to reclaim the Larry O'Brien Trophy was to have a completely healthy C's. In employing this strategy, Doc knew he was trading home court for health and better playoff match ups.

Remarkably, its worked. The healthy Celtics have disposed of three of the Top 5 superstars in the game in D-Wade, LeBron and Clark Kent. Now they have an opportunity to take care of Kobe. The team is a sum of all its parts and the C's are proving this.

It was just a few weeks ago in Game 1 against Miami, the Celtics were staring down the barrel of a 14 point 3rd quarter deficit, only to rally and win by double figures. Now they are on the verge of Banner 18 and could be the favorite against a Laker team that suddenly only has 4 players who can do anything and absolutely has no bench.

And much of the credit belongs to the good Doctor, who had a plan and stuck to it. The C's are playing their best ball of the season, they have a bench with defined roles and even picked up a sparkplug in Nate Robinson last night. The last stand for the C's and the Big Four has already taken a turn towards being a history making run.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Will to Win....

As a coach, the most beautiful thing I can witness is seeing my team play with a passion and desire to compete and win. And if in that process, my players can brake our opponents will to win and force them to "check out" at somepoint, then I can't ask for anything else.

I've had both football and basketball teams achieve this point, forcing your opponent to give in mentally, but be there physically just get the clock to triple zeros.

I've seen Nick Saban's Alabama teams complete this task numerous times over the course of the last two years.

And last night, I witnessed the Boston Celtics complete this task for the second concescutive playoff series against the Orlando Magic. It happened to Cleveland also.

The Celtics took away Orlando and Cleveland will to win in each of these series. The happy go lucky Cavs and Magic, all smiles, full of team unity, having a good time when all is well, took some serious standing 8 counts from the C's in Game 5 in Cleveland and Game 3 against Orlando. When push came to shove, nither team could handle the situtation.

In each contest, the C's built a 30+ point lead and forced a chain reaction that caused a meltdown and making the King and Superman to check out and their fraud of teammates that make up the supporting cast to wilt away. (atleast Dawyne Wade always kept fighting, he just did not have anyone to help him)

True stars in NBA history never let their teams go down without swinging for back, even if they don't have their A game. Bird, Magic, Jordan, even Stockton/Malone, Tim Duncan, Reggie Miller always came out swinging against superior competition.

Last night, we witnessed a complete annihilation to the point that depending on NBA free agency, the entire balance of the Eastern Conference could shift for Cleveland and Orlando to the point that Boston could be back in this position next year and those teams could be non-playoff teams if the cards brake right.

As for the C's, they're clicking on all cylinders and now will have sufficient rest before facing the Lakers. Although they'll be an underdog to LA, I'm not betting against them.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Celtics replace the King, now on to Superman

While the talking heads on ESPN continue their man crush on where the former king LeBron James will end up in 45 days, what seems to be lost on the Worldwide Leader is the fact that Prince Rondo and his old men outplayed, outcoached and outhsutled Cleveland on their way to basically dominating the Cavs. If not for Mo Williams hot streak late in Game 1, that series would have been over in 5.

But now that the King is dead until next year, its time for Gang Green to find their Kryptonite to take on Superman Dwight Howard and the Magic.

This series is a repeat of last years Eastern Confernece Semi-Finals in which the Magic outlasted a very limited Celtics team in 7 games. Boston was without Kevin Garnett and Leon Powe due to injuries and pressed into juggling a frontline of Brian Scalabrini, Big Baby Davis and Kendrick Perkins. The teams traded victories in the first 4 games, culminating with Glen Davis hitting a 20 footer at the buzzer to even the series in the Magic Kingdom. Boston rallied from behind in Game 5 to take a 3-2 lead only to see Orlando win the last two games to advance.

This year, a rejuvinated KG returns and evens this match up for the Celtics. Orlando is deadly from downtown, but to this point they've been feasting on disfunctional teams in Charlotte and Atlanta en route to an impressive 8-0 playoff record.

Match Ups for this series.

PG-Rajon Rondo vs Jameer Nelson. Nelson missed this series last year but Rondo is a far better player then he showed the previous 3 years. Sag off him and he's hitting his jumper, crowd him and he's by you. A bigger Magic squad pose a problem for Rondo.

Advantage: Celtics

SG-Ray Allen vs Vince Carter. Allen will go down as the league's greatest 3 point shooter ever, but other aspects of his game are often overlooked. He never gets rattled, his defense in patches on Lebron last series was excellent. Carter is the wildcard since he played elsewhere last year, but if Vince plays to his capablities, he's a superb player. Problem is, he's inconsistent.

Advantage: slight lean to the Celtics

SF- Paul Pierce vs Barnes/Pietrus. Even though he's showing some where and tear, a smaller match up for Pierce is an advantage. he answered the call in Game 5 and 6 vs Cleveland and carried Boston in this series last year.

Advantage: Celtics

PF- Kevin Garnett vs Rashard Lewis. Lewis killed Boston last year by stretching the floor from downtown. This is where Garnett has to punish Lewis in the low blocks like he did Jamison last series. If Lewis is left to wonder on offense, he could swing this series. If KG goes for 18 and 10 again, the Celtics will win.

Advantage: slight lean to Celtics

C-Dwight Howard vs Kendrick Perkins. Perk plays hard, but he's no match for Howard. But if he can force Howard out of his comfort zone, he will have done his job.

Advantage: Magic

Bench: We never know who is going to show up for Boston, Allen, Wallace and Big Baby have been inconsistent. Michael Finley could be a wild caard. Orlando has consistent play out of their bench and JJ Redick is deadly from beyond the arc.

Advantage: Magic

Coaches: Doc Rivers has a ring and is unpredictable in late game situation. The Celtics have no tendencies as Allen, Pierce and KG have all his big shots in critical situation out of time out. Stan Van Gundy almost blew this series last year against a depleted Celtic squad.

Advantage: Celtics

If it was me, I'd let Dwight Howard score 60 (shhh, guess what, he can't do it. He can't hit anything but a lay up or dunk). If the Celtics double down, Orlando will shred them. Dwight Howard can't beat you by himself, so make him do it. We saw what happened when Dwayne Wade and LeBron were forced too and they couldn't get it done. Niether can Howard if this strategy is employed.

I never thought Boston could get out of the first round, let alone beat Cleveland with the way the regular season ended. But each team is playing superior basketball at this point so this should be a classic series. We live in the now, not in the past. National consensus is the Magic will steamroll the Celtics due to their easy wins to this point. I have to disagree. Celtics in 6.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

May 10,1992...please meet May 9, 2010

I had hoped to be writing this column after a Celtic victory on Friday night against the Cavs. But the Fighting LeBrons played to their capablities and did what they should be doing the Celtics all along.

But nevertheless, this is still a relevant issue. The similarities between the 1992 Celtics-Cavs Eastern Conference Semi-Finals and this years edition are stikingly similar. The only difference is who is currently winning this series.

Little did we know, or maybe I was to dumb and young to recognize that the end of the the original Big 3 of Larry Bird, Kevin Mchale and Robert Parrish was coming to an end. The same scenario is playing out now for the Celtics with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. This is the last stand for the 2nd edition of the Big 3.

The '92 Celtics limped through the regular season with numerous injuries to Bird and company, but they finished the season strong and wiped out the Pacers without Larry Legend in a 3-0 sweep. The 2010 Celtics limped through the regular season, but wiped Miami off the floor in impressive fashion to advance and face Cleveland.

The '92 Cavs were suppose to be on the verge becoming a great team to challenge the Bulls, with the likes of Mark Price, Larry Nance and Brad Daugherty. They won a first round series over the Nets 3-1 and had home court advantage agianst the Celtics. The 2010 Cavs are suppose to be on the verge of greatness, defeated the Bulls 4-1 and now have the older, slower former champion Celtics on the ropes.

Each of these series went to a 2-1 stage with a pivotal game 4 looming. The Celtics of '92 snuck to a 2-1 lead and faced Cleveland with Game 4 looming at home, on a Sunday May 9, 1992. This became the big 3's last stand. Boston never could take control of the game or series. Larry Bird, who had not played to this point, returned to a hero's welcome at a raucus Boston Garden, but the Celtics never siezed on that frenzy and lost a 114-112 decsion. Cleveland responded by winning Game 5 at home, Boston returned the favor in Game 6 setting up a Game 7 back in Cleveland that the Cavs won handidly.

So here we are 18 years later, I'm still Young and dumb, much older and heavier, but the Big 3 is making its final stand almost exactly to the day Bird and company did. At some point in every series, one team realizes its better then the other. That moment happened in the first quarter of game 3. Now can Boston somehow muster up another performance to extend this thing or will they wilt under the pressure. I picked Cleveland to win this in 5 and unfortunately, I see no reason to change that prediction, hope I'm wrong but here is hoping Pierce, Garnett and Allen bring it tomorow and give me another week of meaningful basketball.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Celtics-Cavs Preview

The Eastern Conference Semi-Finals open up this evening as the Celtics invade Cleveland and the LeBron Express. Could this be the last run for the second Big 3 and is its LeBron's farewell tour in Cleveland before this summer's much anticipated free agency circus begins?

The Celtics, who had the best record in the NBA through Christmas, limped into the post season on a .500 pace and left many (including myself) with serious reservations about whether they could even beat Dwayne Wade and the Heat in the 1st Round. But after handling Miami with relative ease, the C's seem poised to use give Cleveland a battle. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were hitting on all cylanders, Kevin Garnett, although not as explosive since last seasons injury, seemed to be returning to double-double form, Rondo continued playing well, effectively nuetralizing Wade and Kendrick Perkins and Glen Davis returned to their effective low post play that allowed the Garnettless Celtics to make a nice playoff run last season. Doc Rivers finally settled on an 8 man rotation instead acting like a church league coach and giving everyone playing time. The result, a dominant 4-1 series win.

For Cleveland, the big news seems to be the possible injury to LBJ's elbow. I have no doubt that he will be healthy and ready to go. The additions of Shaq and Antwan Jamison have Cleveland poised to return to the Finals for the first time since 2007. Mo Williams, Delonte West as well as Cleveland's reserves are complimenting LBJ and have propelled the Cavs to another great season. Winning time is now for the Cavs or it may be never.

For this series, I see Cleveland having a decided advantage. The Cavs have changed their entire starting line up, except for LeBron, since they lost to Boston in 7 games in 2008. The Cavs seem to be a better team when Shaq is not on the floor because they can stretch the court more with Jamison, Williams, West and my former neighbor Jemario Moon, thus giving LeBron more room to operate. Their is no stopping LeBron so Boston has to hope the other shooters are off their game like Miami was.

As for Boston, they need bench production from someone other then Big Baby Davis. The loss of Eddie House in the Nate Robinson trade has been a disaster, as has the acquisition of Rasheed Wallace. Doc Rivers cannot rely on Tony Allen to play as well as he did in the last series. Garnett will need atleast three 20 point/15 rebound games to make this a series because as much as I like him, Paul Pierce struggles against Cleveland because of the size difference against LeBron.

When the dust settles, I see Cleveland winning this series in 5 games. The Celtics definently have the ability to win this series, but they still play too sloppy at times and Rasheed Wallace will no doubt rear his ugly head with a lack of defense during in 12-18 minutes a game he sees in playing time. You will also be asking a Marquis Daniels or Nate Robinsion to contribute signficantly from the bench and I just don't see that happening. Of course, I was wrong about the last series so we'll see what happens.

Other series:

Lakers-Jazz: Hate if for Utah that MehMet Okur and Andrei Kirelienko have been injured because they would have a legit shot to win this series. But the frontline of Bynum and & Gasol are too tall compared to Utah's Boozer and Millsaps. Lakers get a cakewalk now that they escaped the Fighting Durants, 4-1.

Sun-Spurs: The old men Spurs keep getting it done, even though Tim Duncan has been off his game. The addition of Antonio McDyess has paid huge dividends for the Spurs, who likly will out physical the Suns like they always seem to do when these two teams meet, similar to the Spurs-Mavs series, San Antonio 4-2.

Magic-TBD: Does it matter who wins the Hawks-Bucks series? I'm still disappointed the Hawks didn't offer me $10 playoff tickets today like they did for Game 5. Atlanta plays up or down to its competition so if its Atlanta, Magic win in 7. If its Milwaukee, Magic in 4.