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7 Keys To Understanding The Celtics Championship Hopes

Boston closed out the Hawks yesterday in a game heralded by the media as “potentially the biggest upset in history.” While the Hawks definitely gave Boston a scare, the series was never that close. Boston outplayed Atlanta in every game – except for a few fourth quarters. Based on that experience, here’s what we now know about the Boston Celtics:

1. The Boston Celtics bench is no longer a weak point. Leon Powe, Glen Davis, and Eddie House have all proven that they can provide meaningful minutes. Add in Posey (a guy that’s good enough to start on a lot of teams in the league), and savvy vets Sam Cassell and PJ Brown, and you have a team that’s deep enough to go all the way. Kudos to Danny Ainge for acquiring those two vets, and kudos to Doc Rivers for bringing along the younger guys.

2. Rajon Rondo is still the weakest starter on the team, but his shortcomings will be minimized as long as Cassell is available off the bench. Rondo’s game is highly dependent on getting in the lane (something elite teams do a great job of stopping). Take that away from him and it throws off his rythym – offensively and defensively. Lucky for Boston, they’ve got a fantastic point guard coming off the bench in Sam Cassell, so it won’t be an issue.

3. Doc Rivers might cost Boston a championship. It’s clear to most observers that Doc can’t coach at an elite level. He doesn’t understand late-game management, and he has trouble understanding and exploiting match-ups. See games 3,4, and 6 of the Hawks series. Don’t get me wrong – Boston might be able to overcome their coaching handicap. Still, I think every remaining team in the playoffs has a better coach than Rivers.

4. The Celtics have trouble with teams that play at a fast pace with a lot of athleticism. Luckily, they won’t face any more teams like that this year, at least not until the NBA finals (if they make it that far).

5. The Celtics team chemistry is as good as any. A lot of commentators talk about the fact that Boston hasn’t played together enough to win it all, but I think that’s wrong. Look at the way the team has pulled together in tough games all year – they’ve got plenty of chemistry to go all the way.

6. Lebron James is going to give Boston fits. Imagine a stronger, faster, and more capable version of Joe Johnson tear-assing through the Celtic’s defense. Lebron is going to single-handedly terrorize the Celtics defense. Will his supporting cast be enough to put his team over the top? I don’t think so, but it will definitely be close.

7. Detroit controls Boston’s future. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Detroit is a better team than Boston. But will Detroit play like the better team in the conference championship? If every Detroit Piston is focused, and I mean totally focused, Detroit’s superior point guard play, bench depth, coaching, and experience should prevail. Boston’s bench is good now, but I’d still take the “zoo crew” over them. Having said that, Detroit did collapse last year against Cleveland. It’s going to be a great series…

I like Boston’s chances of reaching the NBA championship – I’d say it’s an even money bet.


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  1. 11 Comment(s)

  2. By J-Dub on May 5, 2008 | Reply

    You are incredibly stupid if you think Rondo is the weak link of the Celtics still. I guess his torching of Mike Bibby wasn’t enough for you. And if you watch the Celtics you’d know that Rondo isn’t dependent on just going to the lane. He’s gonna knock down those open jumpers, and he gets the Celtics on the fast break too fast for teams to get back often times. He is so athletic, I’d go as far as calling him the LeBron James at point guard (in terms of athleticism), minus some of the strength. But go on, keep on doubting him. People have been doing it all year, and he just keeps on proving them wrong.

  3. By JL on May 5, 2008 | Reply

    Well, first of all, being the weakest of the Celtics starting five isn’t a bad thing. Perkins gets the nod over Rondo because he does a very good job of staying inside his game. Rebound, defend, get in position, and finish. Very simple, but very well executed. He’s a very under-rated center.

    Rondo’s trouble is simple – he’s young. He needs more time to develop as a point guard. I’m sure you’ve seen that Doc Rivers feels the same way I do because he’s starting to play Cassell in late game situations instead of your man-crush Rondo.

    As for your assertion that Rondo is the “Lebron James at point guard”, I think you’re crazy. First of all, if you watch the Cavs, you’ll see that Lebron IS the point guard on that team. :-) Secondly, Baron Davis is more likely to fit that description (but no one really can IMHO).

    Rondo needs to penetrate and finish to get into rhythm. His transition game is a great way for him to get into rhythm, but the playoffs don’t offer as many transition opportunities. Until Rondo improves his outside shot and gains some experience, he’s arguably the worst starting player on a very good team. I’d take that any day of the week if it meant being on a team that lead the NBA.

    What are you so upset about?

  4. By J-Dub on May 5, 2008 | Reply

    Thats all well and good what you said, but you haven’t seen this kid play all year. His jumpshot HAS improved and he now has a very solid midrange game that can kill teams who want to double one of the big three. And with the shooters that Boston has, its going to be almost impossible to stop Rondo from getting into the lane.
    You’re talking about him like we just got halfway through the season. You’re not talking about the Rondo that dominated Mike Bibby all but one game at the point guard spot. You’re not talking about the Rondo who has made the Celtics a GREAT team instead of just a very good team. He doesn’t have great stats because he’s the fourth option behind three superstars. But he still averaged 11 points a game while holding Mike Bibby, the second or thrird option Atlanta, to 10 a game.
    Rondo also averaged 51 assists to only 7 turnovers in that series. I know its the Hawks, but a 7 to 1 assist to turnover ratio is outstanding. As for Perkins, yeah he stays in his game, but he doesn’t have nearly the effect that Rondo does. He makes the team go. I’d go as far as saying he’s as important as Ray Allen right now because without Rajon, the offense would go stagnant. As for the LeBron James thing, I was comparing them because in draft workout, Rondo was called one of the most athletic guys to ever workout for his height. So, athletically, he’s a freak, like LeBron.
    Anyway, I was upset because Rondo is not the weak link in this starting lineup. There really isn’t a weak link, but if you had to pick one, it’d be Perk, as much as I love his hustle. Rondo is still very underrated because he doesn’t have big numbers. But when presented with a challenge at point guard, he has responded positively (see matchups vs Chris Paul, Steve Nash, third game vs Billups, Tony Parker). But people just love to hate I guess, and with Rondo, this is especially true. First, they said he wouldn’t be able to handle the point guard position for the Big Three. Next, he can’t shoot to save his life. Next he won’t be able to handle the playoff pressure. And as the doubters and haters keep on going on and on, Rondo keeps on proving em wrong.

  5. By Chris Iafolla on May 6, 2008 | Reply

    You raise some interesting points regarding the Celtics road to a title. I personally don’t think they can get it done, and think the Pistons will ultimately prevail. I think the Celtics biggest problem right now is the lack of a go-to scorer in crunch time. Garnett has proved time and time again that he shuns the spotlight. Ray Allen is a willing shooter, but has difficulty creating his own shot. Paula Pierce is capable of being that guy, but has yet to consistently prove he is ready for the role. In the playoffs, games get tighter and there is a need for a clear leader down the wire. The Celtics need one of the big three to step up and assume that role.

    Also, you mention the concern around what Pistons team will show up. I agree, that is probably the biggest obstacle the Pistons face. But that concern is now just as large for the Celtics. All of a sudden, the team seems to have forgotten how to play team defense and reverted to a brand of basketball that relies on individual playmaking rather than team basketball. So if we are questioning the Pistons, the Celts need to be thrown into that mix as well.

    Keep up the good work here.

    –Chris

  6. By JL on May 6, 2008 | Reply

    Chris – I like what you say. I’m not 100% in agreement, but you make an interesting point about clutch scoring. As for the sudden lack of team defense, I think it has more to do with the Pistons and Celtics thinking about each other instead of the teams they’re playing.

    J-Dub – Watch the first quarter of tonight’s Celtics-Cavs game and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Rondo was struggling until he started charging into the lane.

    I would also say that Rondo’s most important contribution to the team isn’t his offense – he’s decent enough on that end, but it’s not near as important as his defense. Indeed, his athleticism allows him to terrorize the opposing team’s point guard (he’s done a great job of that all year, as far as I’ve seen). The only issue with Rondo is that his defensive energy comes from his offensive success. If he can drive and dish, he works a lot harder on defense. It’s a natural tendency.

    I’m more of a fan of Perk’s game because his rebounding and defense are excellent. He plays very well in his role to – something that’s hard to find in this league. Most guys in the league think they can do it all, so they take some shots they can’t make, dribble when they shouldn’t, pass when they shouldn’t, etc. Perk doesn’t do that. He works his ass off on D, rebounds well, and he’s very efficient.

    The guy’s averaged about 25 mins a game this year, and he’s managed to produce a rebound every 4 minutes, shoot 62%, and he’s tracking for 3 blocks per 48 minutes. He also does a nice job of sealing the lane.

    Rondo’s a good young player, with emphasis on young. Give him a couple more years and he’s going to be good. Give him 5 and he’s going to be very good. But right now, considering that a 38-year-old Cassell takes over for Rondo in late-game situations, I think it’s clear. Rondo is the weakest Celtics starting player.

    Like I said, that ain’t bad.

  7. By J-Dub on May 6, 2008 | Reply

    Dude, it doesn’t matter cause you can’t stop him from getting into the lane. Chris Paul would struggle mightily as well if he couldn’t get into the lane. You seem to forget that Rondo is the 4th option on this team in terms of scoring, so he’s gonna be incosistent. Second, he didn’t struggle at first, he missed one shot. You are underrating him on severely on offense, purely on his numbers. You obviously never really watched him play during the year.
    You also don’t get how important he is to this offense. Did you notice how everything goes stagnant when he came out of the game? He is the general of this offense, as KG has said. Behind Paul Pierce and KG, he’s the most important player on this offense. The Celtics went away from using him on the pick and roll in the third quarter and what happened? The Celtics could barely score.
    He is vastly more talented and more important than Perkins. Perk shoots 62 percent? Thats cuz he doesn’t take much more than five or six shots per game and they are ALL within 3 feet. But Rondo shoots about 10-plus shots a game at a 48 percent tick, which is one of the best FG% in the league. He also averages a rebound about every 6 minutes, which is great for a PG.
    You want to talk about defense? Rondo is up for consideration for FIRST TEAM All-NBA Defense (just ask John Hollinger, among others). He is one of the, if not the best defensive point guard in the league. He gets steals AND he plays great on ball defense.
    And of course Sam Cassell was in the game at the end. He is no slouch coming off the bench. As a starter, he scored 39 versus Cleveland earlier this year. The Celtics needed to make some shots, and Sam was on fire. Docs not gonna take him out if he’s hitting shots. But Rondo WAS in there on a key offensive possession; the one where KG hit the layup for the lead. Sure, all he had to do was come down and pass, but it shows that Doc still has confidence in him and that he is needed to run this offense. Perkins is in there to get offensive boards. He plays a much smaller role than Rondo, so its a little unfair to compare the two in the first place.
    I don’t want to get into a Perk/Cassell versus Rondo battle, though. The fact of the matter is,the Celtics don’t really have a weak starter, and if you had to choose one, itd be Perkins based solely on ability. Well, Rondo just put up another great night, but whatever. You’re still going to underrate him, because all some people do is look at stats. I see that he can score at will, take care of the ball better than most point guards in the league, and play defense better than most guys in the league. Good player in a few years? He’s good right now. Very good and very underrated.

  8. By JL on May 7, 2008 | Reply

    J-Dub – We can argue this all year, but in my mind it’s very simple. Rondo’s first half in last night’s Celts/Cavs game was great, but when the Cavs decided to start denying Rondo the lane, he dried up. Cassell closed out the 4th quarter because, unlike Rondo, he’s got shooting range. Rondo’s presence was hurting the Celtics in the 2nd half because the Cavs were playing off him and crowding the lane. Rivers had to pull him out if they wanted to win.

    Cassell doesn’t get “hot” btw – that guy is always on (or haven’t you seen him play before)?

  9. By J-Dub on May 7, 2008 | Reply

    Why yes I have seen him play. Did you see Sammy playing in Atlanta? Obviously he’s not always hot.
    Rondo’s presence was not hurting the Celtics at all. Last night for some reason, it was Paul Pierce and Ray Allen’s inability to score. Rondo just wasn’t as aggressive in the second half. It wasn’t like Cleveland was doing anything different against him. Guys like Rondo and Chris Paul and Tony Parker are too fast to keep out of the lane when you give them a pick and roll situation. But in that third quarter, you could tell that Boston was trying to get Pierce and Allen more involved. It just wasn’t working. I was dissapointed they went away from the high screen and roll with Rondo, cuz it was really breaking down Cleveland’s defense. They tried going under and over the screen, but nothing was working. I don’t know whether it was Rondo or Rivers who made the playcalling in the second half; all I know is that it was a poor choice to go away from Rajon as much as they did.
    Back to Cassell. If you watched the Celtics all year, you’d know that Rondo usually sits out the first 6 minutes of the fourth quarter. But the Celtics needed shots and Sam was on fire. So I don’t mind Doc keeping Sam in this time, but if they are ahead in the last few minutes, I’d bring in Rondo to keep the offense flowing. When Sam is in the game, Pierce and Allen sometimes gets screwed over because Cassell dribbles so much to find his own shot.
    I look at this like a Tony Parker/Speedy Claxton situation a few years ago. Rondo is obviously more talented at this point, but Cassell is used for his experience in late game situations, and his clutch shooting ability. It’s not like Rondo’s being benched for Eddie House. Cassell has more than just shooting ability. He has experience and savvy that Rondo has, understandably, yet to achieve. But for a second year player who should still be a senior in college, Rondo is handling the playoff pressure fantastically. He just needs to keep being aggressive and that will open up things for Pierce and Ray Ray. But once again, it was clearly not Rondo’s presence that was hurting the Celtics; it was the inability of Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to score the ball.
    Rondo would not have cost the Celtics by staying in the game. Like I said, as long as Cassell is hitting his shots and not taking too many, than I’m fine with him being in the game. But if Rivers wants to win this championship, he’s going to give his talented sophomore point guard a chance in some pressure situations.

  10. By JL on May 8, 2008 | Reply

    Agreed – Rondo is playing out of his mind for a sophomore PG. I honestly believe it will be easier to see the holes in Rondo’s game if/when he plays a top notch PG like Billups. Granted, he’s matched up well with Nash, Parker, and CP3, but none of those guys are known as good defenders. He may have gotten the best of Billups once, but in a best of 7 it will be a different story.

    Too bad Chauncey might be hurt…

  11. By J-Dub on May 9, 2008 | Reply

    Yeah, there’s definitely still some holes in his game, but he’s got such great potential. Billups will defitely outplay Rondo in a 7 game series (if he’s healthy), but as long as Rajon doesn’t get absolutely killed defensively and makes Billups play defense in turn, I think the Celtics will be alright if they get to Detroit.

  12. By Mike on May 19, 2008 | Reply

    I don’t know all that much about the NBA but I’ll be sick to my stomach if the Celtics win it all, I can’t stand Boston sports.

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