Despite Dwyane Wade’s 46-point game, there are many positives we can draw from the Celtics 5-game series victory over the Miami Heat. First and foremost was Boston’s ability to win on the road. They went 1-1 in Miami, and actually had the lead briefly in Game 4 until Wade turned into a force of nature. Despite a slow start in that game, it actually wasn’t poorly played. Had the Celtics been able to contain Wade at all during the second half, they likely would have swept the Heat. Even still, this was their easiest playoff series victory in 3 years. In 2007, every series went six or seven games, as did 2008’s. The Celtics have played well enough on the road this season that we can begin to forget about their road playoff woes of yesteryear. Not only that, but their home-court advantage is starting to return. Against Miami they were 3-0 at the Garden. All of this spells out a difficult series for the Cavaliers. The Celtics may be better equipped at winning on the road this season than Cleveland is, despite Cleveland’s better record. I think if the Celtics can pull out a win in the first two games at Cleveland, they have an excellent chance of going back to Cleveland up 3-1.
Yes, they split the season series with Cleveland 2-2, but these games all came at different times during the season. Each team has won once on the road and once at home. They are more evenly matched than you might think, but some of Boston’s role-players are starting to come into their own. Tony Allen has emerged as a more-than-competent defensive presence on the court. Considering the gap in talent, I thought he played brilliant defense against Dwyane Wade. While Allen never exactly shut Wade down, he contained Wade enough that Miami’s lack of other shooters became too much to overcome. I see the same thing happening in Cleveland. You can’t stop LeBron James, he’s just too good. But you CAN contain him, force him into deeper jump shots than he’d like, and make him pass up the ball.
I think Perkins has the advantage over Shaq at center, so that leaves it up to the Cavaliers’ other perimeter shooters. The Celtics definitely have the advantage at both guard positions, with Ray Allen shooting exceptionally well and Rajon Rondo passing and scoring with the ease that made him an All-Star this season. So then it comes down to Kevin Garnett vs. Antawn Jamison. Kevin Garnett also has the advantage here: taller, better at moving inside, but still capable of the perimeter shot. Paul Pierce is not as good as LeBron James, but we’ve seen duels between them where the two just cancel each other out in terms of shooting (either they both score a bunch of points or they score next to none). So while James is the best player on the court, you can contain him with double-teams and force the Cavs to rely on other shooters. With the advantage swinging the Celtics’ way at all other positions, I’ll take that defensive strategy even if it doesn’t work.
Bench-wise, the Celtics are a little thin but still very capable. Glen Davis had an excellent series against Miami and has cemented his spot on the second rotation. If he can keep up his level of play, it will be very difficult to cover him. He can shoot from the perimeter, drive to the hoop, rip down rebounds and take charges. He has turned into an excellent backup player. If he and Tony Allen can keep the Celtics in the game when Cleveland goes to its bench, I see the Celtics having an excellent chance to win the game. The C’s and Cavs played each other even this season. It will come down to who wants it more. I think the Celtics are coming into this series with more to prove. They want to prove their not too old to compete. They want to prove they’re a championship caliber team. And they want to prove that team chemistry and defense is still more important than having the best player on the court. They’re an old-school team going up against a new-style superpower. I can’t to see which team prevails.