Yahoo! What a great Game Six from the Celtics! And I was there! I saw every dunk, every huge defensive play, every big three-pointer late in the game. I got to chant “New York Knicks” along with everyone else in an effort to thrown LeBron off his free-throw game (which we sort of did). And I got to witness one of the bigger upsets in recent NBA history. Most importantly, I learned a lot about how this team works when it’s at its best:
1) The best player on the court is Rajon Rondo. He is averaging a solid double-double throughout these playoffs, not to mention over two steals a game. He is turning into a playoff superhero. The Celtics will need him to continue his level of sustained execution if they want to beat the Magic.
2) Kevin Garnett is back. He is scoring over 17 points a game, has had four double-doubles himself, and is playing terrific defense. A healthy Kevin Garnett gives the Celtics a presence in the post that they lacked at times when he was out during the regular season. He also provides an incredible defensive resource for the Celtics to use to help contain players like Dwight Howard.
3) The defensive chemistry has finally been established. Despite the occasional offensive explosion we’ve seen these playoffs, most of the Celtics victories have come from defense, not offense. The Celtics are winning by holding opposing teams to under 92 points per game (91.7). While this is not as strong as the Magic’s points-allowed numbers (83.8), you have to take into account that:
a) The Celtics played three more games than the Magic have this postseason
b) The Magic never had to deal with scorers as prolific as LeBron James or Dwyane Wade
The Celtics will need to continue to play stifling and fast defense if they want to contain the Magic.
Looking to the Magic, the trick is going to be keep them out of the paint. The Celtics have favorable match-ups against the Magic at all positions except center. Kendrick Perkins is good, but Dwight Howard is better. Keeping constant pressure on him and forcing him to give the ball up to the perimeter shooters will be key to defeating them. Vince Carter is an inconsistent three-point shooter, and he is having only an o.k. postseason (16.9 ppg, as opposed to his counterpart Ray Allen, who is averaging 17.4). Put the ball in his hands and defend the three-ball well and you can defeat the Magic. At the other positions, the Celtics are superior. As I’ve already stated, Rajon Rondo may be the best point guard left in the playoffs. Kevin Garnett is playing much better than Rashard Lewis is. And Paul Pierce will have a field day with Matt Barnes after dealing with LeBron James for the last two weeks. Bob Ryan said that although the Cavaliers had the best player last series, Boston had the next best four. This is the same situation as with Orlando, however the gap in talent between Dwight Howard and Kendrick Perkins is not nearly as large as it was between LeBron James and Paul Pierce. Strong defense and a good, assist-laden offense will defeat the Magic, and the Celtics have some intangibles on their side. They haven’t been resting for a week (think the 2007 World Series if you want an idea of what too much rest does to a team against a veteran team that’s played at a regular clip). They just beat the best team in the NBA, giving them good momentum for the series. And the Magic don’t draw fouls in the same way the Cavaliers do (or shoot free throws as well), so foul-trouble shouldn’t derail certain players’ shooting rhythms as much it did during the Cavaliers series. I predict the Celtics win it in six. And if they can get past the Magic, there’s no reason they can’t win it all.