Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Here We Go...Time to WITNESS

Not that the first round of the playoffs was not entertaining but it really heats up now in the conference semi's. With CP3 and the Hornets taking care of home court and going up 2-0 on the defending champion Spurs and with Kobe and the Lakers looking, well, looking like they are not planning on losing a game for some time the coach is going to look east.

I am still in some slight disbelief that is took the Celtics 7, yes 7 games to get rid of the Hawks. But for all the "experts" out there that think that will have a negative affect on them when they begin their second round series tonight against the Cavs and the King, well, they will be proven wrong. You must remember that after the Celtics swept the Texas triangle in March they did not have another "big game" the rest of the way. The starters got major rest and the intensity naturally took a step back down the stretch. But now it is back. It is back because they had to have it back in game seven to move on. It is back because the crowd demanded it. It is back because Rajon Rondo got layed out on the fastbreak. It is back because of Garnett, Pierce and Co. knew it was time. It is back because of Celtic Pride. It is back because the King is coming.

There have been many great series over the past 20 plus years that teams have gone thru en route to a championship. The Cavs are the reigning conference champions and also have some familiar faces that would love to help King James knock off the Celtics. Here is a quick breakdown of the keys to the series.

Cleveland Keys:
A consistent 2nd scorer.
Holding their own on the glass.
Neutralizing 2 of the 3 Boston big three.

LeBron breaks 30 every time he plays the Celtics and the teams split the season series this year 2-2 with the home team winning each time. But in order for the Cavs to have a real chance at winning 4 times against the Celtics a 2nd scorer must emerge. Gibson, West and Szcerbiak all had some good performances in round 1 against the Wizards but Washington does not present any of the defensive challenges the Celtics do. The Celtics will be in help mode most of the game against LeBron which means those shooters will have some open opportunities. Will they continue to make shots?

The Cavs have some depth upfront in Big Z, Wallace, Verajo and Joe Smith. Three of those four guys are all on the back sides of their career however and the Celtics present some major inside problems for them, especially on the boards. Between KG, Perkins, Leon Powe, Glen Davis and PJ Brown the Celtics are long, strong and relentless on the glass, at both ends. Second chance opportunities are huge in any game in any series and this is no different. The team that creates more easy hoops from second chance points is going to benefit greatly. Something tells me the Celtics are going to be that team, well at least tonight in game one at home.

Defensively the Cavs are in an interesting predicament. Do they double team KG or let him battle with Ben Wallace one on one in the post? Do they put Devin Brown on the court to first challenge Ray Allen, and then Paul Pierce at times when LeBron James needs a break. Or do they stick with Wally because they need his shooting on the floor? I am a believer that Cleveland is very dangerous with James, West and Gibson all playing together which would have Delonte on Ray Allen and Gibson on Rondo. What Cleveland must figure out is how to hold 2 of the 3 Big 3 in check. When two score the ball well the Celtics win, that is how it has gone. Cleveland and Boston both have defensive decisions to make as far as double teams and how much they will help off the weak side. Remember, like the Cavs the Celtics have a few guys that can also knock down open shots in James Posey, Sam Cassell and the soon to be defrosted Eddie House.

Boston Keys
Make LeBron earn every basket.
Eliminate lapses on the road.
Dominate the paint.

There is no doubt King James will get his numbers in this series. As I mentioned earlier he is almost a guaranteed 30 plus every time they play. But it is how he gets his 30 plus which is the key. The Celtics must be physical with him, but not dirty cheap shot physical like Washington was. (BTW, Washington is not a "tough" team when it comes to battling in the paint or on defense, though their defense did improve this year. I just have a hard time watching a team that has been trying to fight off that soft label for a number of years and all of a sudden decide they are gonna knock people down. That ain't you, you pissed off the King, now your asses are home. Was DeShawn Stevenson serious?) Sorry for the rant, I tend to do that from time to time. The Celtics must trap all pick and rolls and make James give up the rock and then make him work extra hard to get it back. Paul Pierce is first in line to guard James and he is going to give it all he has. Pierce and James have had their battles but never in the postseason and never on this stage. A big advantage for the Celtics in terms of defense is that Garnett will be matched up with Ben Wallace which means he can roam the floor defensively and help on any penetration by James. If Ben Wallace hits the offensive boards it is simple, FOUL HIM!!! Make the guy make free throws, especially in Boston.

The Celtics lost three close road games in a surprisingly crazy environment. (Did anyone see the dude in the from row wearing a blue button down with a Hawks jersey over it pumping his fist? There is no way that cat had ever been to a game before) But regardless of rowdy fans the Celtics not winning one game in Atlanta was alarming. One thing they experienced in all three of those games were lapses on the defensive end. In game 3 it was not blocking out and guarding Joe Johnson on the pick and roll like they were expecting him not to attack the basket when he turned the corner. (Could they really not adjust that in a time out after the year they had defensively, weird) Game 4 the green were up 10 points entering the 4th quarter, then they simply got their ass kicked. Game 6, Pierce fouls out, shots from point blank are missed and the overall defense was average at best. But you cannot play average defense on the road in the postseason, not in Atlanta and certainly not against the Cavs. With King James staring them in the face a lapse defensively will be hard to understand.

The battle for the paint starts and ends with one man, Kevin Garnett. KG must be aggressive if the Cavs do not double him and make them pay, again and again. It is time for Garnett to take over a series, this is the one. Whether it is the turnaround jumper or driving it to the tin KG must inflict some offensive pain on the Cavs starting tonight. When he does that and help starts coming the Celtics are a devastating team as Garnett is a terrific passer. Perkins, Pierce, Allen and Posey all get to their spots for knock out dunks and three's that take the will from the defense, but again that starts with KG setting the tone. Leon Powe, PJ Brown and Glen Davis are all capable of plugging themselves in and giving Boston a tremendous aggressive possession on either end of the court. Look for the Celtics to win the battle in the paint over the course of the series.

There is no doubt LeBron James is the best player in the eastern conference as he and the Cavs look to defend their conference title. But what is coming at Cleveland they will have no answer for. The Celtics already got their scare and they are ready to take the next step towards that 17th Championship banner. Pierce and Garnett will both have a memorable series. Celtics in 6.

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