This is a second round series hampered by injuries as the Celtics are missing Kevin Garnett and Leon Powe while the Magic are missing their starting backcourt in Jameer Nelson and Courtney Lee.
Big Men: As great as that Chicago-Boston Series was, let’s be honest. It was largely close because Kevin Garnett wasn’t in it. With him, the Celtics suddenly have a great defense again and Derrick Rose and the Bulls aren’t able to wreck havoc by driving in and stretching the aforementioned Celtic defense.
Instead, the Celtics have to start Glen “Big Baby” Davis alongside Kendrick Perkins against Orland’s Dwight Howard and Rashard Lewis.
Perkins certainly has improved by leaps and bounds since he first entered the league. He will have his hands full in this series trying to keep the energetic Howard off the boards, but for what it is worth, I am pretty sure he will greatly hinder Howard’s scoring opportunities. To be fair, that’s not all that hard to do. Perkins has the size and length to stay with Howard and keep him from just spinning and dunking outright, and he is a good enough defender that he will prevent Howard from just throwing up that mechanical right hook shot over and over again.
The new starter Glen Davis is not going to be nearly as impressive this series on defense. His generally mediocre defense will get exposed more often by the quicker Lewis who by the way will most likely get more rebounds a game than Davis as well. Still, if it is any consolation, Lewis probably will be too undersized to do anything against Davis when the “Big Baby” sets himself up at any part of the post. So do they cancel out? No, Lewis will get the ball more and make Davis cry at least once this series as he is quickly sent to the bench. Ok, that was probably a low blow so let’s just move on.
Swing Men: Paul Pierce and Ray Allen start and lead Boston against Orlando’s Hedo Turkoglu and new starter JJ Redick.
For all the fuss being made about Rajon Rondo becoming one of the best point guards in the NBA (and he probably has,) the Celtics will continue to live and die based on the contributions of Allen and Pierce. This series is no difference as both are matched up against two very mediocre defenders at best.
As long as JJ Redick is in the game to space the floor on offense, look for Ray Allen to dominate him on the other end. It isn’t out of the question to expect the future hall of famer to drop 40 on his Magic counterpart as many as three times this series.
Meanwhile Paul Pierce probably won’t have quite as easy a time against Turkoglu. The Turkish small forward is smart and has long enough arms to make things tricky for Pierce when the Celtics have the ball by backing off of him and daring him to shoot from the outside. Pierce is at his most effective when he is able to get to the right block and act from there. If Turkoglu can back off far enough to bait Pierce into shooting from beyond that block, he will have him right where he wants him. Furthermore, he is a good enough playmaker to force Pierce to work on the other end as well. That being said, the guy doesn’t have the greatest foot speed so look for Pierce to be able to get his fair share of open looks and make the Magic pay.
Neither team really has a significant advantage at the end of the game though. While Pierce and Allen have had their late game heroics highlighted by the media and their recent series with the Chicago Bulls, both Turkoglu and Redick have proven that they can also make big shots when it matters most. Redick of course made most of these in college so it is somewhat questionable if he can do so in the NBA, but it says here that he will be fine. There should be no question of Turkoglu’s clutchness, however. On a team with three other all stars (Howard, Lewis, and the injured Jameer Nelson,) Stan Van Gundy generally designs his crunch time plays for his small forward. Turkoglu hits them too as he did against the Sixers during the first round and multiple times last year against the Celtics in the regular season.
Still, if it is imperative that the Celtics keep it close in their big men match up (and it is,) it is equally imperative that the Magic swing men keep it close against their own counterparts. They have to be willing to attack them at any time and often to tire them out for offense.
Point Guard: Rafer Alston of the Orlando Magic will attempt to slow down the red hot Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics. Rondo who ultimately came out on top in his battle against the highly touted rookie, Derrick Rose, has certainly added a pretty feather to his cap of accomplishments. Still, he has to stay grounded because it is this match up that should swing the tide in favor of the Celtics for good.
Rafer Alston might not make anyone forget about Jameer Nelson, but he also isn’t going to be one to fear Rondo or not make him earn his points. Alston is supremely confident, fairly quick, and a solid enough playmaker. If Rondo sleeps on defense, Alston will be able to easily get into the lane and make the Celtics defense panic. Davis will probably be too slow to help out on Alston, and Perkins helping on Alston frees up the alley-oop loving Dwight Howard so Rondo has to stay in front of him at all times.
Not that Rafer “Skip To My Lou” Alston is going to have all that much energy on offense. Rondo has the ability to run the Magic point guard ragged. He will explode into the lane early and often and force the Magic defenders to scramble in response. His jumper is streaky at best, but he is so quick that it rarely is that big a deal. You cannot play too far off of him because by the time he meets you when that is the case, he will have too much momentum to stop without fouling. When he does pass, it should be noted that his decision making has been impeccable in the playoffs which is highlighted by his recent game 6 performance when he registered 19 assists against 0 turnovers in 57 minutes.
Coaching +Bench: Doc Rivers who actually once coached the Orlando Magic now returns once more as the ever improving coach of the Boston Celtics.
At his disposal off the bench will be Stephon Marbury, Tony Allen, Eddie House, Brian Scalabrine, and Mikki Moore. These guys know their roles and stick to them, which is good because none are really talented enough to contribute much more than they currently do except for Marbury who randomly has developed a fear of shooting.
If you thought that Rivers over used his starters in the last series, read the list of guys I gave as primary backups and expect him to repeat his tactics from the first round.
Despite being shorthanded in terms of big men, I think Rivers should single-team Howard and play him largely straight up with Kendrick Perkins. Challenge Howard to beat you via his offense, because quite simply put he probably cannot do that for four games.
On the other team’s side, sits the hard working Stan Van Gundy. He will count on Mickael Pietrus, Anthony Johnson, Tony Battie, and Marcin Gortat to produce off the Magic bench.
Johnson is going to have a tough time keeping Rondo in front of him, but will make the Celtics pay if they leave him open to double someone else. Pietrus can somewhat effectively guard Pierce, Allen, and even Rondo, but is also very likely to shoot a host of idiotic three pointers too quickly in the offense and commit dumb fouls. How well he keeps his play in check will go a long way to deciding how much the Magic will miss the young Courtney Lee. Gortat and Battie are both solid big men who play passable help defense and will not make it significantly easier for the Celtics to hit shots in the lane when Howard rests.
Van Gundy has to make sure that any screens for Ray Allen not involving Howard are switched on to prevent Allen from dominating early and often with his quick release and deadly accurate jumper. At the same time, he has to get his team to be as physical as possible. The Celtic are running on adrenalin at this point after their exhausting series with the Bulls. If the Magic can be physical and lay down hard (but fair) fouls early and often, the Celtics could fold early and concede large opening leads.
Regardless, being physical is the only way the Magic have a chance at containing the lightning quick Rajon Rondo. Turning him into a jump shooter largely curtails his overall effectiveness.
In addition, Van Gundy has to create ways for the Magic to stay balanced on offense if the Celtics do indeed decide to play Howard straight up. They should feed their big man whenever a dunk opportunity presents itself, but when it doesn’t, they must work it around to their playmakers: Turkoglu, Lewis, and Alston and allow them to create.
To be fair, the Celtics can also counter all of this by playing with the same poise they had when they beat the Bulls in seven games.
Final Verdict: This series will certainly be an interesting one. The Magic had just as tough a time beating the Sixers as the Celtics did with the Bulls so both teams just escaped elimination even if it took the Celtics one more game (and a plethora of overtimes) to do so. In the end, I think the Magic might suffer more from just being happy to be in the second round.
Boston Celtics in 7