So much has been made of "the Switch" that it is time to look at it in depth. Is there a switch? Has it been turned on for the playoffs? Is this what we've been waiting for all year? Can they sustain it?
One thing is clear: Everything changes in the playoffs. We knew this all along, but that didn't make us feel any more comfortable during the regular season. Just because you can coast through the last 54 games doesn't mean you should. I'm a firm believer in "you play like you practice." But here's hoping that the team can walk the walk they've been talking all along.
They had me nervous a few times in the first round against the Heat. Those moments of malaise and quarters of bad defense that you could point to and yell "don't start THAT again!" Then again, maybe that is just an overreaction due to feeling shell-shocked by the regular season.
After all, every team goes on runs (good and bad) in the course of a game. I'm sure if we pulled tape from the 2008 playoffs you'd find plenty of stretches of downright ugly play. If anything, the net result of this series is much better than each of the last two playoff first round series.
Consider this synopsis from Peter May:
Not only did the Celtics defend, they outrebounded the Heat, they forced more turnovers, they went 3-0 in TD Garden and they move on to the conference semifinals as healthy as they're going to be. So, basically, yeah, the regular season was a big yawn. The overall goal was health, not victories or playoff positioning. They knew they'd get there. The how and where was inconsequential.
I don't know if I'd go that far, but it does appear that the Celtics have ratcheted up the intensity a level and sharpened the focus for the "games that matter."
So what changed between the regular season and the playoffs? For one thing the rotation has a very Back to the Future feel to it (circa 2008). Big Baby and Tony Allen were just above bit players back then, but they've been in the system long enough to have it down and they did contribute to that title. About the only new face getting much playing time is Sheed and he's kind of 1 part Posey and 2 parts Patrick O'Bryant.
What else has changed? No more focus on "resting the vets" and no more excuses about "saving the guys for the playoffs." If guys are tired or banged up, too bad so sad. They know they are playing long minutes and playing through pain. Nobody is wondering if they should ease up or take it easy. Everyone knows what's at stake and how easy it could all be over.
So they are focused, healthy, and they know the system inside and out. Oh yeah, and they seem to be remembering what won them the title back in '08, namely defense. That was more than enough to dispatch the Miami Wades.
Now we get to see how they react to being an underdog. I'm kind of excited about that actually. I think the collective psyche of this team thrives off of a challenge like that and they are out to prove (once again) that underestimating them is a big mistake (see the Finals in '08).
If anything, I'm wondering if this team doesn't handle success too well. At least twice (that I can recall) in this last series they lost big leads. Twice in the regular season the Celts lost big leads to the Cavs (once holding on, the other time not-so-much).
Of course the good news is that they got those big leads in the first place. In some ways they actually do match up well with the Cavs. Perhaps if they are focused enough to stick to their rotations on defense they can get enough stops down the stretch to pull off an upset.
Then again, the Celtics didn't have a very good record vs. the best teams in the league this year. By all accounts they were taking those games very seriously. Remember all the "statement" games that didn't make much of a positive statement? Those games were as close to the playoffs as you can get in the regular season. That doesn't bode well for the upcoming series.
What if they've flipped the switch but it still isn't good enough? LeBron is better than ever and he's got the best team he's ever had around him. Shaq looks healthy and focused and Varejao has always been that annoying guy that kills us every time. Even at full strength and hyper focus, the Celtics will have their hands full against Cleveland.
So, have they flipped the switch? Yeah, I think so. I just hope it is enough.