(This is long...I couldn't help myself with the emotions today...I love this team TOO much...feel free to skip the middle section after the dash-line ---------- and return for the last paragraph...thanks!!)
Yes! What have we said ALL ALONG?...
When the Celtics were amassing 10 or 20 point leads against (almost) every single NBA contender, against...
---The Dallas Mavericks, the Denver Nuggets, the San Antonio Spurs, the Atlanta Hawks, the Orlando Magic, the Portland Trailblazers, the Miami Heat, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the Los Angeles Lakers---
(but oddly enough, and perhaps truly foreboding enough….NOT against the Suns)
…we all “witnessed” what this year’s version of the Celtics could be. Everyone who said there was a “switch” to flipped was absolutely right. Yet everyone who stated that it wasn’t possible for this “switch” to be flipped immediately and decisively was also 100% correct.
“We are witness” to the same team that went 23-5 at the beginning of the season. Actually, no….this is one with heart….one that has had to undergo TREMENDOUS adversity. I maintained all along that it would be preferable and totally helpful if the C’s were to play Miami in the first round, Cleveland in the second round, and so forth onwards.
These two teams with their “untouchable” ,“god-like” superstars forced the Celtics into establishing a winning formula. Yet other “contenders” have not had the “luxury” of facing stiff (character-building) playoff competition themselves. Think about it…
In the first round, Cleveland played against a Chicago Bulls team that was incapable of guarding Shaq or Cleveland’s various bigs. They were also matched up against Derrick Rose who is known as a score-first point guard. These two matchups did wonders for Cleveland in steamrolling past the Bulls, but it did nothing in preparing them for their second round matchup against the Celtics…a team that (in theory) held matchup advantages far different and far superior to that which the Bulls lacked against the Cavs.
Similarly, the Orlando Magic have been portrayed as world-beaters in smashing two teams characterized as having little to no defensive post presence. Dwight Howard has single-handedly dominated the paint-interior while drawing double teams….and in doing so, has allowed his perimeter-shooting teammates to jack 3’s at an alarmingly easy rate.
THIS is not something the Magic will so easily pull off if/when the Celtics come to town. In fact, I suspect the Magic will run straight into a brick wall. Their “strategy” which they’ve honed over the last few months will be for nought, and they will have to adapt IMMEDIATELY….something which they haven’t yet been forced to do.
Nelson will have to contend with a near-MVP-caliber point guard in Rajon Rondo….both defensively and offensively. Compare that matchup to that which he went up against in Raymond Felton and Mike Bibby. Laughing? I am too. They’ve made Nelson looked like an all-star once again. However in matching up against “Rage”…he’ll be made to look like a D-leaguer. Though this may be exaggeration, you can clearly anticipate that Jameer won’t be getting such wide vantage-views across half court sets with a conniving and dangerously disruptive Rajon Rondo breathing down his neck while poking the ball out from behind…and he certainly won’t be getting many clear perimeter looks. In fact, neither will Rashard Lewis. Why?…because of this man…
Similarly and even more importantly, the C’s are one of the few (possibly amongst 3 total) teams that have the ability to cover Dwight Howard without resorting to double-teaming. This very fact entirely changes the tilt of Orlando’s offense, as it leave other Celtic players free to cover their (normally open) perimeter shooters. The Magic are amongst the best 3 point shooting teams in the league, and much of their potent offense revolves around obtaining easy, open looks for their shooters.
Well, what happens when a team that relies on easy perimeter looks all of a sudden has that option taken away? They simply miss. Remember, the Magic are amongst the best at this aspect of the game, but their perimeter shooters are no “Jesus Shuttlesworth”s. There’s a reason why Ray Allen is considered amongst the greatest at his craft…he shoots well regardless of defensive pressure. Orlando’s shooters should be thought of more as “hired mercenaries”….not true perimeter-shooting juggernauts.
Combine this with an (inevitably against Perk) offensively-frustrated Dwight Howard, and you’ve all of a sudden got a Magic offense that is forced to resort to it’s (mediocre) mid-range offense. Say goodbye to a balanced offense. Say hello to the newly-renewed, balanced Celtic offense.
…and another thing. Do you really think Paul Pierce or Allen and Allen incorporated are going to have a tough time in guarding Vinsanity…after having spent 10 games guarding the best (literally the BEST) penetrating scorers of this league...Lebron James and Dwyane Wade? No, I don’t think so. In fact it’ll be a wonderful treat…a rest. Similarly, after having successfully spent the last 5 games trying to prevent Shaq’s ungodly mass from spilling over the top of him (high elbows and all 300+ pounds of beastly girth), do you really think he’s going to shy away from guarding Superman? Granted, Superman has a few more moves than Shaq, but if single-coverage is possible, he’s a one-trick pony on offense….and a major liability for Orlando in the (likely) scenario that he gets frustrated or mired in foul trouble.
…Since this year’s Boston Celtics have never relied on one scorer (or one defender for that matter) to pivot their game-plan around, it has been difficult to assess where they’ve been headed…
We’ve watched Paul Pierce’s play waver between that of a veteran past his expiration date and that of a Finals MVP. We’ve just recently scratched our heads in wondering whether Paul’s days as a “born-scorer” were gone….i.e. “is he injured or sick?”…“has he lost confidence in himself?”…“has Lebron gotten into his head?”.
Now we watch him drive straight into the path of LeQueen James on his way to a fastbreak 3 point play. We watch him take the reigns offensively against “the hyped-one” without fear or thought. His countenance and expression now mirror that of himself several weeks ago…the player who after having drained a truly vintage, playoff, buzzer-beating, game-winning shot…became the Paul Pierce of old again.
We’ve struggled in guessing KG’s health prognosis over and over again….i.e. “how’s the knee feeling?” We’ve witnessed him get burned on the baseline by Rashard Lewis…a letup that not only led to a heartbreaking 2 point loss for the Celtics, but more importantly led to the prompting… a cascade of questioning…obsessively centered around the physical health of Boston’s legendary defensive lynchpin.
Instead we now watch him with unrestrained joy…utterly dominating his matchup with the Cavalier’s “new, potent” acquisition (who would supposedly take them over the edge). He looks renewed, unrestrained and confident. He’s looks more like the KG of 2008 than he has during any previous point in the season.
We’ve felt sadness in watching Jesus Shuttlesworth’s value melt into pudding….for most of the season, his shot-making ability (especially from beyond the perimeter) was halted. Everyone remembers the “trade Ray!” sentiment that each and every one of us entertained at times. In the middle of February, we were all expecting to say goodbye to one of the cherished Big 3…and by far the classiest, most professional one. He was MY favorite of the Big 3, and his potential departure saddened me!!
Now we watch him make a mockery of the Cavaliers’ defense. We thought the Ray Ray we saw against the Miami Heat was just a blip on the radar? No, no…corner three after corner three has taken this Celtics team one dagger closer to breaking the "#1 team" in the league. You had to know he’d step it up during the playoffs…right? Of course, we all had our doubts, but come on!! He’s the single-greatest shooter ever (besides Reggie Miller of course…and likely to surpass his 3 point record as well). How could we ever doubt him?
…And finally…what words could even come close to describing the player who has become the favorite of many (including myself). The man that has consistently brought it this year, and is the key in answering those questions that have been dogging us all year, and also in answering those questions that pertain to the future of this team.
The ascendance of Rajon Rondo has just happened….it’s occurred so fast that we’re not even really sure of what we’ve just seen. Could it truly be that our very own point guard…our guarantee into the future…is actually outplaying the MVP god of the NBA Lebron James? Are we really seeing our little man control the pace of do-or-die playoff games without scoring a point…and then proceeding to unleash a flurry of attacks straight into the teeth of one of the most intimidating defenses of this league? Did he really just do the unthinkable in joining the esteemed company of Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson…pulling off a playoff-performance feat that hasn’t even been approached in 40 years?
Yes, yes, and yes. Right now, Rage is the best point guard in the league when it matters…in the playoffs. Just leave the regular season for the stat-mongerers. Give me a pass-first point guard who has been forced and molded to learn under 3 hall of famers, who has been stuck on an injury-prone and glory-lost team for months on end seemingly without hope, who has sacrificed many of his own god-given basketball talents in learning to assimilate within the needs of his hurting teammates. All year long, we’ve heard excuse after excuse…Rondo would not be what he is without the Big 3. That may have been true to some extent before this year, in that he LEARNED much from their style of play, and their leadership. Yet now he IS the pulse of the team. Now when he plays well, it is guaranteed that he is doing so in making everyone around him play well. If that’s not the definition of a "superstar", "transcendent playmaker", then I don’t know what is.
…and it is the very leadership of our “Big 4” that is spurring on tremendous performances from much of our beloved bench….and vice-versa. Tony Allen’s scrappy play has saved this team numerous times during the playoffs. Big Baby has regained his shooting touch and his confidence. Even SHEED!!!….even Sheed is stepping up big when the team needs him….at the defensive end primarily…but also as a stabilizing force off the bench.
In other words, UBUNTU back in fashion, and with it this team has found it’s identity. Is it any wonder that it took so long to find it again? It was complex to begin with, because it never revolved around one player or one idea. The only way to find it was to be tested…
…and therein lies the entire point of this. The “switch” could only be flipped in the midst of real challenge…amidst of a real test of resolve. I don’t think anybody here would argue that matching up against Dwayne Wade and Lebron James is a picnic…yet it surely did no harm to the Celtics. In fact, it emboldened them, and it strengthened them. THIS is exactly what other teams placed ahead of us in those stupid, useless espn “power rankings” didn’t get to experience, and it is what the “experts” missed the point of entirely.
This team is not made to have things come easily to them, and instead of bemoaning it, we should look at that challenge and say “thank god”. I look forward to game 6. I look forward to a 3rd round matchup with the Magic. I look forward This is how the Celtics have won in the past, and it’s how they’re going to do it again.
Bring on the “superstars”. By the end of June, this team will hopefully have hastened the vacation plans of Dwyane Wade, Lebron James, Dwight Howard, and Kobe Bryant (or Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire!). Let the “experts” put this team down…let us be the underdogs and “overachieve”…
Because you and I here at Celticsblog have known ALL ALONG…we’ve known the value of this team and its heart. I think we’re in for a very, very memorable championship run that will go down in Celtic history as one of the most challenging and unlikely turnarounds in league history. Watch for history happening.