We are 14 games into the 2010 postseason. The 2009 postseason also lasted exactly 14 games. Thus, this seems like a good time to take a look at what the difference has been between the two teams. (Fair warning, my conclusions won't be earth-shattering...in fact they're pretty obvious once you get there, but it was the magnitude of the difference that prompted me to make this post).
The difference can't really be tracked in individual stats. Pierce has been the leading scorer through 14 games both years, but he's produced similar/slightly less than last year:
'09 Pierce: 21 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3.1 apg, 55% TS, 16.1 PER
'10 Pierce: 17.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 3.6 apg, 55% TS, 14.3 PER
Pierce is shooting a bit less this postseason, but otherwise he is doing everything else at almost exactly the same rate. So, let's look at Mr. Shuttlesworth:
'09 Allen: 18.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.6 apg, 55 % TS, 14.2 PER
'10 Allen: 16.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.0 apg, 60% TS, 14.7 PER
Like Pierce, Allen has produced at almost the same level overall. He also is shooting a bit less, but unlike Pierce he is scoring much more efficiently. More on that later. For now, let's look at the power forwards:
'09 Baby: 15.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.8 apg, 54% TS, 15.2 PER
'10 KG: 15.7 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 2.4 apg, 53% TS, 18.1 PER
In the boxscores, that really isn't that big of a difference. KG has filled the boxes a little more, but the shooting/scoring is relatively equal and those numbers don't show sufficient difference for the obvious improvement. It must be from Rondo, then, right? Wrong.
'09 Rondo: 16.9 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 9.8 apg, 47% TS, 19.7 PER
'10 Rondo: 17.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 10.7 apg, 54% TS, 19.8 PER
Rondo has certainly scored more efficiently but on the other hand hasn't crashed the boards as hard. I can see a net gain, but certainly not enough to explain the huge jump in the C's play. So, what gives?
Well, to start with, let's put those numbers into the context of the offense as a whole. First and foremost, the offensive reigns have clearly passed from Pierce to Rondo. Last season in the playoffs Pierce was the leader of the offense, and thus the unit was more about individual excellence/1-on-1 abilities. With Rondo in charge, the offense is more equal-opportunity and takes more advantage of the strengths of the unit as a whole.
The second big offensive difference is that with Garnett in there instead of Baby, opponents are having to spend a lot more focus on stopping him which opens things up for everyone else. While Baby was getting his numbers because the opponents dared him to score while hedging more onto everyone else, KG is getting his numbers while pulling in more defensive attention and giving his teammates more room to operate.
The end result of these two subtle offensive changes is more efficient scoring on the whole among the team-leaders and, in game action, a unit that opponents can no longer effectively plan against. In other words, last year's Celtics offense was more like the '10 Magic...good individual talent, but could be planned for and taken out. This year, on the other hand...our offense has become a strength. The 2010 postseason Celtics have one of the best offenses in the NBA.
But that still isn't why they're dominating this year.
No, for that answer, all you have to do is look at the defense. And just for fun, we'll put the '08 defense up there as wwell.
'09 Celtics Defense: 102 ppg, 45% FG, 20 apg, 14 TOs
'10 Celtics Defense: 90 ppg, 43% FG, 17 apg, 17 TOs
'08 Celtics Defense: 89 ppg, 43% FG, 19 apg, 14 TOs
The reason that the Celtics won the title in '08, are competing strongly for another one in '10, and bowed out in '09 is all on the defensive side of the ball. Many list the 2008 defense as among the best units of all-time...well, 2 years (and some health) later, that unit lives and breathes again. These Celtics are a defensive juggernaut, again. And if all goes well, it will be the defense that brings #18 home in a few weeks.