A Daily Babble Production
With Rafer Alston suspended for his slap to Eddie House's head and Courtney Lee expected to return from a sinus fracture, the Celtics will see a rather different Magic team than they did earlier in the week as their series with Orlando shifts to Amway Arena tonight.
My longtime personal distaste for Alston's game led me to joke on Thursday about whether a suspension would even benefit the Celts. But given the better-than-I-expected job Alston did upon stepping in at midseason for the Magic, it would be a bit disingenuous to suggest that the suspension shouldn't make the green's task of reclaiming homecourt advantage with a road win at least a bit easier.
But that doesn't mean it will be a cake walk. In addition to the omnipresent concerns posed by Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu and the rest of the incumbent presences on the floor for Orlando, Johnson and Lee both merit attention as well.
At the offensive end, Johnson adds another body that the Celtics will have to stay near on the perimeter. While he shoots just 35.7 percent from deep for his career compared to Alston's 35.4, Johnson has shot the ball particularly well from the outsside over the last two seasons (45.2 percent last year, 39.1 this year) while Alston has struggled (35.1 percent last season, 33.8 for the 2008-09 season, 31.7 percent with Orlando). Johnson has made only five of 16 tries in this postseason so far, but that's a fairly small sample size. Whereas I've advocated allowing and perhaps even encouraging Alston to bomb away from the outside, Johnson standing alone on the perimeter makes me leery.
That said, the 34-year-old Johnson has little quickness and did a putrid job shooting the ball from inside the arc this season (despite the 39.1 percent three-point shooting, he notched a true shooting of just 50.5 percent). I don't consider Alston a particularly good penetrator, but Johnson is no better. Over at Third Quarter Collapse, my pal Eddy Rivera offers a nice statistical breakdown of their differences offensively en route to the sensible conclusion that the offense flows better with Alston in the game.
From a physical standpoint, Johnson should cause Rajon Rondo no problems. But be it thanks to his gambling nature or some other reason, Rondo has at times shown a propensity to not keep his man in front of him (Roko Ukic comes to mind as the most disastrous example). With his quickness and length, there is no reason he should be allowing Anthony Johnson to fly past him to the basket, as I'll be surprised if we see the AJ who blew up for 20 points per game in the first round against the Nets in 2005-06. Those days are behind him. Rondo needs to keep Johnson in front of him and avoid cheating away off the ball as much as he would with Alston because of the increased three-point threat.
Coming off an injury and playing his first game with a protective mask for his face, Lee's capabilities remain unknown. But given what he showed all season long, the Celtics will need to pay him mind on the outside as well, as he shot better than 40 percent from deep for the season. Just one more guy to force help defenders to stay honest. This Orlando team seems to be full of them.
Given that Tyronn Lue played a total of 14 regular season games and hasn't set foot on the floor in the playoffs, I'm not sure what he has left in the tank, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Magic lean more than usual on Hedo Turkoglu as point forward. Loved the job Brian Scalabrine did on Turk for the stretches when Hedo served as primary ball-handler in Game 1, and more of the same would make sense (with Paul Pierce perhaps sliding down to guard Rashard Lewis at the four in that situation).
At the other end of the floor, while Johnson isn't an awful defender, physics are not on his side. He can't move well enough laterally to stay with Rondo. If Raj looks to attack, he should spend most of the night forcing Orlando to help in the paint, even more so than he did while playing against Alston. Johnson has an inch and 20 pounds on Rafer and can play a bruising game against an opponent with a more physical style, but it's hard to see that helping much against Rondo's speed. On the flip side, we could see some record sagging off on Johnson's part.
Again, Lee's efficacy level remains in question due to lingering questions about the injury, but the man is an solid defender. He spent the season chasing shooting guards all over the place and frustrated Ray Allen (6-for-14 overall, 2-for-7 from deep, only two trips to the line) when the two teams played in March. He will either cause more of a problem chasing Ray around than J.J. Redick could, or he may be given a shot to guard Rondo, according to rumor. In that event, however, if Johnson remains on the floor, the Celts should be able to get Ray the ball where and when he wants it.
At the end of the day, the Magic are different with the absence of Rafer Alston and return of Courtney Lee, but the keys for the Celtics remain ones we've heard before: Be vigilant in guarding the three-point line. Let Rondo initiate the offense by attacking the lane.
Go get 'em, green-fellas.