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Celtics: Some Playoff Minded Thoughts

In the words of Sister Rosetta Tharp, this year there have been strange things happening everyday.

I’ve started (and stopped) a number of articles to end the regular season with. They end up too long. This season has had a number of twists and turns. It can be diced and sliced 1,000 ways.

You can go all the way back to the off season moves and…moves not made. Free agents not signed. Trades not made at that time. In reality, we don’t know what we don’t know.

For one, I would love to know who the players were in the Perkins trade that Doc Rivers vetoed. In that respect, we can go all down the wild and rampant Speculation Road. I won’t do that here.

But here are a few thoughts going forward into the playoffs.

1) If Rondo and Glen Davis are taking as many jump shots as Ray, Paul and KG, something is wrong.

2) It would be nice to see Nenad Krstic use his hands more on defense. It seems to me that he rarely ever strips the shooter, blocks the shot or interferes with the shot or a pass in any way.

3) The defense will cause Davis to be left open and the ball will end up in his hands a lot. It seems like it would be a good idea to run some motion around him as he makes his move towards the basket, instead of having everyone just stand around and watch him go iso. Create passing options and turn Glen into more of a facilitator. It not only helps open things up for Glen on future moves, it puts more pressure on the defense and creates open shots for others. Just as important, Davis has to reek some havoc defensively (charges, steals, deflections) and rebound, rebound, rebound.

more after the break....

4) Troy Murphy has been a big disappointment to this point. It seems that he is just an afterthought who won’t be playing any real role going forward. I really don’t know whether it is the long layoff or Nets coach Avery Johnson knew something we didn’t, but Troy has not impressed at all. Until the last 2 games, it seems that he was not in Doc’s playoff plans either.

5) The huge unknown in this is if the O’Neals can give Boston 35-40 or so minutes of solid play each game. If they can, Boston can be right in there fighting for a championship, in my opinion. If not, it would take a huge jump in energy, on the court learning, and performance for the Celtics to see the title series again this season.

6) This season has been about transition more than anyone would have thought. We all thought those transition questions would be dealt with in the off season, instead of now. I guess a debate can be had about who should be the focus of the offense. Rajon Rondo, Glen Davis and Jeff Green are the potential future of the club.

7) Nenad and Glen particularly have to concentrate on setting solid picks to free up the team’s most dangerous scorers – still the Big Three.

8)   To my thinking, it is still about Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.

Though Rondo can be dominant, and should be at times, Rondo, Davis and Green should be players in support of getting the most opportunities for those three stars. Neither Rajon, Glen, nor Jeff have shown the ability to be closers so far. But their youthful energy will be absolutely critical to this team’s chances of going deep into the playoffs.

It is a delicate balance, as the support players must hit some shots either to create openings for Paul, Ray and Kevin, or as a result of them being doubled. That correct mix has been elusive far too often this season, and more so since the trade.

I’ve watched too many times when the extra pass wasn’t made by all of the starters except for Kevin Garnett. He always makes the extra pass – perhaps to a fault. KG, we need you to be a man in the paint on offense.  Score points, create fouls. You will have help from Jermaine and Shaq this year (we hope). That too be critical to going deep.

It seems the player who has most suffered offensively from the trade is Ray Allen. I believe his shot opportunities must go up in the playoffs, back to where they were earlier in the season. If his ego is bruised by the changes in priority, I can see why. Who on this team is a better shooter?

Speaking of shooters, I think there is a role for Von Wafer in the playoffs. He is one of the few Celtics who can really hit a three pointer, is young enough to give some energy and has been willing to drive and has dished it off effectively at the same time. His defense isn’t ‘all world’ but he is trying. He likes pressure and has played well in past playoffs. He should be given a regular opportunity to contribute each game.

Jeff Green is a better player than we have seen. But I’m not expecting much more than we have seen the rest of the way. Incorporating him in has not been as successful as hoped. Adding new plays or variations to existing plays that make him more successful at this point would be great and would give the other teams something new to deal with. But that is not likely at this point. So I would simplify things and tell him to concentrate specifically on defense and rebounding and just make the most of whatever offense comes his way.

The single most important thing – Complete and Total Urgency

This team no longer plays with the sense of desperate urgency it had in its first season. It really hasn’t since it won the title 3 years ago. No doubt injuries have played a huge role since then. You can make a case injuries are the dominant story since then. So this is the first season since that title run where all the key players (that are still here) are healthy.

These players have to completely forget that they won anything. They have to play as if they need this title to cement their legacy. I guess you can only play with that ‘never a winner’ urgency only once. But that is the secret ingredient missing from this team.

Swagger, Taunts and Intimidation

This team was built with those as part of their fabric. But those will not be a factor with the top teams in the league, and that is as it should be. Winning the title will be about the actual playing of basketball. Who ever plays the game best will be the champion. It is that simple and that is what makes it so interesting and so right about crowning a champion this season.

Injuries can always play a big part as can controversial calls. Those aside, no team in the title series will be expected to be intimidated by the other. It will be about talent, strategy and execution, but mostly it will be about who wants it more. (cliché alert)

I expect the bewildered looks to disappear from Paul Pierce’s face. I expect Rajon Rondo to pick up his energy at both ends of the court. I expect Ray Allen to regain his importance to the offense. I expect Kevin Garnett to be incredibly excellent at both ends of the floor and the fierce but calm catalyst to a second title run.

Beyond that, I don’t know what to expect. They have enough other parts to make a real run. Shaq, Jermaine, Davis, Green, West, Wafer, Nenad, and possibly Arroyo are as strong a supporting cast as you can expect. Can they play well enough long enough to keep this team fresh enough to close games out?

To this end, and to cause disruptions and create havoc with the veterans on the other teams, the Celtics’ youth will be very, very important.

Fuel Shortages  - Greying at the Temples?

Fourth quarter meltdowns are far too reminiscent of the latter days of the Larry Bird Celtics, when younger, fresher legs of inferior teams would win out against the aging lions. Every coach (as Phil Jackson did last year) will tell his team the Cs are ripe for a kill in the end – the Celtics will fold down the stretch – and you will help make it happen.

In the end, there are a fearful number of really talented teams vying for the 2011 NBA title and each has a genuine chance of winning it all.

The Celtics seem like they are ‘off their feed’, heading into the playoff battles. But this is a funny league and a funny game. Yesterday has little to do with today and less with tomorrow. Momentum and confidence can change surprisingly quickly. Amazingly so.

Doc, Armon, and Lawrence can devise ingenious game plans, schemes and strategies to get Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett the looks they need, and those plans are very important. But when the strategies breakdown it will be about who wants it more. That is when we will find out just how much this team wants it.

If they can get it going and can keep one of the O’Neals in the game, they can be an incredibly fearsome and difficult team to beat.  So it will about playing basketball well. But more than that, it will be about who wants it more.

"There are no rules here. We are trying to accomplish something." (Thomas Edison)
May that wide open yet singular focus permeate the Celtics’ psyche if they can’t control the game with their own game plan….and there will be times that will happen.

Once again they are the underdog. They have played well from that position before. In fact, they seem to invite it.

Stranger things have happened.

Just ask Sister Rosetta.