Tuesday, May 13, 2008

No Easy Buckets

What's wrong with the Celtics?

For the second series in a row, the Cs have left Boston with a 2-0 lead, only to return five days later facing a must-win Game 5 to retain home court advantage. The difference with the Atlanta series is that unlike Joe Johnson, who is a quality player with a chip on his shoulder when he plays Boston, LeBron James is the NBA's 'Ace of Spades' -- the best athlete on the floor who can dominate a game (and quite frankly, dominate the man trying to guard him -- Paul Pierce) even as he has shooting nights of 2-18, 6-24, 5-16, and 7-20.

Charles Barkley said it best, a few minutes after Game Four ended -- the Celtics can't get any easy baskets, and the Trio of KG, Pierce and Allen are all jump shooters. (Allen, after getting to the rim several times -- especially early in Game 7 -- has been an 'easy cover' so far this series for the defensively-challenged Wally Szczerbiak; and Wally has hurt the Celts at the offensive end, chipping in with points last night and answering Allen's 15.)

While the Celts are doing a good job stopping the Cleveland transition game, Boston's fast break points are few and far between; and with no fast break buckets, there are few chances for easy points or foul trouble for the opposition.

The trend lines are all bad right now for the Celtics: one of the oldest teams in the league, they have already logged 11 playoff games, and will need at least two more to get out of the second round. The rotation off the bench seems to be in disarray, with Doc Rivers going with Glen Davis, James Posey, Sam Cassell, P.J. Brown, and Pierce for the first 4 1/2 minutes of the fourth quarter last night. (That combination probably didn't play together all season, as Brown played only 208 total minutes for the Cs in 18 games; the combination was not among the 50 most efficient 5-man combos for the Celtics, according to NBA.com. By means of comparision, Cassell and Pierce played only 93 minutes -- about two full games -- together all season, and were +19 on the +/- rating.)

Could it all change with a resounding win at home on Wednesday and a stolen game in Cleveland on Friday night? Sure.

But right now, the Cs feel like a middle-of-the-road 52-win team that will do well do push the Pistons to six games in the Eastern Conference finals.

Everyone's favorite current Celt -- Kevin Garnett -- has pulled the franchise back to respectability with his effort on every possession of every game. But like another beloved player -- Ernie Banks -- right now, he seems destined never to play in his game's biggest stage, and to never raise a championship trophy.

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