Posted by Neil Paine on April 16, 2009
Regular Season: In defense of their first title since 1986, the Celtics started the season at a blistering pace, winning 27 of their first 29 games before a Christmas Day loss to L.A. But a lack of depth and injury problems to Kevin Garnett have seen the C's sputter down the stretch (at least by their standards), and it could be argued that Boston no longer has the same dominating edge they enjoyed during their championship run last season.
Prime-Time Players: 1. Paul Pierce. The Truth does his best work in the biggest moments, and he proved it during the playoffs last season. If the Celtics need a basket late in a close game, there's no question that Pierce is the man they want with the ball in his hands... and he usually delivers.
2. Ray Allen. Allen has been outstanding this year (122 ORtg on 20% of Boston's possessions), and he gives the C's arguably the game's premier shooter with which to stretch the floor. Suffice to say that without KG, they're going to need Allen to be at his absolute best in order to survive.
3. Rajon Rondo. Since establishing himself as Boston's starting PG 2 years ago, Rondo has grown by leaps and bounds, and he had a tremendous year in 2009. The jumper is still shaky, but he makes so many contributions in other areas of the game that his performance is hard to ignore.
But don't count on... The bench. Eddie House & Leon Powe are solid, but this still isn't the greatest 2nd unit in the world. Stephon Marbury (ORtg:79.9) hasn't exactly been the answer to the team's backup PG question, Mikki Moore is efficient but ultimately just a spare part, and it's not clear what Tony Allen can bring to the table after missing more than 2 months with a thumb injury. Plus Powe's recent knee problems cast further doubt on the Celtics' reserve corps, especially with Davis having to cover for Garnett's absence. The Celtics did win it all with a similarly questionable bench last year (except for James Posey, who added more than any of the '09 crop), but they also had home-court throughout the playoffs. Can they pull it off again, on the road, vs. Cleveland or L.A.?
Why they can win: If they're all in the lineup, the Big 3 is still a triumvirate that no other team in the league can match. Likewise, if Garnett can play, this is hands down the best defensive team in the league. And we all know they're a battle-tested bunch as well, having survived an epic playoff run last season.
Why they can't win: Even in the NBA, it's tough to win back-to-back titles. Do they have enough emotional gas left to mount another deep run? And then there's the issue of Garnett's injury. Can he return at any point in the postseason? Plus, there are still question marks on the bench.
X-Factor: Garnett's knee. If KG can possibly come back and be anything close to his usual self, Boston has the horses to win again. But if not, there's very little chance of the Celtics repeating.
|Celtics vs.||Off.||Def.||Reb.||Coach||Exp.||The Skinny||Prediction|
|Atlanta||X||X||X||X||X||Rematch of '08 series could see more excitement, bad blood||Celtics in 6|
|Chicago||X||X||X||X||X||No roadblock here||Celtics in 5|
|Cleveland||Push||X||Push||X||Epic series; does Cleveland get revenge via home-court?||Cavs in 7|
|Detroit||X||X||X||X||Push||Would have been close a few years ago, but a mismatch now||Celtics in 4|
|Miami||X||X||X||X||X||They'll stop Wade… eventually||Celtics in 6|
|Orlando||X||Push||X||X||Classic series a prime test if Orlando is for real||Magic in 7|
|Philadelphia||X||X||X||X||X||Young Sixers no match for Big 3 (2?), C's||Celtics in 5|
(Key: "X" = Advantage; blank = disadvantage)