And onto the second round matchup of the Boston Celtics versus the Cavs (R.I.P. Chicago), and there seems to be a clear favoring toward Cleveland being the favorite to win—and it makes a bunch of sense. Beyond the Cavaliers’ playoff-long home court advantage and strong team makeup, the evolution of moving closer to a championship feels strong and the progression of rising to the occasion has been one in the making for years. Simply, it’s Cleveland’s time, but that’s not to dismiss the Celtics from putting up what projects as a true dogfight, and there are a number of reason why Boston is still formidable.
One reason is that Paul Pierce is the one of the Three Amigos that seems to have the truest all-around playing life in him. He’s been known to revive his past Boston teams all by himself and he, not Kevin Garnett, has the greatest potential to breathe great life into a team when he plays well. P-Double cannot do it alone, though, and he will absolutely need all the help he can get from his teammates to compete for an Eastern Conference Finals appearance.
The Celtics also have a number of wild card players on the roster that could also make a big impact in determining how long the series should go. Marquis Daniels was considered a moderately big pickup by Boston to give the team some guard depth, but injuries kept him on the sideline much of the season; he will be given the opportunity to defend some of Cleveland’s longer, taller wings. Rasheed Wallace, for all of his positive and negative attributes, will also be looked upon to provide the shooting and post play that the Celtics have surely wanted all year (though he only provided minimal amounts of both). A motivated and in-shape ‘Sheed can spell trouble for Cleveland, but the best bet on him is that he plays decent defense while his mouth yaps away—whether or not he can keep Shaq and Jamison from getting good looks at the basket is another story that will require specific attention as the series goes. Nate Robinson, who came in the Celtics’ trade with New York, is essentially replacing Eddie House, and Mr. Robinson hasn’t really broken out since February. He’s obviously short, but extremely fast and quick, and is known to explode at any time when given the touches and the minutes, and when he wants to be, Nate can make an impact on the defensive end, which would be necessary against the likes of Mo Williams and Delonte West.
Beyond those things, Cleveland knows the likes of Kendrick Perkins, and he will have to contend with The Big Aristotle to get going—that seems to favor Shaq. The Cavs also know Ray Allen can go off and bomb away for big games, but with his lateral movement restricted by wear and age, Cavaliers Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon and even Jawad Williams should be able to stay strong on him in man-to-man defense. “Inside The NBA”’s Kenny Smith noted that the key matchup in the series will really be between Garnett and Jamison; he said that it will be a matter of whether Garnett will be able to defend Jamison on the perimeter and whether Jamison will be able to prevent KG from becoming an offensive threat close to the paint. If KG is held back from doing much offensively and he fails to guard Cleveland’s power forwards on the perimeter well, it can be assured that Boston will be losing; on the contrary, it becomes a much more interesting series if Kevin Garnett is able to pick up his slack, but even then the stronghold of Shaq and Anderson Varejao should be a firm fort for the Cavs.
(I will note that if Williams, West and Parker play well and are somehow able to keep Rajon Rondo from his consistently dynamic play, the series becomes a much easier bout for the wine and gold.)
Basically, with all things considered, Cleveland should win the series in five or six games, but it will imperative that Boston is not taken lightly. They seem to feed off of doubt and with big talkers like KG and Sheed doing their best Don King impersonations, it’s possible that the Celtics gain confidence to play greater than they have within the last four months.
Until then, we watch, we hope and I’m sure we all shall pray.
Commence winning time!