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This year's 2010 Eastern Conference Finals matchup is a face off between the Eastern Conference Champions of the past two seasons. The Orlando Magic have breezed through the playoffs thus far, sweeping the Bobcats in the opening round, and then the Hawks in the semifinals by an average of over 25 points per game. They are well rested, and are hungry for the title after being denied by the Lakers a year ago. The Celtics on the other hand have had to battle to reach the Finals. They defeated the D-Wade and the Heat in five games, then King James and the Cavs in six. This could very well be the last shot at a championship for the  "Big Three." Rajon Rondo has been the catalyst for the C's, averaging nearly 42 minutes a game in the series against LeBron and company, and Kevin Garnett is playing his best basketball since the '08 Finals against the Lakers.

The Magic present a new type of challenge for Boston. In each of the first two rounds, the Celts had to contain a single superstar with a mediocre supporting cast. Against Orlando, they will have to play excellent team defense to be successful defensively. That's not to say the Magic don't have any star players. They are led by four time All-Star and reigning two time Defensive Player of the Year, Dwight Howard. Howard, or self proclaimed "Superman," towers at 6-11 with the wingspan of a 787. Physically, he is a freak of nature and has a unique skill set that includes an incredible vertical reach and a surprising amount of coordination.

He leads the playoffs with nearly four blocks per game and will certainly cause problems for the driving Celtics guards. Howard is a weapon at both sides of the court. He also leads all postseason players in field goal percentage at 67.8%. Kendrick Perkins will get the bulk of the minutes against him. Perk has done a great job on Dwight in the past. In fact, Howard thinks of him as one of the best interior defenders in the league. While doing some guest writing for ESPN, Howard said this of Kendrick, "He is a really good low-post defender. He knows how to use his body to his advantage."

Offensively for Boston, Paul Pierce will need to rebound from a weak series against the Cavs. He only averaged 13.5 points per game against Cleveland, but in his defense he was matched up against LeBron on both sides of the court during most of his minutes. No disrespect to Vince Carter or Rashard Lewis, but I have a feeling Paul will have much more success against the aging vets than the two time league MVP.  Boston has gotten great contributions from all members of the team, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo, KG, Glen Davis, and Tony Allen all played important roles in getting the C's to the Conference Finals against the Magic.

Player Matchups:
Point Guard
Rajon Rondo vs. Jameer Nelson

This matchup of two rising stars in the league will be a fun one to watch. Rajon and Jameer both play hard-nosed defense, but have different forte's on the offensive end. Nelson is a knock down shooter from the outside with the ability to drive and score in bunches. He is certainly a better ballhandler than Rondo's last foe, Mo Williams, was. Rondo, on the other hand, is a playmaker. He has excellent court vision and is able to see how certain plays will progress before they happen. He has stepped into a leadership role and often directs his teammates on the offensive end in a quarterback like manner. Rondo can finish well near the basket with lay-ups, dunks, floaters, and jumpers on a regular basis. He also regularly displays dazzling passes and consistently finds open shooters.

Edge: Rondo
Shooting Guard
Ray Allen vs. Vince Carter
 
Although Carter is only listed as an inch taller than Ray, he has the size advantage and can shoot over Ray fairly well. He averaged close to 19 points per game in Orlando's four games against the Hawks. He is a very streaky scorer. Allen and company need to prevent him form getting open looks early. If he gets into a rhythm, the Celts will be in trouble. Defensively however, Carter will have his hands full with Ray. His body will take a physical toll out their running around Perk and Big Baby picks all game. We all know what Ray can do when he gets hot. He is one of the best pure shooters of all-time and I expect him to uphold that reputation against the aging UNC alum.

Edge: Even
Shooting Forward
Paul Pierce vs. Matt Barnes

 
Coming into the series, Paul must be thinking, "Someone not named LeBron James I get to match up with. Thank God!" Pierce had a tough series scoring-wise against the Cavs. Although he did hit some big shots late in Games 5 and 6, his biggest contribution to the team was guarding King James whenever he was on the court. I expect Pierce to have some big games against Barnes. Barnes is capable of knocking down open shots, but is stuck with a tough matchup. He's also ice cold after shooting 1-7 from beyond the arc last series. The biggest difference he can make is bringing energy to the team and making hustle plays.
Edge: Pierce
Power Forward
 Kevin Garnett vs. Rashard Lewis

 This is without a doubt the biggest mismatch. KG can dominate 'Shard on the offensive end Garnett put on a clinic against the Cavs, showing off every post move in his repertoire and draining baseline jumper and baseline jumper. He abused Shaq and Antawn Jamison worse than Rondo did Mo Williams. He shot just over 52% from the field against the aging Cleveland duo. Rashard is more than capable of hitting open shots from the outside, but if his shot isn't falling, he can't hang with KG in the paint. I expect the Celtics to post Garnett up on a continuous basis and let him go to work on Lewis..

Edge: Garnett
Center
Kendrick Perkins vs. Dwight Howard
 
This will be a back and forth battle in the paint all game, every game. Howard is an incredible player, no doubt about that. However, Perk can definitely keep him in check if he stays out of foul trouble. When watching the game, look at how Perkins uses his lower body to keep Dwight away from the basket. That is called interior defense my friends. Superman may still go for 20-20 a couple nights, but he'll have to work for his points against Perk. I'm really hoping the media finally recognizes Perk as a great defender during this series. With three future Hall of Famer's and a rising superstar, he doesn't get the credit and attention he justly deserves.

Edge: Howard

Key Reserves
Glen Davis, Tony Allen, Rasheed Wallace vs. Mickael Pietrus, JJ Redick, Marcin Gortat

Boston's bench came up huge against Cleveland, especially in Games 5 and 6. The Celts reserves outscored those of the Cavs 56-42 in those contests. Tony Allen undoubtedly made the biggest team contribution, frustrating LBJ defensively, and cutting to open space and finishing offensively. Glen "Big Baby" Davis always provides instant energy and can makes open jumpers fairly regularly. Rasheed Wallace can score efficiently in the post, but is a massive liability on defense. He showed a previously unseen side of his game in the latter stages of the Cleveland series, rebounding the ball and hustling, but I'm not convinced he's a changed player.

For Orlando, Mickael Pietrus can shoot with the best of them and has a solid all-around game. He could be a starter on a lot of teams in the league. JJ Redick, the all-time leading scorer at Duke University, is also a lights out shooter when he gets going. Marcin Gortat is my kind of player. He's a lunch pail guy. When he plays, he isn't flashy. You won't see him on any highlight reels, but the guy is a rugged defender and is a beast on the boards. Big Baby will have his hands full with the "Polish Hammer."

Edge: Even

Keys to the Series:
Boston
Don't Worry Stopping Superman, Take Out the Rest of the Wonder League: DH12 is going to inflict his damage, but if the C's lose the series it will be because guys like Nelson, Carter, and Lewis have huge games. On defense, the guards can help out on Howard to an extend, but an outright double will do more bad than good. The Magic are a deadly three-point shooting team. Giving them easy opportunities like that would be foolish.

Give KG the Ball: It's simple. Just throw him the ball on the post 30 times a game, and he'll get you 40+ points between scoring and passing to cutters/open shooters. The Big Ticket makes great decisions with the basketball. Getting him the ball early in the game will be important. But even when he does, the C's have a bad habit of going away from it. I don't know whether it's KG's unselfish nature or Rondo wanting to get others involved, but if he's scoring keep giving him the ball!

Stay Out of Foul Trouble: Throughout the Cleveland series, Celtics players dealt with foul trouble. Paul Pierce picked up two early fouls in almost every one of the six games. Perk and KG also had multiple bouts with foul trouble. I realize a lot of this has to do with the refs loving LeBron, but it can't happen again against Cleveland. Perk especially needs to stay out of foul trouble as he's the only Boston player who can match up with Howard. We need him on the court for as long as possible.

Orlando
Extend the Floor: The Magic are one of, if not the best outside shooting team in the NBA. If Carter, Lewis, Pietrus, and the rest can keep the Celtics honest near the three-point line, that will give Dwight Howard more room to work in the paint. Running the offense through the big man will work well if the shots are falling from the outside. In fact, if Orlando is converting form the inside and the outside, the Celts will be in for a trough series.

Clear Out for Nelson: Jameer Nelson can spark the Orlando offense if he gets into the lane. There are times the offense is dead when I watch them play. They can't score and are turning the ball over again and again. They always turn to Nelson, not Howard or Carter, in these moments. He's the one who has his hands on the ball most of the time the Magic have possession.  If they just run an isolation for him at the top of the key, he can create his own offense and get good looks


Let Superman Do His Job: In my opinion, Orlando's biggest problem in the last two postseasons has been not giving the ball to Howard often enough. He should touch the ball on every possession. He is that dominant at his position. He is at a comparable level to guys like D-Wade, LeBron, and Kobe. If he were a guard he would get the ball that often. The guy scores or picks up a foul on probably three out of every five times he gets the ball.
X-Factors
Boston
Kevin Garnett: I know KG's licking his chops at the thought of playing against Rashard Lewis. In Game 6 of the Cleveland series, he scored 22 points and pulled down 12 rebounds. Against the Magic, he can put those totals up every night. These games mean a lot to him, after missing last year's disappointing series against the Magic. The C's really missed his intensity last year, although he isn't the Captain, he is definitely their emotional leader. After hearing him from the bench in last year's postseason, Lewis had this to say of KG, Even when he’s not playing, he’s still doing the same thing on the sideline ... He’s always on the bench talking, almost like he was on the court playing."

Kendrick Perkins: Guarding arguably the best big man in the game will be no easy task for Perk, but he always steps up against the best of the best. I anticipate him to give Howard trouble defensively. I don't think KG, Big Baby, or Sheed stand a chance against Superman. Perk is the only one who can handle him. I would go as far to say that Perk is the Celtics most important player coming into the series. If he can stay out of foul trouble and stop Howard, the C's will likely advance to the NBA Finals.
Orlando
Dwight Howard: With LeBron and the Cavs out of the way, this is surely Howard's best chance to win his first championship. He drove the Magic all the way to the NBA Finals last year, but ran out of gas down the home stretch. against the Lakers  This year, he's well rested and even hungrier than last. Dwight is one of those players who you can only do so much to stop. There's a point where he's just too good. When he is knocking down those contested shots and pulling down every single rebound, the Magic are damn near unbeatable.

Jameer Nelson: Nelson will have to come up big in this series if the Magic want to return to the Finals. He has always played well in big games, going back to his time at St. Joes, when they went undefeated in the regular season. Nelson missed most of last year's postseason action with a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Although he was able to come off the bench in the NBA Finals to contribute, he was far from 100%. This year, I expect him to make up for the time he missed in the '09 playoffs.
My Predictions:
-The Big Three averaged over 60 points per game for the series
-The Magic shoot lights out in at least one game and blow Boston out
-Celtics take it in 7

Game 1 starts tomorrow afternoon at 3:30 eastern time in Orlando's Amway Arena.

Stephen Bailey 5/15/2010 05:21:00 PM Edit
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16 Responses so far.

  1. Great work, Bailey.

  2. rondo-is-love says:

    Is Jameer Nelson that good of a defender? I mean.. I know he was just coming off of an injury last year's Finals, but I definitely don't remember him guarding Derek Fisher in the finals-clincher.... ;) (Hahah.)

    No, seriously, though.. I've never heard anything about his defense. I know Magic as a team were actually one of the best, but people seem to be overlooking the fact that although Boston's previous opponents' point guards aren't exactly world class defenders, it wasn't just them defending Rondo, am I right? If I remember correctly - and correct me if I'm wrong - I'm pretty sure D-Wade spent a good chunk of time guarding Rondo when he wasn't guarding Allen... and wasn't Wade named to the all-defense second team? I'm pretty sure he was on one of the all-defense teams last season too. Then against Cleveland, Anthony Parker, who commentators and analysts alike referred to as a great defender, spent a ton of his time guarding him and he still blew up. I honestly don't think Jameer has the speed and when it comes to Rondo, if you're even just a step or two slow, he'll burn you all game long.

    As for Vince Carter... if Ray, Pierce and Tony can all guard LeBron and do a pretty damn good job, I have faith that they can stop Carter as well. It's like what Pierce said about an injured LeBron being better than 90-something percent of the league (I don't know about 90-something percent, but certainly an old Vince Carter who is past his prime).

    Am I the only one who feels like people are taking Orlando's postseason record a little over the top? Don't get me wrong.. I'm not saying Orlando sucks, but really. Sure, they played against playoff teams, but if I'm not mistaken, the Bobcats and Hawks aren't exactly NBA powerhouses. It's just like the way people talked about Cleveland last postseason, how they swept Detroit and (surprise) Atlanta in the first two rounds like they'd swept two of the top teams in the league.

    Bobcats and Hawks don't have someone who can guard Dwight down low. The Bobcats are good defensively, but barely have any offense. In fact, they managed to hold Orlando to under 100 points per game in all four games. And I don't know about anyone else, but I personally think Celtic defense will be considered elite way before Charlotte's is. If Charlotte can hold Orlando to under 100 ppg, I'm sure Celtics can when they're playing as well as they have been playing thus far.

    As for the Hawks in the postseason.. come on, a Bogut-less Milwaukee team took them to seven games, they obviously weren't playing well, especially with the disappearance of their main scorer, Joe Johnson (although, I did read that he'd heard his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer sometime in the playoffs, but I don't know if that's a legit report). Milwaukee is a well-coached team, but Bogut was so much of their defense as well as their offense.

    Am I the only one who feels this way...? Please correct me if I'm wrong on any of my points.

  3. rondo-is-love:

    The Magic are very scary and well deserving of any "over-the-top" praise. Not only have they yet to lose in the playoffs, but they are 27-3 since March 1st. These aren't wins that they've just squeaked by with either. Twenty of those wins were by double digits and against playoff teams. They beat Atlanta by 43 and 30 in the semi-finals.

    Trust me, the Celtics have their hands full.

    Here's my source: http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/playoffs/2010/columns/story?columnist=hollinger_john&page=magicsweepgame4-100510

  4. Bailey says:

    Ditto Mike, these guys are here to play. Howard and Nelson are a dangerous pair, and almost everyone on the roster can shoot from the outside.

  5. JR says:

    Yeah I'd say there was a point the Magic were overrated, but now they've become underrated. Too many people assume because we almost beat them without KG last year that there's no reason why we shouldn't win this year.

    Like Mike said they've only lost 3 games since the end of February (27-3) and we need to beat them 4 times in the next two weeks.

  6. rondo-is-love says:

    I've already read about what John Hollinger wrote about the Magic. I was surprised at all the stats he put together in that particular piece so I looked further into it before coming up with my own opinion. I wasn't saying that they weren't "scary" or that they didn't deserve to be called one of the top teams in the league. I dug a little deeper into their schedule since March 1st to see what kind of teams they were playing and sorry, but I'm not convinced that it's not at all over the top. Here are the details.

    In the regular season since March 1st, Orlando has played 12 games against non-playoff teams and 10 games against playoff teams so that is almost half and half. Out of those 10 games against playoff teams, just five were against teams that were the top four in their respective conferences, three of those five games being at home: Lakers (2-pt win at home), Mavs (15-pt win on the road), Nuggets (6-pt win at home), Hawks (2-pt loss on the road), and Cavs (6-pt win at home). The wins against the Lakers and the Mavs were against healthy teams (minus Luke Walton for LA... but they'd been doing perfectly fine without him anyway) and not in any sort of huge slump/losing streak. When they played the Cavs, neither Shaq nor LeBron played. The loss to the Hawks in that time span was the Josh Smith dunk at the buzzer.

    The Nuggets--who were the worst road team of all the Western conference playoff teams at 19-22--were playing their 11th game of the season without their head coach and on a 1-3 slump during their 5-game road trip (including a blowout loss to Boston) coming into that game. I follow the Nuggets almost as much as I follow the Celtics, and I can tell you... after losing their head coach, they were a completely dead team with no spark left in them. Look at what happened to them in the playoffs. They lost to the Jazz (who were without Okur & Kirilenko) 4-2 after defeating them 3-1 in the regular season series. Acting head coach Adrian Dantley didn't use the same rotations or lineups that their head coach used over the course of the season and it wasn't working out for them. Had they started the season with Dantley as acting head coach, I could almost guarantee they probably wouldn't have even made the playoffs or even had a winning record. In addition to being without their head coach, they were also without their starting power forward and possibly best defensive player, Kenyon Martin. At that point in time, they were also a team who averaged the most free throw attempts out of any other team in the league at about 31 attempts per game, Carmelo Anthony alone averaged just under 9 attempts per game. In this particular game, the Nuggets only went to the line 11 times (Melo got 4 attempts) compared to Orlando's 22 attempts (don't get me wrong, I'm not blaming the officiating or anything because the Nuggets do foul a lot, but I'm just pointing this out because obviously the ability to get to the line almost at will is a good chunk of the Nuggets' offense).

  7. rondo-is-love says:

    The other playoff teams they played are: Bulls (29-pt win, home), Bobcats (7-pt loss, home), Spurs (26-pt win at home, 12-pt loss on the road), and Heat (6-pt win in OT on the road). Out of the ten games against these playoff teams, Orlando won 7 of them.

    Of the 12 games played against non-playoff teams, only one was against a team that had less than 50 losses on their record, who they actually played at home (Grizzlies, 40-42 with a 17-24 road record). They played three games against the 76ers (third worst team in the East), twice against Wizards (second worst team in the East), Nets (worst team in the East & the league), Minnesota (worst team in the West, second worst in the league), Clippers, Knicks, Golden State and Indiana. Seven of those games were on their home floor.

    Out of the total 22 games from March 1st, they played 12 of those at home. Again, almost divided evenly between road and home. Five of those games were against playoff teams (Lakers, Bulls, Bobcats, Spurs, and Nuggets). Out of the 12 teams they played at home, only two had road records that were above .500 (Lakers, 23-18) and Spurs (who almost had a losing road record with 21-20). The Nuggets were 19-22 on the road and after them, the best road record of all the other teams they played was 12-29.

    As for their sweeping of the Bobcats... Boston swept the season series against them, blew them out in all three games whether they were playing well or playing horribly. The margin of win by Boston in three games was by 25 points. And the Hawks... I can't even tell you what happened to them during these playoffs. Being taken to seven games against the Bogut-less Bucks, then being swept in the second round. Being swept by Orlando could have something to do with the fact that although they're an average defensive team, the play they defend the worst is probably the pick and roll, which I'm pretty sure Orlando uses A LOT. Joe Johnson was horribly disappointing for them in the series (who is someone they depend on a lot) and it was as if the rest of the team just followed their leader in that sense. They also depend a lot on Jamal Crawford... and I don't think they even got a big game from him.

    Again... I'm not stating that Orlando is a bad team or that the Celtics don't have their hands full because yes, I know they do. Nor am I stating that they don't deserve any praise for their feat so please forgive me for sounding like the bad guy in this. I'm also not trying to say that the Celtics were any better any time after Christmas so please don't try to use comparisons to them because they were more than disappointing to me after Christmas and in no way was I trying to state that they deserve more praise than Orlando does. We all know, the Celtics were a mere .500 team since Christmas and the story goes on from there.

  8. rondo-is-love says:

    I never intended to sound like the Celtics were going to sweep them. I'm not in the group of people who are saying that they'll manhandle them just because they have KG back this year because players and teams change over the course of a year/season and it'd be pretty unreasonable to try to compare the series from a year ago.

    I'm sorry if I sound (or sounded) too much like a biased fan who doesn't look into their facts. I had no bad intentions in any of my comments above.

  9. JR says:

    Hey rondo-is-love,
    Thanks for adding to the discussions on CelticsLife! No need to apologize for anything. Welcome.

  10. tb727 says:

    If Rondo plays at the level he did against Cleveland, and the rest of the team is at least close to that level, Boston will win. I expect Rondo to dominate the Nelson matchup.

    Really is Nelson THAT much better than John Legend was? I don't think so.

  11. JR says:

    They're just "Ordinary People" ;)

    Since you watch like more NBA games than anyone I know, what do you think about this Magic team? Have they become better than last year's team over the past two months?

    So what's your series prediction TB?

  12. rondo-is-love says:

    @ JR:
    Always a pleasure to add to the discussion here. This blog is fun.

    @ tb727:
    I actually went ahead and looked up Rondo's numbers for all four games against Orlando this season, and his numbers in those games were higher than his regular season averages. He actually rebounded well and scored more, just a shade under a triple double in three of those games, I think. Jameer Nelson only played in three of the four games and his numbers were actually below his season averages... and he turned the ball over more while assisting less. His highest score was 15 points in the three games, but he also turned the ball over five times (his season average is 2.14 TO per game).

    And despite the 1-3 record vs. Orlando this season and their rebounding issues, the Celtics actually out-rebounded Orlando in three of the four games (one game where they got owned on the boards was the 2-pt game where Lewis blew by KG).

  13. tb727 says:

    Rondo-is-love:

    I agree, with you, and I don't even need to see the regular season stuff to know that. I know they lost 3 of 4 but one they had a huge lead early and just fell apart, like they did so many other times, and another they came back and were a very close and just couldn't get over the hump.

    I think my prediction for this series is Celtics in 5 although I wouldn't be stunned if they swept. I don't care about Orlando's unblemished playoff record or how well they've played for quite some time. They haven't played a team of Boston's caliber and they're not as talented as the Celtics.

  14. tb727 says:

    Just a side note my predictions have been pretty horrendous to this point, so hopefully that changes with this series lol...

  15. ICECrush says:

    This was incredible.
    Hands down.

  16. One key player that was not mentioned is Hedo Turkeylo. He is the main reason the Magic disposed of our beloved men in green last year. Now that he is gone and our Big Ticket is looking like he wants to do real damage to these Mouseketeers, our chances are very good. Sure they now have Carter, but Vince does not play smart basketball like Turkeylo. Nice job on the research rondo-is-love, now I am more confident that we will prevail and take back the trophy from the Flakers.

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