Top five things to love
1. Paul Pierce taking over: Pierce was indisputably the MVP of this series. He averaged 21.2 points per game, 6.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists. He single-handedly won Game 2 on the road for a Rondo-less Boston. Doc and many in the media pointed to that game as maybe the most important in the series. It's plain and simple, without Pierce the Celtics lose this series.
2. Kevin Garnett's defense: As for the Celtics regular season MVP, it's a debate between Garnett and Rondo. It's not up for debate however that Garnett has played his best ball since coming to the Celtics in 2008 and he showed that in this series. With Paul Pierce ailing with a sprained MCL, the Celtics needed someone else to carry the scoring load for them in Game 6. Garnett answered the call with 28 points, 14 rebounds and 5 blocks in the series-clinching game. KG was the Celtics' second leading scorer in the series - with 18.7 points per game. More than that though, Garnett had been a force on defense - averaging 10.5 rebounds (5th in the NBA's first round) and 1.8 blocks. Only Josh Smith grabbed more rebounds than Kevin Garnett in this series and Smith led the NBA in boards (in the first round).
3. Rajon Rondo's shooting: Aside from Rondo leading the league in assists in both the regular season and first round, maybe what impressed me most was the regularity with which Rondo seemed to be knocking down jump shots. Long seen as his one glaring flaw, the Hawks many times would leave Rondo wide open to take a mid-range jumper and he would knock them down more often than not - including a couple of long distance buzzer beaters. Here's some stats for you (NOTE: These stats are only for the first five games, Hoopdata.com is slow updating their advanced stats) in the series Rondo shot 50% from 10-15 feet, 45.5% from 16-23 feet and 50% from three-point range. Compare that to 27.8%, 39%, 35.7% respectively during the regular season.
4. Ray Allen's health: When Allen returned in Game 3, I think everyone was surprised. When he didn't miss any more games, everyone was even more surprised. Ray is a scorer and, on this team that has its share of offensive deficiencies, they need as many of those as possible. Even better Ray has looked great since returning and has had no setback that we know of. Ray averaged 7.8 points this series. The Celtics will need more from him as the playoffs go on, but his health is very encouraging.
5. Ivan Johnson & Michael Gearon Jr's stupid comments: They both decided to give one of the most intense players in the league some extra motivation. Johnson called Garnett dirty after Game 1 - and the Celtics went back and beat the Hawks 87-80. Then Gearon Jr. went and called the Celtics old and Garnett the dirtiest player in the league and, well, you know what happened next. They didn't only give KG reason for motivation though, their comments lit a fire under Celtics fans too and made it that much sweeter to end Atlanta's season.
Top five things to hate
1. Paul Pierce's knee: As great as Pierce was, even with the knee injury, it was obvious after he sprained his MCL before Game 4 that something was wrong. Pierce admitted it himself. He tended to start games strong but didn't seem to be able to carry it all game, as he was missing shots he would normally make in the fourth quarter. It's something that bears watching, especially against the young Sixers in round 2.
2. Doc's substitutions: This has to be one of the most frustrating things for me, the mental mistakes at the end of games. There was the end of Game 5, when Bradley was put in to guard Joe Johnson. It was the first time Bradley had played since the third quarter and was giving up a serious height advantage to Johnson, whom you knew the ball was meant to go to. And then last night Doc had Marquis Daniels in at the end of the game, for the first time all game, guarding Al Horford. That's a four inch advantage for Horford. The result was two Marquis fouls in about 3 seconds. Marquis had to foul Horford, because it's a serious mismatch! If Horford doesn't miss that free throw, we may be looking at Game 7. Apparently Doc alluded to that matchup being a mistake, it better have been. It made no sense, and that's two end of game substitutions that didn't make any sense.
3. The Ryan Hollins situation: Ryan Hollins has actually played well enough, but I think the fact that he is playing so many minutes raises some questions. First of all, is something wrong with Stiemsma? One of the many keys to Boston's post-All Star break surge was the play of Greg Stiemsma. However, we all know he had been dealing with foot injuries. It's possible his limited playing time, and increased playing time for Hollins, is a result of that injury. If that's not the case, then there's a bigger issue. Like I said, Hollins has played well enough, the Celtics won the series. Still, does anyone trust that the Celtics can make a deep run with a guy the Celtics picked up off waivers and barely ever played in the regular season playing serious minutes every playoff game? I think that's an issue.
4. The disappearance of Bradley, Bass & Pietrus: Similar to Stiemsma: Bradley, Bass and Pietrus were the other keys to the Celtics regular season surge. They haven't really replicated what they did in the regular season in the playoffs so far. Bass has turned it on a bit as of late, but he still seems almost scared in the playoffs. He's hesitant to take those mid-range jumpers he knocked down like clockwork just a couple of weeks ago - that's something that has to stop. Bradley has been solid on defense, but he hit another level in the second half of the season when his offense started to light up. That hasn't happened in the playoffs so far. He gets a bit of a pass because of his shoulder injury, but if the Celtics are going to make a serious run he needs to be able to bring that energy to the offensive end as well. Mickael Pietrus has played well on defense, but it's obvious that not everything is right with him. He had suffered that concussion in Philadelphia earlier in the year, came back on April 11th but then missed most of the final stretch with a knee injury. Bradley, Bass and Pietrus are three players that need to get going for the Celtics to continue their post-season success.
5. Ray Allen's free throw shooting: Not too much of a concern, because he's Ray Allen. Over his career he's been one of the best free-throw shooters in the league. He went 8-of-14 from the charity stripe in this series, that's 57.1%. And last night he missed one key free-throw that had the potential to cost the Celtics the game. That part of Ray's game has been very un-Ray like. Expect that to change as the playoffs roll on. Mike Saver 5/11/2012 01:28:00 PM Tweet