Is it really all about 18? The Celtics Playoff Preview

Has there ever been a team with more questions entering the NBA Playoffs? A team with more mystery and uncertainty? A team that could lose in the first round of the playoffs or win the NBA Finals and have neither outcome be surprising? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding yes, the 2009-2010 Boston Celtics were just as heart attack inducing and left experts wondering which outcome would be most realistic.

This however is not the same team from last year. Different in more than just personnel, this team is different in chemistry and often look like strangers to themselves as well as to the fans that support them. Both the team and fans need to face a harsh reality that the roster is locked. The Boston Celtics will have to be heroes to themselves to shake the funk that has seeped past the team's play on the court into their very locker room.

A bad stretch of play to end the regular season has left the Celtics with a perilous road to reach the NBA Finals for the 2nd consecutive year. Having had the rare opportunity to control their own destiny, the team only has it self to blame for the road it must now traverse for a championship. To travel that road without adjustments in their play and the recent attitude will lead to an early exit and another roster shakeup this summer. Everybody to a man including the coaching staff must be focused, hungry, and tough. But that's stating the obvious.

For it really to be all about 18 Boston will need the following:
  • Will the real Rajon Rondo please stand up? Does he need to be quite as good as he was last postseason? Probably not but somewhere in that vicinity. As the point guard he is obviously the key to the offense. It is an offense that has sputtered miserably over the last two months of the season down from 98.2ppg to 92.3ppg over the last 19 games.
  • Boston will need inspired play from the bigs which includes both O'neals and Krstic. Shaq can't be expected to carry the load but his presence inside will be needed for 20-25 minutes a night. If Jermaine can play solid defense and finish with any kind of regularity around the basket the C's will be in good shape. Then there is Krstic. It's unfortunate that a talented offensive player such as Krstic is clearly over thinking things out there and can't supply Boston with the one thing he is supposed to be good at. Hopefully the O'neals will be able to relieve Krstic of some of that pressure and he will be able to contribute in limited minutes. Hopefully!
  • The team must gang rebound especially on the defensive end. Boston is an embarrassing 29th in the NBA in rebounding this season and their struggles are well documented around the league. Teams that are athletic and simply put the effort into jumping give Boston fits on the glass. The Celtics must box out and have the guards crash to help stem the rebounding tide. That said Boston is not going to suddenly turn into a bunch of Bill Russells grabbing everything in sight off the glass. Boston can lose the rebounding total stats by a marginal number and still be successful. However if they suffer double digit deficits on the glass, that will be certain death.
  • Lastly its health and the bench. Delonte West, Jeff Green, and Glen Davis must play key roles off the Boston bench offensively. The play of West backing up Rondo and Allen can not be overstated. Boston has watched many leads dwindle after the bench has entered and can ill afford their offensive inconsistency during this playoff stretch. Von Wafer and the aforementioned Krstic may also get spot minutes but West, Green and Davis are the offensive keys to give the starters proper rest. Incidentally Carlos Arroyo must not see the light of day. (I am convinced he is still a Miami Heat double agent) Out of sheer necessity due to the shaky healthy of West, Arroyo will likely be on the playoff roster much to my dismay.

With the uptempo New York Knicks in the first round the Celtics will be forced to defend for 48 minutes each game. As long as Amare Stoudamire is guarded by Garnett and not either of the O'neals, Amare should be regulated to his jumper throughout the series. The Knicks have two clutch players in Chauncey Billups, and Carmelo Anthony that are not afraid of the big moments down the stretch. Boston is likely in for a longer series than they would like and the offensively challenged Sixers would have been an easier draw. That said Boston's superior defense should be enough to pull the series out in 6 competitive games. (5 if Shaq and West are healthy)

Waiting for the Celtics after they defeat New York in round 2 will be the hated Miami Heat. With home court advantage on their side I look for Miami to defeat Boston in an ugly technical filled 7 game series. Playing another game 7 on the road will again prove costly. Boston's offense will struggle against the athletic defenders of Miami and they will maddeningly allow Lebron and Wade too many 2nd chance points throughout the series. Lack of time to build chemistry and integrate the "new guys" will hurt Boston in this playoff run causing many to call for the end of the Danny Ainge era. Whether or not the changes should have been made by Ainge is no longer of concern. Boston as is could win the championship if they execute on offense and rebound the ball but its not likely they will do so consistently enough. We will see flashes of a brilliant Boston team and wonder why they can't play like that all the time. However, rebounding will again be the demise of this team thus a 2nd round exit prediction.

I would be very pleasantly surprised to be wrong. Here's to hoping that "switch" fans think the Celtics have is still working.