Boston Celtics (50-32) vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (61-21)
2010 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals
Game 1- @ the Q…Saturday, 8p.m. (EST)on TNT
Game 2- @ the Q…Monday, 8p.m. (EST) on TNT
Game 3- @ Boston…Friday, 7p.m. (EST) on ESPN
After closing out a young and stubborn Chicago Bulls team, the Cavaliers will now have to take on a Celtics team steeped in experience, chemistry, and trash talk. They’ve also gotten older, slower, and crankier since the epic 2008 conference semi-finals, where the Cavaliers, after a mid-season roster overhaul, lost in seven games after failing to defeat Boston at the Garden.
This series will only get as tough as the Cavaliers let it. I’m sure Lebron James remembers play-by-play that game 7 in 2008, where he and Paul Pierce traded bucket after bucket ala Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins. (See: #4 dunk on Larry Bird if you REALLY dislike the Celtics). The Cavaliers lost that game 97-92, and back then their starting five consisted of Wally Szcezerbiak, Big Z, Delonte West, James, and Ben Wallace.
Things clearly have changed.
The Celtics went on to win the 2008 championship, and their big 3 have gotten rapidly older through injuries, or, at least in my opinion, through contentment. As much as the Big 3 talk about how hungry they are, winning a championship, particularly after spending your entire NBA career praying for one, has got to slow down your speedometer a bit. Compare their situations to a novelist who publishes a first novel and sales just go bonkers. The writer gets awards, is declared a living genius…what then? Pierce, Garnett, and Allen have their rings, they have the respect of the basketball establishment, they will all be entering the Hall of Fame…no matter how driven they sound to the media, no matter how much they scream or talk during games, they are slowing down. And that’s natural. Unless you are a Grade-A obsessive carnivore like Jordan or possibly Kobe, you will become slightly satisfied with what you’ve accomplished.
The Cavaliers, meanwhile, find themselves in a similar situation to the 2008 Celtics. They have a team with at least three (four to be exact) key players in their mid-thirties: Shaq (37), Jamison (33), Anthony Parker (34), and Z (34). That, accompanied with the maniacal paranoia that Lebron might leave after this season and you have a ‘win-now’ mentality that acts as a built-in engine to every game they play. The 2008 Celtics knew their best chance of winning was that year, and the same goes for Cleveland in 2010.
Starting 5 Matchups:
-Mo Williams vs. Rajon Rondo
At times during the Chicago series it was difficult to watch Mo try and keep Derrick Rose in front of him. Rose is in an incredible athlete with a sweet fifteen-foot jump shot. Rondo is an unorthodox alien who reminds me of Gumby, one of his many nicknames. The good thing about Rondo is that he is incredibly uncomfortable shooting threes and long jump shots. The bad news is that he can break a defense down with drives about as good as anyone in the league. He can also get you offensive rebounds, since he usually ends up so close to the basket after passing the ball off to a perimeter-sitting Ray Allen or Paul Pierce.
Mo will have to make sure he tests Rondo’s transition defense. Like any guard who gets a higher than normal rebound average, Mo will have a lot of chances to exploit Rondo and get the ball upcourt as fast as possible.
This will be a tough matchup for Mo, but I like it better than when he was guarding Rose.
Anthony Parker vs. Ray Allen
If you watch any Boston game, you’ll see Ray Allen running along the baseline, ping-ponging his defender off two or three screens so he can get open. It irritates the hell out of me, and reminds me instantly of the kind of offensive sets Reggie Miller used to get open.
Anyone who guards Ray Allen is going to be running. A lot. That means they have to basically forget about their offensive output and commit themselves totally to shutting him down. That will have to be Parker in this series. Can he annoy Allen enough? Or will the Cavaliers have to put someone longer, perhaps Jamario Moon, on him.
Lebron James vs. Paul Pierce
Ah, the main event. The revenge duel. The payback moment.
Lebron will have fire in his eyes this entire series. And, with the exception of a possible game-3 home-team leaning officiating crew, he’ll probably have his way with Pierce (unless his right arm injury turns into something very serious), who to me seems like a creaky player whose only move to the basket is shooting over smaller defenders. Over the years I can’t tell how much my friends and I despise the Pierce’s style. It’s ugly. His jump shots are line drives, and he’s always finding a way to fall down in dramatic fashion. But he gets the job done, and Lebron will have to take the high-road and not sink to his level. During the regular season, Lebron blocked a few Pierce drives that had me on my feet going nuts. Pierce will have to rely on switches in order to get a smaller defender to shoot over.
Lebron, meanwhile, needs to obliterate this team from the inside-out. Attack, let that swarming defense try and swallow him, and then kick it out to…
Antawn Jamison vs. Kevin Garnett
These two know each other very well. They battled for years in the Western Conference, but, fortunately for the Cavaliers, Garnett’s knee has him bound to the earth a little more than usual. This should favor Jamison’s unorthodox style. Jamison’s legs, knock on wood, are just fine, but I also see Jamison bringing Garnett out of the paint to guard the 3. So hopefully Jamison’s three-point attempts will go up, forcing Garnett out of the fight for rebounds.
Personally, I could live with Garnett shooting wide-open 16 footers all day. He’ll make 50 percent of them, but, like Rose, they do nothing more than add two points. There’s no foul trouble, no three-point risk, and if he misses, it allows the Cavaliers a chance for some fast-break opportunities.
Shaquille O’Neal vs. Kendrick Perkins
Man, I’m looking forward to this! Kendrick Perkins, aka, The Man Who Gets Mad at His Breakfast, has not smiled since 1998, and having Shaq’s 350 pound body crushing his will to live will be fun to watch. I expect a lot of complaining…even more than Brad Miller, who always seemed to get knocked out while guarding Shaq.
If there’s one thing I want out of this series, it’s Shaq dunking two handed on Perkins, sending him to the floor, followed by him complaining woozily to the refs about being elbowed.
I expect Shaq to have a couple big games…maybe a 20-8 performance at the Garden. Partly because of the mismatch, but also because I think he wants to send a message to that Orlando team over on the other side of the bracket. I’ve still got it. You might have to double me.
Rasheed Wallace will be a more difficult match-up for Shaq, but they, like Garnett and Jamison, know each other pretty well that I expect it to go 50-50…hopefully with Sheed chucking a few thirty footers, which almost clank off the rim so hard it leads to an instant fast-break. Shaq wants a ring a little more than Sheed does this year, and it will show immediately.
The Bench (Big Z, J.J. Hickson, Jamario Moon, Anderson Varejao, Delonte West… vs. Rasheed Wallace, Glen Davis, Tony Allen, Nate Robinson, and some other guys)
I think it’s obvious, after watching Joakim Noah for 5 games, that Anderson Varejao does not like seeing his shadow. Like the Highlander, in the end there can be only one. Varejao is an energy guy, and in this series Boston does not have anyone similar, anyone just as smart like Noah, who will offset Varejao’s talents. Glen Davis will try, but he’s simply too short and relies more on brutality.
This is a perfect series for this year’s Cavaliers. They have a habit of playing down to lower-level teams, but rise up and play beautifully against the ‘elite’. Boston, despite its weak regular season finish, still has the polish and image of a championship team. I expect the Cavaliers to dismantle the Celtics with speed and aggression in game 1, followed by a tough win in game 2. Game 3 in Boston will be the hardest of the series. But I can’t see Cleveland losing inspiration like they did against the Bulls in Round 1. This one could go only 5, but I’m still a little intimidated by the Celtics on their home floor, simply because I’m a Cleveland sports fan and give way too much credit to the team we’re playing.
Cavaliers in Six…