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For the Sweep: Celtics-Pistons Preview

 

There’s a lot of nice historical trivia for hoops buffs to like in this one. For example:

• As of this second, the C’s would play the Pistons in the 2-7 match-up in the first round, making this a Premature Playoff Preview. The last time they met in the first round was in 1989, when Detroit swept Boston.

• The Celtics are going for their first season sweep of Detroit since taking all four from the Pistons in 1991-92.

• The Celtics have a (recent) history of trapping Rip Hamilton, and it will be interesting to see how Stephon Marbury handles what could be a more complicated defensive strategy against two bigger guards. (More on this later).

• And, most interesting in a FreeDarko sort of way, we’ve got the first and fourth overall selections of the 1996 draft on opposite sides, two controversial guards (Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury) who have had everything about their games questioned more than almost any other star player in the modern NBA era.

In their primes, one was an uncatchable lightning bolt whose fearlessness and desire made even his harshest critics sometimes forgive the 41 percent shooting; the other was a scoring point guard who was quick enough to beat speedsters off the dribble and strong enough to bounce off defenders and finish at the rim.

Now, one is regarded as something of a loser; his absence has improved Denver and his presence has coincided with the stunning fall of the Pistons pseudo-dynasty. The other has no reputation left at all and is trying one last time to save a scrap of his legacy.

Then there’s Ray Allen, picked one spot behind Marbury and in every way the opposite of these two–calm, quiet, consistent, never doubted.

Back to this game. Iverson’s injured (stiff back), and of course (the basketball gods have been cruel to AI sometimes) that resulted in the Pistons immediately snapping their eight-game losing streak against Orlando Friday.

But good God, the Pistons are bad–and boring. What happened to this team? They play the second-slowest pace in the league, they can’t shoot threes (28th in attempts, 26th in percentage), they are 24th in offensive efficiency and their vaunted defense (DEE-TROIT BASKETBALL) has slipped all the way to 13th in the league.

As Mr. Hollinger tells us today, the Pistons are 7-18 over their last 25 games and are in danger of falling out of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. Hollinger nails a bunch of the reasons–the Chauncey-AI trade, bad signings (Kwame Brown), a rookie coach making lineup changes on the fly, a fading young point guard (Rodney Stuckey, averaging 8.5 points, 3.6 assists and 35.6 shooting per game in February) and an old core with lots of miles on their legs.

This team is getting by (to the extent they are even doing that) because they take care of the ball (lowest turnover rate in the league), defend the three well … and, really, that’s about it. Pick a random category and they are bad or mediocre at it.

Offensive rebounding rate? 19th. Ratio of FTAs to FGAS? 26th. Forcing turnovers? Twenty-seventh, and hooray for that, because we all know the Celtics treat the basketball like they are not very interested in it.

We talk match-ups and Marbury after the jump.

Stuckey (6’5”) and Rip Hamilton (6’6” or 6’7”) are big dudes, which creates some defensive challenges for Rajon Rondo and his new back-up. They play nearly all the minutes in close games (41 each Friday against the Magic), so Marbury will likely have to spend some time guarding one of them.

This is the kind of game where not having Tony Allen hurts. (TA actually scored a season-high 23 in the first match-up of the year, an 88-76 C’s win in Detroit).

The Celtics have recently trapped Rip and have generally handled him well–including holding him without a field goal in their first meeting this season. He scored 12 and 14 in the other two games.

On the other end, it will be interesting to see if the Pistons big guards give Rondo the Knicks treatment–leaving him space for jumpers to try and cut off his penetration. Friday was a step back for Rajon offensively; his jumper was off early, and he passed up floaters and mid-range shots all night.

The Paul Pierce-Tayshaun Prince match-up is fun, and it’s always entertaining to watch Rasheed Wallace lure bigger centers and power forwards out of their comfort zone inch by inch with his shooting range.

In any case, the Celtics should win this game.

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