It took longer than expected to get here, but the highly anticipated 2nd round match up between the Celtics and Magic has come to fruition. Stan Van Gundy has been openly lobbying for respect for his team all year long against the vaunted injury laden C’s.
Stan can talk the talk all he wants but his own depleted team will have to walk the walk to get past the shorthanded Celtics in this seven game series. Celtics Hub’s Zach Lowe has an excellent Q and A with fellow ESPN Truehoop blogger Zach McCann of Orlando Magic Daily and Ben Q Rock of Third Quarter Collapse to get their insight into this Magic team. For now, let’s take a closer look at the start of this series from a Celtics perspective. (8pm est. on TNT)
The first thing that came into my head, after the Celtics wrapped up the win against the Bulls in surprisingly undramatic fashion was, “Thank God we are the two seed.” The higher seeding may have screwed the C’s in the first round by forcing them to draw the upstart 7 seed Bulls, who almost no one would argue against the notion that they were the better overall team and tougher opponent than the Sixers. With the Celtics having Chicago safely in the rear view mirror, they are now lately rewarded for their regular season efforts (3 game edge over Magic) with home court advantage for this series.
Now I don’t think home court will play a huge factor in this series. Both teams have shown this year, they are capable of winning in each other’s building. With that said, I shudder to think of a gassed Celtic team having to make a long flight to Orlando yesterday to face a well rested Magic squad. That would have the makings of a game 1 blowout written all over it.
Instead, the Celtics are able to reap the benefits of the 2 seed by getting a limited day of rest in the cozy confines of Boston with no long plane ride to worry about. They also will have a raucous Garden crowd that will do their best to lift the C’s energy level. So for everyone (including myself) that was worrying about the high amount of minutes Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were logging in the last two months of the regular season, the payoff comes tonight.
Many are skeptical about this Orlando team but after I took a closer look at their numbers at the end of March, it made me a semi-believer of this team. They are more efficient on the offensive end, are defending better this year, and are completely capable of beating this weakened Celtics team in a 7 game series. With that being said I am still picking the Celtics to win the series and the matchup below is the main reason why.
The “Unofficial” Pivotal Matchup of this Series
J.J. Redick vs. Ray Allen:
Courtney Lee did not make the trip to Boston for game 1 and thus is likely to be out for at minimum the 1st 2 games of this series. Van Gundy even went so far to say that it would be a “bonus” if Lee was to play in the series at all. Thus it appears the basketball gods have tipped the injury scales for once this season in Boston’s favor for this particular series as Lee’s absence guarantees we will be seeing a healthy dose of Redick attempting to guard Ray Allen.
The Magic may not be losing much on the offensive end with Redick, as the guy is a dead eye shooter and has taken advantage of his opportunities so far during these playoffs going 6/14 from long distance against the Sixers in limited action. The good news for the C’s is that unlike the Bulls’ guards, Redick is a one trick pony. Thus Ray will have a bit of a break by only having to guard Redick along the perimeter compared to the explosive Ben Gordon, who was capable of driving to the basketball at any point.
Life should also be significantly easier for Allen on the offensive end against Redick. I watched this former Blue Devil for 4 years at Boston College while he wreaked havoc in the ACC and one of his most glaring weaknesses then and (still is now) was his defense. The guy did not have the speed, size or defensive ability to keep up with top ACC shooting guards then. Little has changed from that point in time, as his defense has been serviceable for a backup (if you were being generous) but to put it bluntly, the guy simply does not have a chance against elite NBA shooting guards such as Ray Allen. The numbers back this up as he sports a 107 defensive rating, which ranks him at the bottom of the active roster for this Orlando team.
Look for the C’s to try to take advantage of the 6-4 Redick by getting Ray involved early and often and running the former Duke star through a garden variety of double picks. If Redick struggles, Van Gundy could try to put in the more athletic Michael Pietrus in to guard Allen but while the Frenchman appears to have the tools and potential to be a solid defender, the numbers don’t back it up.
Thus, the Celtics need to pounce on this potential opportunity before Lee, a much improved defender is able to make a possible return in game 3 in Orlando. If Lee does not make it back though, Ray’s 8/13 performance on December 1st when the two first matched up (Redick was in the starting five that night) could foreshadow a long series to come for Orlando. More thoughts on tonight after the jump
More Quick Hits About Tonight
–Perk vs. Howard. The “official” pivotal matchup for the series. Much will be made about Kendrick’s need to stay out of foul trouble against Superman but the Celtics would be just as wise to attack Howard down low and get him in foul trouble as well to limit his impact. They did this successfully in two matchups this year, fouling him out in Orlando on January 22nd, and forcing him to pick up 3 early fouls on March 8th that limited him to only 28 minutes in this one.
The best defense the C’s have against Howard is to keep him off the floor, so the Celtics guards along with Perk would be smart to be aggressive early in this one by trying to create some contact against the 6’10” center with head fakes and strong moves to the hoop.
–Celtics bench > Orlando bench? I will have more on this in the days to come but with Courtney Lee out, the all ready below average Orlando bench becomes almost as depleted as the C’s with Redick being inserted in the starting five. Boston’s bench had its productivity limited for much of Chicago series primarily because they were going up against a rotating cast of seven highly skilled players that could all be capable NBA starters on most teams.
That will not be the case in Orlando as the supporting cast of Anthony Johnson, Michael Pietrus, Tony Battie and Martin Gortat will not strike fear in the heart of any Celtics fans. In fact they were one of the least productive offensive units in the league this year. Doc will have the chance to utilitze the bench more against these guys as Eddie, Scal, Marbury and company should be able to hold the line against Orlando’s 2nd team while they are in there.
No matter how you look at it, this series has a lot to live up to after last round. Here’s hoping the C’s have something left in the tank and ride the momentum from game 7 tonight.