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Saturday Notebook: Containing Dwight, Point Guard Glory, A Word on Doc

 

• The C’s are confident they can contain Dwight Howard, who shot 27-of-32 (84 percent!) against the sad Atlanta Hawks, according to the Herald. If you haven’t watched Orlando much, you should know: Howard has improved his rickety post game. He’s never going to be Hakeem Olajuwon (or even Akeem Olajuwon), but his drop step is better and he’s got an ugly-ish righty hook that works. 

Big Baby knows this and remains confident that the C’s have a trump card against Orlando that no one else has: At least one guy—and maybe two—bulky enough to guard Howard decently without a double-team:

He does look better. He’s been working on his game. I think Patrick (Ewing, Magic assistant coach) has been helping him out a lot. I’ve been watching him. He’s been doing a great job of playing and executing.

“But I feel like me and Perk and Rasheed are three guys that can really guard him, so we’re going to try to do our best to limit him.”

We shall see. Howard showed signs this season of being able to score effectively against Perk one-on-one. If he can do that, the Celtics are in trouble.

• The Herald has a story that can basically be summed up as: Doc Rivers knew what he was doing all along. Perk’s got the quote of the story:

“I think Doc does a great job in picking and choosing when he can attack his superstars and when he can’t, when he lets them get away with stuff and when he has to call them out on things. I think Doc’s got the toughest job, especially with this team. I think he did a great job of handling all of us.”

Perhaps Boston fans don’t appreciate Doc Rivers enough. I don’t feel qualified to make a final and total judgement on Doc Rivers as coach, but the following things are true: The team’s defense has come together again; sticking with Tony Allen was indisputably the right call; Rasheed Wallace is playing better in the playoffs—he’s not playing as well as some are saying, and he still only shows up about half the time, but he’s playing better; two allegedly young elite coaches just flamed out so terribly in the post-season that it was jarring to watch; one of those coaches has already been fired, and the other, Mike Brown, is on the verge of being fired; the Celtics appear to be fresher now than they’ve been since December.

There will always be a segment of fans who trash Doc. He had a rocky relationship with Paul Pierce early in his tenure and was nearly out the door in 2007 before lucking into a suddenly elite roster. His best team—the 2008 team—was so tight in the playoffs that they nearly committed a historic choke. All of that is true.

But I know this: Doc Rivers (and his staff, which is outstanding, obviously) has squeezed the most out of the KG/Ray teams. The 2008 team won the title. The 2009 team was arguably the favorite until KG got hurt, and it still took the Orlando Magic to seven games. And now the 2010 team, a year older and coming off a regular season of turmoil, is in the Eastern Conference Finals, and they are there in part because Doc Rivers (and his staff) proved to be much better strategists that Mike Brown (and his staff). 

• Unintended (but good) consequence: Paul Pierce says he’s fresher going into this series because he spent so much time on the bench with LeBron-inflicted foul trouble. (Via the Herald’s notebook). 

• Tony Allen with an unintentionally hilarious quote in this Herald piece about his improved play on both ends:

“Tom Thibodeau has been great (in) both series. Every time I listened to him, I was able to stay on the floor. So I’m listening to Tom Thibodeau as much as I can.”

I love that. TA is 28, and he’s talking as if listening to his coaches is some sort of revelation. Better late than never. It will be really interesting to see what Boston decides to do with TA, who is a free agent after this season. 

• In the same Herald piece, KG manages to piss off Cleveland and Minnesota fans with this gem on LeBron’s free agency: 

“Loyalty is something that hurts you at times because you can’t get youth back,” Garnett said. “I can honestly say that if I can go back and do my situation over, knowing what I know now with this organization, I’d have done it a little sooner.”

• I think it’s sort of cool that Sheed wore a Flyers cap when he talked with the media after Game 6. He’s from Philly, so he has a legit claim to being a Flyers fan. It’s not like the time LeBron wore a Yankees hat.

• Stan Van Gundy on Rajon Rondo (via the Globe):

“I think [Rondo] has a lot more time and experience under his belt. He’s clearly become their leader. You watch him on the floor, he’s directing traffic and his confidence level is very high. I don’t think it’s any one or two things he’s doing differently, he’s just continued to get better and better.’’

He then began weeping and screaming about how Jameer Nelson doesn’t get any respect, how the Magic only had 25 national TV appearances this season and how Dwight Howard should have been the MVP. (Note: This may not have happened. Also, SVG is a great coach. He just whines a lot).

And here’s Jameer Nelson talking about making Rajon work on the other end:

“I watched most of the Cleveland series and most of the guys he was guarding weren’t aggressive. I just want to stay on the attack and make him guard me as much as possible.’’

Translation: Mo Williams making the All-Star team is still a funny joke 16 months later!

• If you’re one of those fans who gets up in arms over the fact that most people are picking the Magic in this series, you might want to read this piece from John Hollinger. General theme: The Magic are 27-3 since March 1, and they are destroying everyone in their path:

See if you can wrap your heads around this one: Orlando has outscored opponents by a whopping 421 points over its past 30 games. To put this in perspective, the Lakers, Suns and Celtics — who could be the other three teams left standing when the conference finals start next week — didn’t outscore the opposition by 421 points over the entirety of the 82-game regular season, much less in the final 30 games of it.

It is perfectly reasonable to install the Magic as favorites in this series. The fact that most people are picking them isn’t a sign of “disrespect” to Boston or whatever you want to call it; it’s the logical result of the Magic’s late-season dominance and Boston’s inconsistency over the full season. Boston played tremendously against the Cavaliers, but people are skeptical about whether they can maintain that level of play for two (or four) more weeks, and that skepticism is justified. 

• Two prominent Magic bloggers trade questions about the Celtics over at Magic Basketball. One of them sees Vince Carter as perhaps the key to the series:

I do think this is where Carter has to step up…But I don’t see any individual Celtic who can control Carter. It’ll have to be a team defensive scheme, and if he’s on the attack, there’ll be openings for other players. Plus, his ability to hit tough shots–you know, those one-handed ones in the lane, as he drifts to one side and hangs in the air for an impossible duration–could bail the Magic out here and there.

If you read my Q-and-A with Eddy Rivera over at Magic Basketball, you’ll see that I sort of agree. 

• One thing I haven’t made much use of yet is the available database at Synergy Sports Technology, which allows you to measure pretty much everything and back it up with visual clips. I keep meaning to tinker with it, but life—personally and professionally—has just been incredibly busy. 

Luckily, the great Ben Q. Rock at Orlando Pinstriped Post is putting in the work and finds there is good reason behind Stan Van Gundy’s move to (at least initially) defend Ray Allen with Matt Barnes and Paul Pierce with Vince Carter. The upshot: Barnes appears to be a weaker defender in screen/roll and isolation situations—two areas where Pierce thrives. He is much better at defending players coming off screens, which is obviously Ray’s M.O. 

Mr. Rock has all the numbers for you to see. Go check it out. 

I’ll be back later today with a round-up of predictions and some other stuff to get you geared up for Game 1.

  • johnb

    Historically speaking, anyone who has depended on Vince Carter for anything has been disappointed. I don’t expect that to change now.

  • Dave

    Second paragraph Atlanta should be Orlando.

  • Perry

    Although the Celts always considered themselves contenders, it’s clear they relish and play the role of underdog quite well. So I will point out that for the first time in the Superman era, the Magic are expected to win a conference final. Unlike past years the pressure is squarely on their shoulders going into this series.

    Frankly. I’m worried less about the Magic starting five and more about their supporting cast — in particular Gortat and Pietrus. But TA should have plenty of confidence off his stellar effort on LBJ. Thanks to Doc’s steady hand the team has rediscovered ubuntu and exhibits the same fire at the defensive end we saw in 08′.

  • Sophomore

    It’s never just one thing that decides a series, but I’m really looking to see whether Pierce can hook himself up to the juvenation machine. KG and Allen will likely be better defended than they were last series, and Rondo’s going to have to spend more of his energy on defense. Pierce, meanwhile, is going to look up and see Vince Carter guarding him instead of LeBron. He’s got to pick up his game.

  • joe

    @johnb, they said the same thing about KG before the trade.

  • http://www.celticshub.com Zach Lowe

    @Dave: Thanks. Perhaps too many Stellas last night.

  • Devon

    STELLLA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Cptn Bubbles

    One way to get at Dwight is to highly pressure the ball beforehand. If there is great ball pressure then the pass into Dwight is gonna be a lot tougher nut to crack. We get in serious trouble when our guards or Paul rest on defense. Usually KG & Perk (when Perk runs-not jogs-back) are giving their full effort on D, but sometimes you’ve got our guards or Paul playing ole el torro defense. You can’t let Nelson or the others into the lane so ez. If Nelson or the others get into the lane it is DISASTROUS! Why? Because if they miss the higher percentage shot guess who is there to rebound & put back a bunny (usually Dwight is left wide open when Perk has to rotate to stop the pg sg sf etc.). There is NO WAY POSSIBLE that Perk can guard BOTH Dwight & the opposing guards or forwards!!!! Perk will have a full plate with Dwight. Rajon, Ray Ray, & Paul should be deeply ashamed of themselves if they allow their man to complicate Perk’s Herculean task.

    Nelson wants to shoot the 3 or drive so you gotta make him take the deep deuce or moving jump shot–the age old, make him do what he does not want to do.

    The other big answer to Dwight if he is on fire offensively is to spread the court & take the ball right at him. Sure, he is going to get some blocks each game, but if you have smart guys you can draw some fouls & put him where he can’t hurt anyone. Larry Brown had the Bobkittens doing this offensively, & it got Dwight on the bench, BUT they forgot to guard Nelson & Vinny & Gortat & they quit driving & slashing the magicians (like Ginobli did umpteen million times in the Spurs win vs the Magicians) so the impact was minimal. The Bobkittens fell in love with the jump shot so the advantage of Dwight’s absence was thwarted.

  • Cptn Bubbles

    With the enemy having so many tall & long guys we are gonna need Rajon’s DEFENSIVE rebounding now more than ever. Really we will need team gang rebounding again.

  • What More Can I Say?

    @joe

    The media painted that picture. But the truth is VC and KG are two totally different players. VC is unguardable when he is hot, because his confidence goes through the roof. But he takes AWFUL shots, hot or not, because the guy is a phenomenal athlete that has a fadeaway that is pretty damn hard to block. He will take a good shot and make it an ill-advised because the guy fades away all the time…it is maddening to his supporters. And he is not a 4th quarter performer.

    One thing I will say…he has the ability to wipe the scouting report away and make me look like an idiot. But will he? I doubt it. I refer to him as a regular season performer….pressure bothers this guy.

  • I love Green

    We stopped Lebron for the most part.

    Why wouldn’t we be able to stop Vince Carter? He’ll be much easier to guard

  • What More Can I Say?

    @Cptn Bubbles

    Agreed. But we will REALLY need KG & Perk to rebound. Orlando gets a LOT of defensive and offensive boards from their MVP…so when Perk puts a body on Howard, it’s gonna be on KG to wipe the glass. It’s not like Lewis is gonna bang for boards or even box people out, so we HAVE to take advantage of that.

    Also…Howard puts himself out of position everytime he goes for a block. This opens the door for Perk and Baby to make their presence felt on the O glass. I don’t know how the rest of the Celtic nation feels, but personally I think Perk did a great job on the glass last series, ESPECIALLY in Game 6. The refs have REALLY been calling a lot of crap fouls in the trenches on him, but from what I can see, Perk is working hard and giving the C’s lots of 2nd chances. Little things are gonna add up to give the C’s big wins.

  • Cptn Bubbles

    @WMCIS Right, the central rebounding problem is Dwight or Gortat. I think 1 big is just going to have to sacrifice himself by turning to face Dwight after the ball goes up & just walk into him walking him out from the rim. I saw Scal do this on guys at times, & it really worked. Scal took himself & the other team’s rebounding machine out of the play. Then, another C had to come in to snatch the ball. Nearly everybody tries to put their rump into Dwight & bump him backwards, but he is very athletic & adept at fighting around this tactic. This is what he gets 99% of the time when guys try to block him out. If you are PROACTIVE & turn around & go into him (facing him) the split second the ball is shot (not waiting for the ball to reach the rim) then you can really get in his way & keep him further away from the glass. We called it kamikaze rebounding where another teammate had to come in to actually get the ball.

    Really, we need all hands on deck when it comes to rebounding. We had a really nasty habit of jumping the gun & running down the floor before the ball was secured for awhile this season. Thank God, it looks like we are all trying to secure the rebound now, especially Rajon who has like a sixth sense at getting that board.

  • What More Can I Say?

    @Cptn Bubbles

    Right on the $$ about Superman. And guys like BBaby and Sheed can prolly draw a cheap foul or two on Dwight when he is trying to fight around box outs. The bench will really be a deciding factor in this series when it comes dealing with the Orlando big men, pressuring W. Chocolate, and limiting Pietrus corner threes. If you really think about it…they have the biggest task out of everyone on the C’s.

    I am so ready for sunday.

  • http://www.celticshub.com Zach Lowe

    @all: Magic are not a good offensive rebounding team. That’s a myth people believe largely because of Howard. Ranked 25th or lower in each of last three seasons under SVG. They don’t really go after them; prefer transition D.

  • DRJ1

    Question: What’s “unintentionally hilarious” about what TA said?

  • Cptn Bubbles

    Zach, you know I agree with you 9 out of 10 times, BUT against the Cs, the magicians had 3 offensive rebounds for Dwight & 3 offensive rebounds for Gortat in the 1st game which was a loss. That was a low scoring game so SIX possessions is huge.

    In the 3rd game between the Cs & the magicians, Orlando had SEVENTEEN offensive rebounds. The 2 leading rebounders were Dwight & Gortat. All five of the Orlando starters in that game had at least 2 offensive rebounds each. Stan modified his philosophy of getting back. Everyone was crashing the boards.That is crazy bad!

    The last game between the Cs & Magicians there were a lot fewer offensive rebounds for them—-but that was because they were shooting the ball better, especially from 3. Last time we played Orlando they shot 50% from 3 for 33 points. Our games with Orlando usually turn into grinding defensive struggles so the scores are lower & closer. We can’t give that sharp shooting team extra possessions if they are playing hard defense on us & limiting us to 1 shot. Dwight averages nearly 4 offensive rebounds per game so he is in predation mode & not bolting back down the floor on D every time. In low scoring, defensive games I can’t stand for them to get 4 extra possessions because we don’t block out ONE guy.

  • http://espn.com travis zen

    Perk has improved alot on his D…Dwight won’t be much of a problem…so as VC…his shots are ugly..this would be a walk in the park for the C’s…

  • Ray Leighton

    I mentioned this in an earlier post, but I suspect it dropped through the cracks because I am usually on so much later than everyone else (may drop through this time too, given the time) — this is the best team that we will face this season. Orlando’s starting five had a Hollinger winning % of 72% (this means that they outscored the opposing, on-the-floor, five-man rotation 72% of the time). For comparison — Boston 66%, Cleveland 62%, LA 62%, Phoenix, 60%. That’s a pretty big jump between Orlando and everyone else.

    There’s also only three teams in the league with six guys with regular playing time who give up less than 15.0 in opponent’s production — and two of them are playing in the Eastern Conference Finals. Orlando has a bunch of guys who play defense.

    I’ve watched Orlando a lot this year and they are a weird team in some respects — basically surround the best center in the league with five or six interchangeable parts — all of whom can penetrate, shoot the three, and play solid defense. They are also a bit harder to evaluate because Jameer Nelson has been getting healthier all season, much like KG. For most of the season, I really felt like he had lost a step, but that was not evident in the playoffs. However, one thing that I think is a weakness of Orlando — they actually aren’t great passers. They get a fair number of assists because they usually are passing to people out on the arc (remember that post earlier this year about types of passes from point guards? — Rondo ranked highly because he gets difficult assists to inside players, Nelson gets almost all of his assists by passing to someone on the wing). Orlando is very good at finding the open man, but they are not great at making the difficult pass. This has been an issue for them ever since they let Turklodo walk. This is one of the reasons why you sometimes see games in which Dwight goes five for five — but only takes five shots. It’s because Orlando has a hard time making the entry pass. When you watch a Jameer Nelson highlight reel, there won’t be any passes on it….

    I think that one of the keys to beating Orlando is going to be sharp rotations, pressuring the ball, and jamming the passing lanes. Deny the ball to Dwight as much as possible. I think that we should regularly change up our defensive sets, throw in a few zones and overloads etc. I think that if the defense shifts look confusing, then more often than not, Orlando will just jack up the three, even if it is not a great shot. We need to keep them under 10 assists per game and pick up a lot of steals.

    And I am looking forward to seeing TA smother Vince Carter.

  • DRJ1

    @Ray– Gotcha this time. Good one. Bottom line for me is: if/when the Cs lose any games to Orlando, it’ll be the 3 that kills them. It’s very hard to shut down all the 3s Orlando wants to take, so to some extent, this series will come down to how hot they are from the arc vs. how well we run them off it. The Howard/Gortat/Perk/Sheed axis will be interesting of course, as will the Nelson/Rondo and Lewis/KG matchups. But if we lose games… it’ll probably be the 3 that does the deed.

    I’m looking forward to some surprises out there. Fingers crossed for them to be the pleasant variety.

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