• 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.