1. The Melo Problem. We know the Celtics have useful, if imperfect, individual answers for Carmelo Anthony, particularly when he’s in ISO situations on the wing. Jeff Green and Paul Pierce have both had success against him in the past and both will force him to work on defense. Brandon Bass will see some time guarding him as well. With a strong-side zone to deter penetration, the possibility exists the Celtics can force Melo into a batch of sub-optimal long jumpers, especially if he’s rattled by Boston’s trash talk and loses sight of New York’s team offense. Watch Anthony’s shot charts. If he’s getting inside ten feet on a regular basis, the Celtics are in trouble. If he’s taking long two-balls, complaining to the officials or incessantly jawing at Kevin Garnett, Boston is in much better shape.
2. Big men pick and roll defense. The Knicks will pressure the Boston defense with an endless batch of pick and rolls, sometimes multiple times per possession. Garnett is a great deterrent here but the Celtics can’t rely on him to go long minutes and maintain his efficiency. Danny Ainge recently noted the Celtics will need to play their best basketball just to get out of the first round and that means getting top-tier defensive work by Brandon Bass, Chris Wilcox, Shavlik Randolph and whoever else plays the big spots in small lineups. Randolph is promising, if unproven on bigger stages, but anyone who watched Boston’s 81 games this season has to be dubious at the notion Bass and Wilcox will be able to step up their play night after night.
3. The jewel of the East. I have hopes for the Brooklyn-Chicago series but the Eastern Conference matchups are a paucity compared to the gold waiting out for us out west. Miami’s going to maul Milwaukee and, shy of a great first game, I’m not jazzed about Atlanta-Indiana. The exception in the east is Boston and New York. Every season these two teams turn in at least one game that, when you’re assessing purely for entertainment value, vies for game of the year. The Celtics may bow out early this year (check back tomorrow morning for our formal, hold us accountable series predictions) but it’s going to be a war over the next two weeks. And a damn fun one at that.
4. Green on the spot. We went from castigating Ainge’s big-money Jeff Green signing and assessing the extent of Green’s negative value in the first half of the season to, at least in some quarters, wild hyperbole about his all-star upside after Rajon Rondo went down. Still, there have been disappearing acts in recent weeks. Boston is so depleted and has so little in the way of shot creation, Green can’t afford one of his distant, disinterested games. I know many of you are past worrying about him, but I want to see how he performs in the playoffs before I’m comfortable with the idea of being comfortable with him.
5. The End? After Boston’s sluggish first couple of months of the 2012-13 season, Ainge noted that Garnett seemed uncertain about the prospects of this Celtics team, that perhaps he wasn’t as fired up as has been typical of him since he arrived in the summer of 2007. That’s the first time I can remember that kind of characterization of Garnett, who has alluded to retirement and the exhausting work required to get his body ready to play 100 games a year. After Boston’s non-moves at the trade deadline, I suggested Pierce and Garnett would be playing for their future together when the playoffs arrived. If the Celtics go quietly, this year, Ainge and Garnett may find themselves on the same place this offseason: ready to turn the page. Those are higher stakes than you’d expect out of a team seeded seventh.