May 20, 2008


Defensive Stalwarts Set To Clash in East Finals (JOHN HOLLINGER, May 20, 2008, NY Sun)

[S]ome real questions are cropping up about Boston's ability to replicate its regular-season success, from Kevin Garnett's willingness to take big shots to the supporting cast's ability to dial it up in the postseason.

But the biggest question is Ray Allen. The third member of the so-called "Big Three" has instead morphed into the Invisible One. He's shooting only 37.6% for the playoffs and has averaged a meager 9.2 points a game in the Cleveland series. So out of sorts was Allen during the Cleveland series that when Boston coach Doc Rivers benched him for all but 1:38 of the fourth quarter in Game 7, nobody even questioned the move. Other Celtics, most notably Eddie House and James Posey, simply were playing better.

At least Boston's trademark defensive intensity hasn't slackened. The Celtics allowed only 85.1 points a game from Cleveland, after yielding just 87.1 against Atlanta. For the playoffs, their Defensive Efficiency mark of 97.3 points per 100 opponent possessions is easily the league's best, just as it was during the regular season.

Nonetheless, the Celtics' offensive woes are a major story heading into the Eastern Conference finals against Detroit. The Pistons had a few stumbles of their own, falling behind 2-1 in the first round against the lightly regarded Sixers and then being beaten by 25 points in Game 3 in Orlando in Round 2.

But unlike Boston, they appear to have righted the ship. The Pistons won the final two games against the Magic, even with All-Star point guard Chauncey Billups out with a hamstring injury, and have won seven of their past eight playoff games.

Additionally, Detroit would seem to have a couple of matchup advantages against Boston. At the point, Billups has obvious edges in size and experience against the Celtics' Rajon Rondo. Although Rondo is the superior defender, the difference isn't large in that area, whereas Billups's offensive skills are miles beyond Rondo's.

On the wing, Richard Hamilton appears to have a similarly large advantage on Allen. Never regarded as a great defender, Allen will have to chase Detroit's leading scorer through myriad screens to try to neutralize his midrange scoring game. If Allen can't counter with some 3-point bombs of his own, don't be surprised if another Allen -- little-used Tony Allen, a stalwart defender -- sees bigger chunks of playoff time as the series goes on.

The Celtics' struggles are a reminder that, in a sport (like hockey, basketball & football) where it's so easy to make the playoffs, it's very difficult for a team that's been out of the mix for several years to suddenly win a championship. That's unlike baseball, where the very difficulty of making the playoffs means you're likely to have a championship caliber team.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 20, 2008 7:53 AM

That "team" that barely beat Cleveland on Sunday sure ain't anywhere near "championship caliber"...

Posted by: b at May 20, 2008 1:00 PM

Cleveland made the Finals last year.

Posted by: oj at May 20, 2008 4:15 PM

And was nowhere near championship caliber. It was the most lopsided Finals in decades, perhaps ever.

Posted by: b at May 20, 2008 4:32 PM

They came within 4 wins. No one else did.

Posted by: oj at May 20, 2008 7:47 PM