Celts/Magic Series Preview
What do you prefer: the Luck of the Irish or straight up Magic?
Here they stand, battered, bruised and glad to still be alive. I’m talking about both of these teams, of course—the Boston Celtics and the Orlando Magic. Yes, they are happy to have advanced, having been pushed as far as possible without snapping like 10 cent rubber bands. But, like rubber bands, both paid a toll in being overexerted in their first round match-ups. Let’s take a look.
How They Got Here: Everyone knows about the Celtics-Bulls epic seven game series. People have called it the best series ever. I don’t know about that—I’m not into hyperbole—but the series was near perfect from the fans’ perspective. A little bit of everything was displayed: spectacular drives to the cup, hot-shooting, finesse, physicality, great play by star players, great play by up-and-comers overtimes and double-overtimes. Yes, the series was damn good for the viewers. For the Celtics, though, it was much tougher and went much longer then they would have hoped. Rondo got hit (and hurt) too many times to count. Ray Allen played in excess of 280 minutes, more then Doc wanted at this stage in the season. Paul Pierce played too much, all the while being shackled by a tenacious Kirk Hinrich. Glen Davis played twice the amount of minutes a game he was used to. And Perkins was set to escape the series no worse for the wear, until Brad Miller judo-chopped his perennially injured shoulder in game seven. All in all, the series tired the Celts out and exposed some of their fatal-flaws, leaving them 48 hours to recuperate and regroup before hosting Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic.
In their first round match-up, the Magic looked beatable against a Sixers team lacking star power. I don’t care how nagging Hedo’s and Rashard’s injures were, the Sixers should not have challenged them like that. And, if the Sixers can take you to six, the Celtics can too…without two of the Big Three.
Head-to-Head: The two teams met up four times this season, splitting the series two-two, with the Magic winning the last two meetings. The regular season games hardly serve as an apt barometer, however, as Garnett and Rajon Rondo both missed one of the Celts’ losses, and K.G only played a handful of minutes in the other loss.
Point Guard: Rajon Rondo vs. Rafer Alston
After the first game against the Bulls, a game that saw Derrick Rose tag Rondo for 36, people were looking at that supposed mismatch at the PG all series. At the end of the round, though, it is Rajon Rondo’s name that is now on the tip of fans’ tongues. The opening series served as his coming-out-party, with averages of 19/11/9. If he can do that against a young, spry Rose, I can only imagine the type of stats he could post this series against Rafer Alston. Of course, Dwight Howard will be sitting in the lane—and he is only twice as large as Brad Miller or Joakim Noah—waiting to punish Rondo for thinking lay-up, so we’ll have to see how that plays out. As Rondo goes, so do the Celts.
For the Magic, the 32 year-old Alston still has got game, filling in nicely for the injured Jameer Nelson, with 12 points and 5 assists a game since he landed in Orlando. With that being said, he doesn’t shoot the three-ball as well as Nelson and doesn’t have the same type of relationship with Howard that Nelson has. His small frame won’t be a problem against the similarly-built Rondo, but his lateral movement will be tested by the Celtics’ speedy 1. Alston’s goal won’t be to outpoint or assist Rondo, but to keep the guard off the O-boards and to force him into over-dribbling.
Shooting Guard: Ray Allen vs. Courtney Lee
Ray Allen led the Celts in scoring against Chicago, averaging 23 PPG. In this series, no matter if it’s Lee, Redick or Pietrus, Allen has a distinct advantage at both ends of the court. There is no reason that he should not double-up the guy guarding him in all statistical categories. I doubt he’ll explode for another 50 point effort, but a couple of 30s wouldn’t surprise me.
On the other hand, Courtney Lee will be sitting out Game 1, having suffered a fractured sinus. That’s too bad for the Magic because the kid was showing off just how big his stones are—granted against the worst starting guard in the League, Willie Green. With him out, The Magic will rely on J.J Redick to splash a few threes and not to totally get murdered by Ray Allen. If Redick’s history with Boston serves as forewarning, then the Celts have nothing to worry about.
Small Forward: Paul Pierce vs. Hedo Turkoglu
Pierce’s stats from the first round are pretty solid (23/7/2), but he only shot 43 percent and missed plenty of big free-throws. At times, he looked ragged and worn-down. But, he still is The Truth and he is still the reigning playoff MVP.
Turkoglu had a subpar first round (11 PPG), highlighted by one big game-winning shot. Be it due to injury or his choke-artist history, this Turk is versatile…in the regular season. With his usual anemic playoff numbers, look for his play to disappoint Magic fans.
Power Forward: Glen Davis vs. Rashard Lewis
Assuming Garnett is out—more on that shortly—Big Baby will be playing in his stead. While Baby had a solid first round against the Bulls, hitting some clutch jumpers, look for him to alter his game this round (if he knows what’s good for him). His advantage against Lewis is his girth, and he should punish him downlow. If he settles for jumpers, the Celts are in trouble here.
As Doc Rivers made note of, Lewis is their toughest match-up. Lewis, tall enough to shoot over Baby and quicker than Brian Scalabrine, should average 20+, if his nagging injuries don’t hamper him too much.
Center: Kendrick Perkins vs. Dwight Howard
Many don’t realize it, but Perkins is the heart and soul of this team. He brings the fire, spirit and the nastiness needed on the block. With an improving arsenal of post-moves and a solid frame, he will make Howard think twice about doubling off of him too much. My only concern is that Brad Miller hurt his chronically-injured shoulder, and that will hamper his play this series.
Dwight Howard is the best Center in the game. Period. He could and should average 20/20/3 this series. He probably won’t though. The big man smiles too much on the court for my liking. Also, I don’t envision Howard putting up 40 points in any game this series, and until he can consistently take over like that on offense, I don’t think he can lead the Magic too far. If I’m Doc Rivers, I’m fouling Howard like he’s Shaq.
Bench: Allen, House, Marbury, Moore, Scalabrine vs. Battie, Gortat, Johnson, Pietrus
The Celts bench nearly cost them the first round series, adding nothing in all but two of the games. Moore was a non-factor until game seven and Marbury played scared. So much for those two mid-year pickups. Tony Allen no longer has a place in the L—if only he wouldn’t have torn his ACL, who knows what could have been. Scal is very limited. And House is too streaky for his own good. Unless these dudes bring some heat off the bench, the Celts will be relying solely on the New Big Three (Rondo/Allen/Pierce) again.
The Magic were supposed to lose game six in Philly, with Howard being suspended. But, with the great play of Gortat, they were able to handle the ’6ers with ease. With Tony Battie providing valuable minutes, and Anthony Johnson spelling Skip Alston, the Magic should be have fresh legs down the stretch.
Coaching: Doc Rivers vs. Stan Van Gundy
I think that the Celts tend to win in spite of Rivers, a man who appears to be more than a fan and less than a coach. True, he draws up nice out-of-timeout-sets, but that’s it. Tom Thibodeau does the real work. He should be the head coach. I’m serious.
Regardless of how Shaq feels, Stan Van Gundy is a fine coach. He is in control of his team (take notes, Vinny) and runs a tight ship. That being said, outside of Howard, he is working with a fishing ship, not a yacht.
Advantage: Including the entire staff, Celtics
Unaccountables: Whispers from Boston are spreading down the East Coast that Kevin Garnett will be in uniform at some point this series. I can’t verify or refute anything just yet. Keep your eye on this one.
Prediction: It’ll take some magic for Orlando to prevail. Without Kevin Garnett, I’ll take the Celts in seven. If Garnett is donning a green and white No. 5 jersey, however, even at only 75 percent, the Celts will escape in six. Either way, see you soon, LeBron.