Monday, August 13, 2007

Conceding Conference Championship to the Celtics? Not so fast.

I've seen it said on several websites, blogs and message boards that the Celtics are all but guaranteed to win the Eastern Conference, if not the NBA Championship. While they have accumulated an enormous amount of talent with their own "Big Three", I'm not quite prepared to just hand the Larry O'Brien to them just yet. I'm fully aware that they aren't done making moves and signing players, but since it is their Triumverate that has everyone so excited, let's take a look at how the Big Three really stack up against the rest of the East and break things down, shall we?

Detroit Pistons - Perhaps the best team in the East over the past 5 years, although they only have one title to show for it. Known for their defensive prowess, they proved it last season by holding Garnett to 16.5 PPG on .354 FG% (two games) and Allen to a .292 FG% in their only meeting. It should also be noted that the Celtics have no one to stop the offensive exploits of Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton. Star power or not, I have to give the edge in this matchup to the Pistons.

Chicago Bulls - Another fine defensive team, they held Pierce to 13.3 PPG on .318 FG% (3 games), Allen to .321 FG% (one game) and Garnett to .395 FG% (two games) last season. The common refrain I've heard is that each of these players were the only "serious threat" on their teams, making it easier to key in on them. Well, that may have been the case last year, but with Hinrich, Nocioni, Deng and Big Ben manning the fort, I doubt they will find the prospect of facing the denizens of the Windy City any more welcoming. Hyperactive jumping beans Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah are sure to grab most of the loose balls within the zip code, limiting KG's dominance of the boards, as well. Plus, their defensive deficiencies will show up as a glaring weakness when Ben Gordon comes off the bench to light up the scoreboard. Edge: Bulls.

Toronto Raptors - With their uptempo pace and decided advantage in the youth/fresh legs department, it is hard not to like the chances of the Raptors vs. the aging Celtics. They managed to hold Garnett to .341 FG% last season in two meetings (both wins over the T'Wolves). The frontcourt of Bosh, Bargnani, Garbajosa and Nesterovic frustrated KG to no end, which is no great surprise since Bosh has developed into a younger, left-handed version of "The Big Ticket". The Raptors have had difficulty covering Pierce and Allen, but I think that this could prove to be a very close playoff series, were it to occur next May/June.

New Jersey Nets - Vince Carter vs. Ray Allen = Draw. Richard Jefferson vs. Paul Pierce = Draw. Kevin Garnett vs. Nenad Krstic/Jamaal Magloire/Josh Boone = KG. Jason Kidd vs. Anybody on the roster or that they might sign = Huge edge to Kidd. The Point Guard position is something that cannot be ignored, especially when you consider that the Celtics have Rajon Rondo and virtually no one else capable of playing that spot. Kidd's leadership and playmaking could turn this potential playoff series.

Miami Heat - Who's gonna stop Dwyane Wade? Who can contend with the Diesel...even at half-speed? Their PG situation is still shaky, but against the Celtics that's not a huge concern, now is it? If they can avoid the injury bug that torpedoed their season last year, then they could be right back in the thick of a title hunt as Shaq, Zo, Penny and GP look to ride off into the sunset. This is a tough matchup for the top teams in the West, so it goes without saying that the Celtics would have their hands full in a series with the former champs.

Cleveland Cavaliers - You didn't think that I'd forgotten about the defending conference champs, did you? While I don't believe that they'll be able to repeat last year's success, I think we've all seen that LeBron James has proven capable of being a one-man wrecking crew in the playoffs -- even against the best defensive teams in the East. The Celtics are not going to be a great defensive team, so it would surprise no one if LBJ reprises the role he played so masterfully in leading the Cavs to the NBA Finals.

That makes six teams that I believe are capable of beating the Celtics in a 7 game series in the postseason. Their defensive inadequacies and gaping hole at PG are going to be a huge roadblock for their title aspirations. I didn't even broach the subject of Head Coach Doc Rivers -- but it wouldn't surprise me to see Danny Ainge pull a Pat Riley and take over on the bench at some point this season. Of course, I could be wrong and the Celtics could be returned to their former status as one of the premier teams in the NBA by winning a title (or two). As they say, that's why they play the games.

1 comment:

Matt said...

Gordon isn't coming off the bench. At least I sure hope not.