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First, allow me to congratulate the Lakers. Like it or not, the Celtics’ chief rival won their 15th NBA Title Sunday night. Kobe Bryant won his fourth title, and more importantly, Phil Jackson won his 10th Larry O’Brien Trophy as a head coach, passing Red Auerbach for most in NBA history.
Watching the Lakers dispatch the Magic in five games was painful. The Magic blew two of those games and had they won both, they would be up 3-2 in the series and not Finals losers. I couldn’t help but think back to the seven-game series in the second round. If the Celtics had Kevin Garnett, would anything have been different?
I’d like to think a healthy Kevin Garnett and Leon Powe (like in 2008-09) would push the Celtics over the top. Despite the fact that the Cavs, Magic, and arguably the Lakers were all better squads than they were the previous year, it’s hard to argue that the Celtics were any worse, even without James Posey and P.J. Brown.
Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins had a lot to do with an improved Celtics sqaud.
The Celtics got incredible contributions from their young starters, who both made terrific strides in their development. Rajon Rondo became a top-5 point guard, with his unmatched speed and ball control. He has an instinctful way of passing, and he drives hard to the lane at will despite his size. I would love to see Rondo dramatically improve his free throw shooting (64.2% last season) and work on his perimeter shooting game, but otherwise he’s become the true Celtics spark plug.
If you ask Dwight Howard who the most difficult player he matched up against in the playoffs was, he’d probably say Kendrick Perkins. Perk has developed into a top-10 defensive center in the NBA, and he uses his size extremely well in boxing out opposing big men. He forced Dwight Howard to adjust his game, and is the main reason the Celtics went seven games without Garnett.
Glen “Big Baby” Davis came into his own while filling in for Garnett in the playoffs. He averaged 15.6 points and 5.6 rebounds in 14 playoff games. Due to the dearth of big men, Davis was forced to play major minutes and avoid committing too many fouls. Based on the circumstances, he did an incredible job and showed an vast improvment over the previous year.
Eddie House came into his own as well. He set a Celtics record for three-point shooting percentage in a season, and despite coming off the bench, he was able to find his shot much better than the year before.
If Powe and Garnett were playing and not injured, KG would slide into the starting power forward slot, while the Celtics would have two big men (Davis and Powe) coming off the bench. They would have been in better position to guard against Dwight Howard and probably would’ve won the second round series.
What if the Celtics faced the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals? You saw what the Magic did to them. They forced Cleveland to rely exclusively on LeBron James. Dwight Howard was a force inside and manhandled the likes of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Ben Wallace, and Anderson Varejao, and proved too much for the Cavs. I’d like to think a healthy Celtics squad would roll over Cleveland in six or seven games, as the Magic exposed them for what they really were: LeBron James + a mediocre supporting cast.
Against the Lakers, the Celtics could’ve also fared better. It’s hard to speculate, but we all saw the Celtics demolish the Lakers in last year’s Game 6, and despite the addition of a healthy, but soft Andrew Bynum to a soft cast of big men (Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol), it would be hard to imagine this Lakers squad beating a healthy Celtics roster in a seven-game series.
Maybe I have my green glasses on again, or maybe I’m just bitter. It just really sucks seeing the Lakers hoisting their 15th NBA crown as they slowly inch closer toward the Celtics’ 17 titles. Though, to look at the bright side, just imagine if the Lakers beat the Celtics last season…we’d be all tied at 16.