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Despite clearly outclassing the Sixers in talent and experience, the Celtics made it interesting with close, defensive slugfests (offending most NBA purists) and a bevy of injuries. And so, in a series that should have been over in six games (if not five), I found myself still holding my breath until the 0:53 mark in the fourth quarter of Game 7.
No matter what it took to get there, the Celtics are taking their talents to South Beach (zing!). But that doesn’t mean we can’t grade the most recent round to see where the Celtics need to improve if they’re going to (say it with me Celtics fans) “Beat! The! Heat! Beat! The! Heat!”
We’ll start with a trivia question: did Rajon Rondo step up and go on a triple-double flurry in Game 7 because a) his captain and best scoring option went down, b) he finally realized he was on national TV, or c) his alien ship activated his “try hard” mode? Whatever the answer, Rondo was his usual enigmatic self throughout the series, John Kerry-ing his way between jaw-dropping highlights (dropping a 27-foot bomb, the slip ‘n’ slide assist) and teeth-grinding gaffes (dribbling the ball off his leg and out of bounds, missing layups, the entirety of Game 6).
I guess Avery Bradley earns the nod as the starter in honor of his efforts to play through an onslaught of shoulder separations. He didn’t score much, but his backdoor cuts kept defenses from doubling and gave the Celtics the occasional easy bucket (my oh my, how Boston could use some of those). I’m assuming we’re taking his disruptive defense for granted. RIP (Rehab in Peace), Avery.
Paul Pierce’s scoring outputs over the course of the seven-game series against Philly: 14, 7, 24, 24, 16, 24, 15. Of the 124 points Pierce put in, 50 came from the charity stripe. Pierce is relying more and more on getting to the free throw line to offset his inability to shoot from the field (two games against the Sixers shoot over 45 percent , two games shooting under 30). That balky knee worries me against the reigning MVP.
In my last report card, I said something to the effect that Brandon Bass should never lead the Celtics in shot attempts. Then Game 5 happened – a career playoff-high 27 points (tied for his career regular-season-high), with 18 (!) points in the third quarter alone. Oops. Of course, Bass hardly set foot on the court in the fourth quarter of any game before that, and followed up Game 5 with a 2-for-12 stinker in Game 6 (though he did have a slightly redemptive 16 points in Game 7). Nonetheless, that Game 5 explosion was revelatory for me.
Could Kevin Garnett be slowing down? After abusing the Sixers in the paint in Game 5, Garnett didn’t take a single shot inside the paint in Game 6. Game 7 saw Garnett take just three shots from the painted area, and only six inside of ten feet. Not exactly what you’d like to see against a reanimated Elton Brand when he’s about to face a steaming pu pu platter of Joel Anthony, Ronny Turiaf, Udonis Haslem, and Dexter Pittman’s winking elbow. Still, the man averaged nearly 20 ppg shooting over 50 percent with 11 rpg, and an assist, block, and steal to round out his box score. I’ll take it (and feverishly pray that it continues).
Speaking of pu pu platters, the Celtics bench! Especially now that Ray Allen is back in the starting lineup thanks to Bradley’s season-ending surgery. Despite Allen ultimately needing surgery, he continues to gut it out through stabbing bone spurs that sometimes make it look like he can hardly walk, let alone run around a series of screens and consistently make threes. Sure enough, against Philadelphia Allen shot just 26.5 percent behind the arc, and only marginally better (38.3 percent) overall. Allen went four straight contests (Games 3 through 6) without breaking double digits, but he did manage to break out of a 1-for-9 start to Game 7 to drain two clutch threes in the fourth quarter. He’ll need to keep that up to give the Celtics better spacing and another offensive threat against Miami…
…because Keyon Dooling certainly isn’t going. Don’t get me wrong, Dooling has been an able ball-handler (zero turnovers), an impressive leader (apparently he’s known as “Reverend Dooling?”), and, well, that’s about it. He played more than 10 minutes all of once in seven games, and scored all of nine points for the entire series. Insert the sound of an unenthusiastic party blower here.
Can we sign Garnett up for the knee drainage the Dwyane Wade got before going berserk against the Indiana Pacers? Or book him a quick flight to Germany for a little Kobe treatment? I ask this because Ryan Hollins and Greg Stiemsma have apparently turned into ghosts, only able to ethereally haunt opposing players. Other than Stiemsma’s 10-point explosion in Game 5, the two have been silent. Seriously, they both averaged as many personal fouls as rebounds in the second round. Is there a sound effect more depressing than an unenthusiastic party blower I can use here?
These two guys’ only skill is remaining marginally athletic while being taller than 90% of the population. Expecting more from them would be stupid. Mickael Pietrus, on the other hand? He was supposed to be a big difference maker off the bench, particularly with his three-point shooting. So of course he’s shooting 24.3 percent from deep for the playoffs, improving marginally across two rounds (an anemic 15.4 percent against Atlanta, 29.2 percent against Philadelphia). Here’s hoping he continues to improve (knocks frantically on wood).
Poor Doc Rivers. No bench, an aging group of All-Stars, a trigger happy role player, a point guard who checks in and out of the game without visiting the scorer’s table – what’s a coach to do? I mean, besides run pick-and-rolls with Garnett and Rondo and hiring a witch doctor to curse LeBron James. Maybe he can parlay the “Nobody Believes in Us” theory with Chris Bosh’s anti-Willis Reed return into a shocking trip to the NBA Finals.
Work your voodoo black magic, witch doctor. I beg you.