Celtics Are Best Vs. Heat, Cavs and Lakers
The playoff version of the Celtics will always be best when facing teams
that have a superstar at their core. Why? Because guys like DWade,
Lebron and (to a slightly lesser extent) Kobe are just too good.
Yep… those guys are so good that they're IMPOSSIBLE to cover
one-on-one. And that leads to a critical component of the Celtics'
defensive posture. The true superstars are SO good, that EVERYBODY KNOWS
they can't be stopped one-on-one. Nobody even begins to question that
truth. (Not even The Truth… who might otherwise be so inclined.)
This certain knowledge means that the entire team knows that the only
way to stop the superstar – and by extension win the series – is for the
TEAM to stop him. This leads directly to tremendous cohesion on the
defensive end. That clockwork-like mechanism we've seen when the Cs
reach their most sublime level of defensive power comes most easily and
naturally when the team is facing a true superstar. There's no other
way to stop the guy, they all know it, so NO ONE DREAMS of being the
hero, and EVERYONE works within the team framework – so that TOGETHER,
the superstar is stopped. This “forced teamwork” leads to not only the
containment of the superstar, but to all the benefits that the
Cs' inimitable defense brings to this team.
How important are those benefits? Well, as Doc and KG like to say – defense
is who they are. So those benefits are CRITICALLY important.
Defensive cohesion = wins for this team.
Now what's happening in these playoffs in light of all this?
As it turned out, the Heat are the MOST superstar-centric team in the
NBA. Therefore, we could expect the Celtics to be best suited for
beating them. And they were. There could not have been a more
perfect 1st-round opponent for the Cs to warm up with. Because face
it – while the Cs surely flipped a switch going into the playoffs, they
were NOT ready for prime time in the beginning. They needed to be
well-challenged in order to hone their skills for the later rounds – but
not so challenged that they would actually lose. The Heat were perfect
in that role.
Their next opponent just happened to be (arguably) the SECOND most
superstar-dependent team in the NBA. A lot tougher than the Heat, but
still highly dependent on ONE GUY. The Cs had to learn to TRULY come
together on D to stop Lebron… and they all knew it. And did it. So
again, the Cavs were arguably the perfect 2nd-round opponent for
the Celtics. Just good enough to really challenge them, but not good
enough to beat them.
But now, the Celtics' perfect playoff progression is ended. Now they
must take a quantum leap. (Note: The ideal 3rd-round opponent would have
been the Lakers: an excellent, well-rounded, multi-talented team, but
still superstar-dependent – albeit to a lower extent than the Cavs.)
Orlando does have a superstar at its center, but they are not nearly as
dependent on their guy as the Celtics' previous two opponents. (And
also, Orlando is not as dependent on Howard as the Lakers are on their
Against the Magic, the Celtics will not have the same external push (the
superstar challenge) toward strong team defense that they had playing
the Heat and Cavs, and would have vs. the Lakers. They have to come in knowing
and accepting what needs to be done, in advance. The Celtics match
up well with Orlando, and the series will be a tough one, for
that reason – and because the Magic's inside-outside game is extremely
dangerous, and very hard to defend. The Celtics' defense will be
stretched further playing Orlando than in any other series.
Stretched, but not broken. They can do it… but they must never lose
focus on the team concept of defense, never stop working, never
take their foot off the gas pedal. When they get them down, the Cs must
step on their throats, hard. The Magic and their 3-point shooters are
too dangerous to EVER be toyed with.
The Celts have the best defense in basketball, when they play the way
they know they must. Their problems come when they lose focus. That's
when they lose their way, and sometimes the game. Keep that focus, win
So why have I not even mentioned offense? Because offense will
almost always come one way or the other. The Celtics have so many
weapons that they cannot all misfire at the same time. It happens
(usually when the refs interfere and/or the Cs give up… a la Cavs game
3), but it's rare. So offense will come; guys will step up. No need to
worry about it.
Which brings up a final interesting point. Of the teams left in the
playoffs, two have clear superstars (Lakers and Magic), and two do not
(Celtics and Suns). I'm hoping the Lakers come out of the West, because
I'd rather face a superstar team than one whose talents come at you from
many directions at once. (And besides, the Cs have LA's number.)
Of course, the opposite logic should also apply. The Lakers and Magic
should worry about having to face the Suns and Celtics… for the same
reason. But I doubt they know that. Or believe it.