A Word of Warning: Do Not Pretend This is Last Year's Celtics
Written by Philip Rossman-Reich on .
Boston defeated Cleveland on Friday to send the team with the NBA's best record home before the NBA Finals for the second straight season. Many questions will surround the Cavaliers and the future of a certain superstar. Meanwhile the Celtics will move on to face the Magic.
Looks like Orlando will not be waiting another week to play basketball game. Game One is Sunday at 3:30 p.m. at Amway Arena.
Things have been easy for the Magic so far this postseason. They met little resistance from the Bobcats and the Hawks in two four-game sweeps to get to the Conference Finals. The Celtis will prove to be a much bigger speed bump.
Forget everything that you may already know about Boston. This is a different team from the one from last year and the one from the regular season. Everyone knows the Playoffs are a completely different animal. And, outside the Magic, the Celtics are probably playing the best of any team in the league.
The obvious difference between this year and last year is Kevin Garnett. Garnett makes Boston go as the emotional leader of the team. Rajon Rondo has also matured more and has come into his own maybe the best all-around player on the team. He has certainly entered the conversation of Best Point Guard in the NBA with his playoff performance.
Almost everyone can admit the Boston-Orlando series would have been much different if Garnett had not been injured and was in a uniform rather than a suit for that series. Most would say the Celtics would have won after they pushed the eventual Eastern Conference champions to seven games before bowing out. Not to take any credit away from what last year's team did, but it is an asterisk that will be noted until we all forget it.
Garnett is more than healthy now and is playing at a very high level. He is protecting the basket and shooting his mid-range jumper to pull out the opponent's power forward (that strategy changes with Rashard Lewis on the floor against him).
More than that, Garnett, Doc Rivers, Paul Pierce and Rondo have this team playing at a championship level. If last year's postseason was a wash because of Garnett's injury, then this is Boston's title defense from 2008.
The Celtics seem to be viewing it that way and looking to prove to the NBA that they are not over the hill. Much like Orlando last year, Boston is playing with a chip on its shoulder and as if the team has been disrespected. And like the Magic last year, they have every right to believe that.
Throughout this season, Boston was told the team was too old and was breaking down. Garnett had his share of injuries throughout the season. Rasheed Wallace looked slower and was ineffective after coming over in free agency this summer. The bench has been up and down all season.
A dominant five-game series win over the Heat in the first round and this upset with the Cavaliers have shown without a doubt the Celtics are still title contenders -- and like everyone else, sits eight games from realizing that dream.
That is why you must forget everything that has happened between these two teams in the last year.
This is not to say we cannot learn anything from the previous matchups. We know Dwight Howard had problems against Kendrick Perkins in last year's postseason, but played better against him as Orlando took the season series 3-1 (including winning both games in Boston). We know both teams play tough defense against each other leading to shockingly low score (see the Christmas Day game).
What we don't know is how Playoff Magic play Playoff Celtics.
Orlando is playing at the highest level it has all season, motivated by last year's missed opportunity in the Finals. Boston is playing its best since winning the championship in 2008 and still believes it can win a second title in three years. Both teams are playing extremely well and both teams know how to win in the Playoffs. This feels like the kind of series where, like in last year's series, it will come down to pure execution and perhaps dumb luck.
This will not be a series for the faint of heart.