John Carroll, Scouts Inc.
Whether the Celtics want to hear this or not they will be judged by how they do in the playoffs. If they lose in the first round their critics will say I told you they were old, inconsistent and done. If they can win a round or two and get to the Eastern Conference Finals then it will be written that when it was playoff time they came together, got healthy, and went back to playing Celtic basketball.
If Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are healthy and this team decides to become the defensive force they were two years ago, they have a chance. In addition, if Rasheed Wallace can have a positive turnaround and provide the Celtics with a veteran who can defend and score, the C’s can make some noise. The problem is those are big ifs.
Offensively, the Celtics have become very predictable and much easier to guard. They have no low-post presence so in order to limit their effectiveness opponents must be able to do three things. (1) Stop Rajon Rondo’s penetration and limit his ability to get to the rim and create. (2) Have someone that is quick enough, long enough, and tough enough to run with Ray Allen and fight through the numerous screens the Celtics set for him. (3) Have a defender that is big enough, strong enough and tough enough to guard Paul Pierce one on one. If you do, then you can play him without a double team and limit his ability to post or back down defenders from the elbow and shoot over them. Teams that can limit the Celtics in these areas will be able to make the Celtics struggle offensively.
Defensively, the Celtics are just not the same team that won the NBA championship two years ago. They do not guard the ball one on one, their help defense is not right, and teams get the ball to the paint and rim way too much. Garnett was the backbone of their defense and since his injuries the Celtics are a shell of the defensive team they used to be. Garnett appears to struggle rotating, helping and protecting the basket. Rondo is able to keep his man in front of him and is a wonderful help and steal guy, but Pierce and Allen are older and slower defensively, thus the Celtics struggle to contain the top flight perimeter players in the league.
The Miami Heat are on a roll entering the playoffs. They are playing their best basketball of the season. In the months of March and April the Heat have gone 18-4 to close out the season. Erik Spoelstra has done an excellent job getting the Heat back to the playoffs because other than Dwyane Wade the Heat have a lot of question marks on their roster. They have not had a true point guard until recently.
They have an aging center in Jermaine O’Neal. And their talented but troubled power forward, Michael Beasley, spent a large part of his summer in rehab.
Wade is a beast and can put his team on his back in a playoff series. If the Heat have any intentions of defeating the Celtics, Wade must elevate his game and his scoring load. He averaged 26.6 ppg during the regular season and the Heat are going to need more.
The Heat will need big-time performances from their veteran frontcourt players in Jermaine O’Neal and Udonis Haslem. O’Neal will need to provide consistent scoring on low-post and pick-and-pop opportunities. Haslem will need to defend Garnett and Wallace and provide rebounding help.
Carlos Arroyo will have to lead the Heat with his fiery personality. He has a very difficult matchup with Rajon Rondo, who has become one of the top point guards in the NBA. Arroyo must contain Rondo and not let him get wherever he wants with the ball. In addition the Heat will need players like Arroyo to make perimeter shots to provide Wade with more room to operate.
Lastly in order for the Heat to defeat the Celtics they need a steady and consistent performance throughout the series from Beasley. Beasley has the talent and skill to help the Heat beat Boston. He is a tough matchup for the injured Garnett and older Rasheed Wallace. He is so skilled and if the switch goes on in this playoff series the Heat could pull off the upset.
Point guard matchup
Rondo was selected to the All-Star team because he has had an unbelievable year for the Celtics. Recently Rajon broke Bob Cousy’s season record for most assists in a season. Rondo who has taken a back seat to the “Big Three” during the past three years has emerged as a top-flight point guard for the C’s. Although everyone wants to talk about Pierce, Garnett and Allen, Rondo has become one of the most
important players on the Celtic roster. With the older players struggling with injuries Rondo has elevated his game and his impact on the Celtic franchise.
Rondo is a big-time athlete, with all the tools to be a successful point guard in the NBA. He has good size, great quickness on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. In addition he has great hands, reaction, and instincts for the ball. Offensively, Rondo puts a lot of pressure on his opponents. He is quick as a cat pushing the ball end to end and can get into the paint at will. He has an excellent handle and can change direction at high speeds. He is a very good passer, with good vision and is also very creative, not afraid to throw an occasional highlight reel pass. Rondo is very unselfish with the ball. He knows his role is to get the ball to scorers Pierce, Garnett, and Allen and play off of them. He also has become a pretty good pick-and-roll player. In addition he can create at the end of the shot clock and make something happen. Rondo may never be known as a 3-point shooter, but he has worked hard at becoming less and less of a liability with his jumper. He made opponents pay more and more last year for sagging or trapping off of him and leaving him wide open for spot-up jumpers.
Rondo’s physical attributes allow him to be a terrific defender. His speed, quickness, strength and overall athleticism have given him all the tools to be a terrific NBA defensive player. Rondo has the lateral quicks to keep almost all of the top players in front of him. He has great hands and anticipation. He gets his hands on a lot of balls: deflections, strips, steals, etc. He has excellent length for a point guard which allows him to defend and contest all shots. He's also a good rebounder for a point guard.
For the Heat, Arroyo took over the starting point guard position recently and it has keyed the team's recent turnaround. The Heat will need the leadership that Arroyo brings to the court in order to win a first round playoff series. Arroyo brings a certain swagger and confidence. He is a fiery player who is not afraid to stand up to Dwyane Wade and the other veterans on the Miami roster. He understands the balance between being aggressive and pushing the ball down the court and slowing it down when necessary.
Arroyo takes care of the ball and has a tremendous assist to turnover ration. He is a scoring point guard. He can push the ball in transition, get into the paint, and create for others. Arroyo is a very good pick-and-roll player. He can come off the picks and put a lot of pressure on opponents. He can hit the open jumper, find the open man or knock down the deep shot if opponents go under on him.
Arroyo has decent athleticism and the Heat are one of the top defensive teams in the NBA. They have a defensive philosophy that works and has been successful. That being said Arroyo will have his work cut out guarding Rondo, who is much quicker, can get wherever he wants with the ball and can cause havoc on the court. Rondo’s ability to get to the paint and create for himself and others is a big key in this series. Arroyo must come up big on the defensive end and contain and limit Rondo.
Shooting guard matchup
Ray Allen may be the best pure shooter in the NBA. His ability to stroke the perimeter shot puts a lot of pressure on opponents playing alongside Pierce, Rondo and a healthy Garnett. With the trade of Eddie House, Allen is the only true knock-down shooter the Celtics have on their roster. Allen is the consummate veteran. He brings composure and solid leadership to the C’s.
Allen has been a tremendous shooter during his career. He has deep 3-point range and can hurt you in transition with a spot-up or pull-up jumper, or in the half court running off screens and creating space for himself to pull his shot. He has one of the quickest triggers in the league, in addition to having excellent elevation on his jumper. If you are late defending him off a screen, or getting to him in a rotation he will already be into his shot. Allen also has a pretty good handle for a scoring guard. He will utilize his handle on the break, or to run offense in the half court, but he does not over dribble or attempt to create much offense off the bounce. He is a pure catch and shoot player and will only use 1-2 tight and precise dribbles versus closeouts, etc.
Allen has never been known to be a defensive stopper. However during his time with the Celtics he has really worked at that phase of his game. He has taken on the challenge of guarding some of the best scoring guards in the NBA and held his own. He has the tools to be an excellent defender but lacks the overall toughness needed to be a high-level stopper.
Wade is one of the best scoring guards in the NBA. He is the perfect combination of strength, athleticism and incredible skill. He plays with tremendous confidence and is very hard to guard. He has a great first step and excellent footwork in his one on one game. He will take and make tough shots. Wade can shoot off balance, with great body control and is strong enough to finish very difficult shots. He gets to the paint, shoots it with either hand, gets to rim, draws contact and finishes. He is explosive around the rim. He loves contact and actually creates it at times.
Wade has good handle for a scoring guard. He can really get his opponents on their heels and then exploit them with a crossover or hesitation dribble into a pull-up jumper or drive to the rim. He can score in so many ways: fast break attacking the rim, midrange pull up game, pick and roll, one on one isolation. He can shoot the ball very well, although he is not a high volume 3-point shooter. He has excellent form and technique on his shot.
Wade is a top-notch defender. He has the body, strength and athleticism to guard anyone on the perimeter. He is a high deflection guy who has great defensive instincts and hands. The Heat need him to do so much offensively that it is hard for him to score, play high minutes and guard the other team's best player every night. However in the playoffs at crunch time this guy is one of the best defenders of his position in the league
Small forward matchup
Paul Pierce has had a tremendous career with the Boston Celtics and he has been one of the most durable players in the NBA. Unfortunately for Pierce this was the first time in his career where he has had to deal with injuries. As we approach the playoffs it is imperative that Pierce is healthy and playing at 100% in order for the Celtics to win in the playoffs. Pierce has a great basketball body. Although not the most athletic of all players in the league, he is built to be a rugged, scoring wing player. He is much stronger than 90% of those people that attempt to guard him. He has a powerful upper torso and he is fearless taking the ball to the rim, where he can take a hit, and finish, or get to the free throw line.
He is a scorer and one of the most difficult matchups in the NBA, because if you do not have a player who can match-up with him physically your team will usually lose. He abuses certain players that match-up with him because they cannot defend certain parts of his game. He can shoot the 3 ball, take you off the dribble and make the midrange shot, take opponents off 1-2 dribbles and get to the rim, and he can post/iso smaller matchups. The best attribute about Pierce is that he has never been afraid to take big shots late in the game.
Pierce has shown that he can guard some of the best one-on-one players in the league when he puts his mind to it. In addition he understands and can play great team defense as well. Pierce has always been a great rebounder for his position. There are plenty of nights where he will go out and get his team double digit rebounds.
Quentin Richardson has been injured quite a bit during his career but he has had a resurgence this season playing for the Heat. He has lost weight and looks to be in the best shape of his career. Richardson has averaged almost 9 points per game while playing 27.4 mpg.
Richardson is a strong, athletic wing player with deep 3-point range. He is a spot-up shooter with limited ability to create off the dribble. He is much more comfortable shooting off the catch, pulling up or driving in a straight line to the basket. Richardson was known as a dominating post-up guard early in his career, but his flexibility and weight issues have limited his usefulness down low. He prefers to turn over his left shoulder in the low post and uses his body well to protect the ball. He also can shoot the fadeaway shot in the low post. He follows his shots, and is looked on as an active offensive rebounder. He's an excellent rebounder at both ends of the floor for a guard.
Richardson also brings a sense of toughness to the Heat. He fits right in to the Heat's defensive philosophy. Richardson takes pride in guarding his own man, and will hold others accountable to do the same.
He takes great pride in defending the opposing team's best wing players and is almost impossible to post up due to his strength. He is a passionate player who doesn't back down from any opponent. He is an excellent rebounder at both ends of the floor for a guard.
Power forward matchup
Kevin Garnett has been one of my favorite players over his career and his impact and contribution to the Celtics over the first year and half he has been with the team has been incredible. However, since his injuries his production as a player has been compromised. Garnett was the MVP of the Celtics' championship run. He singlehandedly changed the culture of the Celtics franchise. His intensity and passion is what helped make the Celtics the premier defensive team in the NBA and he was the anchor of that defense. But he is obviously not the same player he was and it has affected the Celtics' ability to win on a consistent basis. Garnett’s will to win is what separates him from the other great players in the NBA and with his injuries his ability to impact the Celtics in the same manner that he did two years ago has been negated.
Garnett is such an impressive basketball player because he can run, shoot, pass, and defend. In addition he is the epitome of an unselfish player. When healthy, Garnett can run the floor like a deer and put a lot of pressure on opponents to keep up. He is a terrific shooter with excellent range. Garnett can stretch defenses with his 17-to-21 foot range. He is a big-time pick-and-pop player. He makes the defenses pay when they do not rotate back to him quick enough. Garnett is an excellent passer both on the perimeter and in the post. He is a totally unselfish offensive player, sometimes to a fault. He gets as much pleasure showing off his passing skills as he does scoring. He has great vision.
Garnett is a coach’s dream at the defensive end of the floor. He may be the best frontcourt defender in the entire NBA. If he can get back to being 80-90% of what he was I still give the Celtics a shot at getting back to the Eastern Finals. Garnett has shown glimpses of what he used to be but he will have to perform at a much higher level and a much more consistent level in the playoffs for the Celtics to win. He means that much to their success.
Michael Beasley is one of the most talented big men in the NBA. He has been NBA ready for a long time. He has skills that some guards do not have. Beasley has a perfect body for a power forward. At 6-10 and 235 pounds, he has the strength, length and athleticism necessary to be an impact player in the NBA. Beasley averaged 14.7 ppg and 6.3 rpg while on the court for 29.8 mpg.
Beasley is a scoring machine. He makes it look so effortless because of his talents and skill set. This left-hander has all the moves and all the shots. He can score inside in the post or step out and extend the defense with his perimeter shot. And if the situation calls for it he can rip the ball by his defenders and get to the rim and finish.
Beasley’s problems are that he has trouble focusing, being consistent and playing hard every night and every possession. He has had a hard time understanding the importance of defense, either guarding his man one on one or playing great team defense. All of these issues will be exposed in the playoffs. The Heat need Beasley to play consistent at both ends of the floor in order to have any chance versus the Celtics.
Kendrick Perkins is one of the most improved players in the NBA. His biggest problem when he entered the NBA was his weight and lack of conditioning. However through hard work Perk has made himself into a very good NBA center. He proved how valuable he was during the team's run to an NBA championship two years ago.
Perkins is a big, strong, powerful player who is not afraid to mix it up inside. He is not afraid to give or take a foul. In fact he loves to initiate contact. Unfortunately he has always been foul prone, makes some questionable decisions, and in his mind has never committed a foul.
Perkins is strictly an offensive role player, who takes whatever scraps he can get. With Pierce, Allen, Rondo and Garnett doing the bulk of the scoring he gets himself points by playing off of those four guys. Teams must make calculated decisions regarding how they are going to play the other Celtics and Perkins is the recipient of a lot points because of helping off of him. He can catch and finish around the rim, knock down an occasional short jumper, and will bang the offensive glass for stick backs.
Perkins' real value for the Celtics is that he allows Garnett to play the power forward position for the start of the game. Perkins match-ups with all of the powerful bigs and keeps Garnett out of early foul trouble. He works hard in the post, is extremely physical, and fearless. He has excellent length and is a decent shot-blocker, keeping the rim protected. He still has problems when he must come away from the basket, because his lack of quickness and foot speed cause him problems in rotations and pick-and-roll coverages. This coupled with his overaggressiveness on the interior cause him to get into foul trouble. Perkins is a good rebounder, he will block out and go get the ball with a presence.
Jermaine O’Neal is a talented big man who can post and score in the paint or step up the lane and make the face-up jump shot. He has provided the Heat with a reliable inside offensive presence. The Heat look for him to catch the ball in the low post and score. If doubled they know how to space the floor and make opponents pay. O’Neal has been banged up at times throughout his career but when he is healthy, he is very good at running the floor, getting to the front of the rim, getting deep post ups in the paint and scoring.
O'Neal is also a very good face-up shooter to 18 feet but he can also put the ball on the floor. While primarily a left-hand driver, he is very strong and has terrific footwork with a variety of spin moves and step through moves. He will bring it to defenders, not shy away. Although his scoring has declined over the last several years he can still put up numbers if he gets enough touches in the post.
He has never been a big-time defender, but he has been adequate. He is very long and athletic which has helped him defend one on one in the post. He has the lateral quickness to be able to be a good defender, especially when he has to come away from the basket and defend pick and rolls. The Heat will need him to play big in their series with the Celtics in order to have a chance to advance. He has always been a very good rebounder and teams must be careful taking the ball to the rim because of his shot-blocking capabilities.
Rasheed Wallace was the biggest pickup the Celtics made in the offseason. On paper he looked like the guy who could provide the team with an inside-out presence offensively and give them a veteran who understands how to defend and rebound at a high level. Unfortunately that is not what the Celtics got from him this season. He has been incredibly inconsistent, looks out of shape, bored, and has underachieved. He has not played at the level necessary to help the Celtics get back to the NBA Finals.
When Sheed is right, he is one of the most talented power forwards to have ever played the game. He has tremendous skill; there are not many power forwards who can post up, shoot the 3, defend and rebound like he does. He is a very difficult matchup for any opponent. Sheed is tall, long and strong. He is one of the best inside-out players in the league.
Wallace is one of the best low-post players in the NBA. When he gets the ball down low, Sheed has all the moves. He can utilize his turnaround jumper, or he will back down for the jump hook. With his length and physical nature he is very hard to guard in the post. He has a high release point on his jumper and it is unstoppable in the post. Many people feel that if he would go down into the low post more often, instead of hanging out on the perimeter he would be unstoppable and the Celtics would be a more effective team.
Wallace really stretches the defense because he can step out and shoot the 3 pt shot. He has been tremendous during his career shooting the pick-and-pop jump shot. He also has always been a good offensive rebounder.
When Wallace puts his mind to it, he is a good one on one defender and an unbelievable team defender. He has tremendous defensive basketball IQ. He is alert, and knows when and how to rotate to cover up for his teammates. He has extremely quick reactions for a big man. Guards all of the best post players in the NBA one on one and does not want any help at all. It is an ego thing with him that he can guard. Sheed is very physical in the post, will bang and not let his man get deep post position. He's also an excellent rebounder -- he's not a big-time jumper but he boxes out and goes and gets the ball in his space.
Wallace is more than capable of flipping the switch during the playoffs and being a positive factor for the Celtics. They need him to play at a much higher level and much more consistent if they expect to advance past the first round. If he can defend, rebound and provide them with consistent scoring the Celtics will be a much tougher out.
Udonis Haslem is a player who has utilized a tremendous work ethic coupled with a very cerebral approach during his NBA career. He is a very solid player, that the Heat count on to defend, rebound, and bring interior toughness to the Heat frontcourt. At 6-8 Haslem is not very big for that position but he makes up for his lack of height with tremendous toughness. Haslem has consistently outworked his opponents on a night in and night out basis during his time in the NBA.
Udonis is a complementary role player and has been the fifth wheel offensively for much of his career with the Heat. He gets his scoring opportunities after the Heat have exhausted their options with their primary scoring threats Wade, Beasley, O’Neal. He gets most of his shot attempts off of spot-up shooting opportunities. In addition he will work hard to get on the glass for offensive rebounds and stick-back opportunities. Udonis has worked diligently on his perimeter stroke and has become a consistent standstill 17-foot shooter. He can knock down the open shot when defenses help on drives or sag off to help or double in the post. Haslem does not force his offensive game thus he has very good shot selection. In the paint and around the basket Haslem is able to use his body extremely well and is very good at being able to draw contact, finish or get fouled. Haslem is relentless on the offensive glass. He is not a great athlete with big-time hops but he is smart, reads angles, and tries to outwork his opponents on the boards.
Haslem is a solid, reliable defender who works hard at that end of the floor. He works extremely hard to guard his man one on one in the post or if he steps out on the perimeter. He has the foot speed to help in the half court and recover. He is an excellent pick-and-roll defender, able to get out and help or double the dribbler and sprint back into the paint. He really understands team defensive concepts from the big forward position and does a great job of helping and plugging up the middle. In addition he understands how to show up on screens and help his perimeter teammates and post teammates.
Prediction: Celtics in seven