For our playoff edition of the True Hoop blogger interview, I asked Hayes Davenport, Brian Robb, Ryan DeGama, and Mike Salvucci of Celtics Hub about the Boston/New York matchup. Many thanks to Jafa, SangaD, and Trenton Tuckah for suggesting questions, three of which you’ll find answered below. If you guys can think of any questions you’d like to ask Celtics Hub about the first few games, let me know here or in the game thread and I’ll pick a few to pass along. Here’s to a great series.
KnickerBlogger: Are you concerned by how the Celtics finished the season? How would you compare it to how they finished last year?
More likely, though, the Celtics have experienced a major loss of confidence thanks to the Perkins trade, when really what they’re mistaking for lack of ability is probably just lack of familiarity. The Knicks series could actually be big for the C’s in this regard. Not that New York is a pushover by any means, but if the Celtics can come out and thump the Knicks in what will probably be a bunch of very loud games, they’re going to get the ego boost they absolutely require to get anywhere in the later rounds. -Hayes Davenport
KB: What do you think is the biggest matchup in this series?
Celtics Hub: The biggest matchup has to be Rondo/Billups. Pierce/Melo and STAT/KG may have more star power behind theirs, but neither of those should be a major mismatch for either side. On paper though, Rondo should have a major edge on Billups who is at the tail end of a very successful career. With that being said Billups is the kind of guy that could frustrate Rondo using his experience and bigger body. If Rondo’s isn’t fully engaged and Billups is a factor than they have a shot, but to me, this matchup sets the tone for the series and everyone else on the floor. – Brian Robb
KB (from Jafa): Of the Big 4, who really needs to play well for the Celtics to win this series? Can they win with Rondo in a funk or Allen not making his jumpers?
Celtics Hub: Boston could survive an underperformance from Ray Allen as long as Rondo is taking apart the Knicks’ perimeter and transition D and Paul Pierce is attacking the basket instead of settling for jumpers. Unfortunately for New York fans, there’s not a lot of comfort to be found in Boston’s recent offensive problems. New York’s defense is penetratable (I just made that word up) enough to cure that particular ill. –Ryan DeGama
KB (From SangaD): Do Celtics fans think this unit has a few more championships in them, or are they preparing for a rebuilding era? When do you think the rebuilding will begin?
Celtics Hub: Based on the reaction most Celtics fans had to the Perkins trade, I think most of them do believe the Celtics have the ability to make a championship run this season. Or at least had the ability. As we discovered shortly after the deal was made, the Celtics were not going to be able to sign Perkins to a long-term contract when he became a free-agent this summer. That reality, combined with the fact that the Celtics needed to upgrade their bench, is what caused Danny Ainge to make the trade. Celtics fans were angry because the deal seemingly decreased the team’s chances at an NBA title this season, as it broke up that five-man starting unit that everyone had so much confidence in.
In general, Celtics fans don’t really care about the future right now. In most people’s eyes, this team has two more chances at a championship, and then the window closes. Pierce will be a lifelong Celtic, but in all likelihood, Garnett and Allen will leave the team after the 2012 season. Celtics fans know that a rebuilding era is inevitable, but I don’t think that process will truly begin until after 2012. Sure, Ainge is probably thinking about it already, and this summer I would expect him to invest in some youth as opposed to trying to convince some veterans to come play for Boston. But after falling short in Game 7 against the Lakers last season, this Celtics team still has the potential to make a championship run. Getting back to the Finals is the only thing Celtics fans are concerned about right now. – Mike Salvucci
KB (from Trenton Tuckah): How much has the Perkins trade had to do with the Celtics recent struggles? Do you think Jeff Green will justify the trade with his playoff performance?
Celtics Hub: If you drill down into the late-season numbers, you’ll find the Boston defense remained elite even after the Perkins trade. The team’s problems down the stretch were related to a wildly underperforming offense, which staggered to a 17th overall finish in efficiency. There are a couple reasons for that, including Doc Rivers’ need to integrate almost half a team’s worth of new players into a complex offensive system (you’ll note Doc gutted half his playbook on the eve of the playoffs) and a hectic schedule filled with back-to-back games, which led to a series of dead-leg starts and exhausted fourth quarter fades.
But more than anything, Boston’s offense fell apart because the big four played poorly. That’s it. I still think that’s more about lingering injuries and the guys deliberately pacing themselves than any sense of ennui they felt over Perkins’ departure.
That noted, Green has not impressed so far. He’s a weak-to-awful rebounder, a below-average long-range shooter, and because of either temperament or deference, he can go unnoticed for long stretches on the offensive end of the court. And he can’t guard the power forward position (unless, say, the Knicks go small with Amare at the 5-spot).
What he can do is keep Pierce’s legs fresh when #34 is trying to guard elite wing scorers like Melo. Green will be counted on to play a pseudo-James Posey/Tony Allen role off the bench and score a bit in transition and in the post. It remains to be seen whether he’s up to the task. -RD
KB: Your prediction. Who wins, how many games, and why? Do you think the Knicks have a chance to steal the series?
Celtics Hub: Celtics in five in a series that is a lot closer than that number indicates. Still, I go with five, because Boston is nearly unbeatable at home, (they lost to just one Eastern Conference team at TD Garden all year) and they have thrived on the attention in MSG this year, enough so where I trust them to steal either Game 3 or 4. With that said, the Knicks easily has a shot. The Knicks have the weapons and offensive system that allows them to put up points and with the C’s so prone to offensive slumps in the past couple months, things could snowball in a hurry for Boston if they can’t solve a below-average New York defense. That’s certainly possible, but I’m not counting on it. – BR