Posted by: Nate | April 30, 2008

NBA First Round: Celtics vs. Hawks – Should We Be Worried?

[Note: I added a couple of pictures from Opening Day at Fenway to that post if you want to check those out.]

After losing another close game to the Atlanta Hawks, many people are starting to get a little worried about the Celtics and the 2008 playoffs. In typical Boston fashion, all the pundits and talk shows are harping on the fact that the Celtics now have to play a minimum of 6 games in the first round to advance, and at this point look like possible candidates to get upset. The questions that beg to be asked are: Should we be worried? And why have we looked so terrible as of late?

To answer the first question, you should not be worried about this Hawks series. Boston has the superior team, evidenced by innumerable factors including regular season record, experience, talent, depth and a host of other factors. We will win this series, although it is apparently going to be done the ugly way at this point. Should we be worried about the playoffs as a whole though? I would say so, seeing as how the last two games have been near reversals of the mode of Celtics play throughout the season.

For instance, on many occasions this season Tony Allen was used as a defensive stopper on the strong offensive options from the opposing team. If you remember, Doc Rivers put Tony on Chauncey Billups with time winding down and the score tied (this was the teams’ Dec. 19th meeting in Boston). Allen fouled Billups, who hit both free throws with .1 seconds remaining to seal the win, but afterwards Rivers backed up Allen and commended him on his defense. Why then, when Ray Allen was getting torched by Joe Johnson in game 4, did Tony Allen remain sitting on the bench? If his defense is good enough to put on a star player like Billups with the game on the line, why not do it again and try to slow Johnson down? Granted, that particular example ended in a Celtics loss, but the situation was repeated many times, plus we were already losing! Johnson scored 20 points – IN THE FOURTH QUARTER! It isn’t like Ray was slowing him down at all.

Moves like this are a source of the problems we have seen exposed in the last two games. Ray Allen cannot defend very well against quicker players like Johnson, and he got exposed. I know Ray is a great perimeter shooter, but why not bring in Tony for some defense and look to players like Garnett and Pierce to shoulder to offensive load down the stretch, like great players should? It’s inexcusable that Tony Allen didn’t see a minute of playing time down the stretch and it’s a typical Doc Rivers maneuver – tighten up in the playoffs.

This is the same guy who was coaching the Magic in 2003 when they coughed up a 3-1 series lead to the Pistons and has a history of jerking guys around in the rotation. Why is it that we spent the entire regular season establishing a solid rotation, developing roles for the players on the team, and then come playoffs we totally abandon that strategy? It isn’t like it was ineffective in winning us 66 games this year, so I just don’t see why it is happening now. Granted, I was absolutely shocked that Rivers even had a job after last season’s stink bomb, and so it should come as no surprise that he is completely overmatched now that we are in the playoffs. His panic-stricken, tight coaching has spread to the players, as many of the guys have looked tense and on edge during this series leading to a lot of careless mistakes. And no, it isn’t because they are afraid of or intimidated by Zaza Pachulia.

A return to The Garden tonight should be a needed boost for the team, and let’s hope someone sits down with Rivers and explains to him how it is they managed to win 66 games so he calms down a bit and stops contaminating this talented team with his incompetence. Let Thibodeau handle the defense, make appropriate substitutions that resemble a rotation, and let the talent do the talking. A loose, efficiently operating Celtics team is very dangerous and it would be a shame for Rivers to screw that up by panicking.

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