|SI.com's NBA Enemy Lines|
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Celtics|
I have them winning the whole thing. They have a couple of question marks -- one is age, and the other is having no backup for Rajon Rondo. But their starting five is the best in the league, and keeping assistant coach Tom Thibodeau was good as far as maintaining that defensive presence.
Rondo is absolutely critical to everything they do. I don't like Eddie House or Ray Allen having to fill in for him at the point, but Rondo is young enough that he can play significant minutes. He had a rough offseason with all of the rumors that they were looking to trade him, but I don't believe it will influence their season. The coaches and players will do such a good job making him believe he's part of their leadership. It would be very helpful for them if the talks on a new contract for him would make some progress, but once the ball goes up, he's going to be playing as hard as he can because of the people around him and the opportunity he knows he has.
At the same time, I do think he's a kid who has an ego -- that's one reason he's so good -- and he has to be hurt by the speculation because he has done a lot for the franchise. There's no doubt he's one of the premier point guards in the league. He can run a half-court offense, he can get the ball into the paint at will and he's become a much better finisher. He's a pass-first point guard who will play within his limitations when he doesn't have the ball. Defensively, he's at his best on the ball; when he's off the ball, he's a bit like Allen Iverson in that he gets a lot of deflections, but he also takes too many risks that let down his teammates because he isn't where he's supposed to be. On the ball, when he wants to be, he's a monster.
So I look at Rondo and say, 'Why wouldn't they want to sign him up to a new contract?' He's a huge building block, he knows the system, why not lock him up? But there does seem to be something that makes them hesitate, something about him they don't like. Maybe they call a play and he does his own thing too often, or maybe he doesn't listen to his teammates. But in the big picture, when that ball goes up, he's a tiger. He doesn't want to come out of the game, he does the dirty work, he pushes the ball and gets it to people. He's a very unselfish passer who doesn't have to overdribble before he makes the pass. I love the way he plays.
Their Big Three will realize that if they're going to win again, this is the year. For one thing, Allen is 34 and in the final year of his contract. I don't think he can play heavy minutes -- 30 would be a good number for him -- but he's so impressive the way he takes such good care of his body. He's just so disciplined in everything he does. He's a great example of how a high-volume shooter can be a huge asset late in his career by taking care of his body and legs. I also think their division is so weak that they'll be able to blow out a lot of teams and give Ray and the other guys extra rest.
Doc Rivers will make sure to limit their minutes. They're capable of winning more than 60 games, but I don't think that's as important to them as managing the minutes going into the playoffs.
Here is how I look at how tough Paul Pierce is and the way teams prepare against him. A guy as good as Allen is, they focus on stopping him at the end of the quarter and the end of the game. But all game long -- especially when Kevin Garnett went down last February -- the defenses were all over Pierce all the time. He did a good job of realizing that he wasn't shooting well enough when they were all over him, so he was going to try to get something done going to the basket. He used to be a reluctant passer but now he's totally bought into moving the ball. His defense is better, too. He belongs up there in the history of the Celtics with the John Havliceks and the Tom Heinsohns. He's already one of the all-time leading scorers in the history of the franchise, and in terms of his minutes played and durability, he's been tremendous.
I expect Garnett to come back strong. He knows -- they all know it -- that this is the year. They're all getting older and who knows how the economy and the whole lockout business are going to affect the league after this year. If you're asking if the time off last season will rejuvenate Garnett, my answer is no, because they don't need to be "rejuvenated." That kind of stuff doesn't apply to them. These guys are pros. They're going to feed off each other because winning is so important to them. They know they're good enough to win it, and they'll know they're on the timetable because of Father Time and so they'll play with a sense of urgency. For Garnett, that means he'll again be a full-of-energy leader at the defensive end. Offensively he isn't a dominant force anymore, but that isn't where he matters nearly as much as what he brings at the defensive end.
A lot of people called the signing of Rasheed Wallace a home run, but to me the real home run was getting Marquis Daniels at such a cheap price [$1.99 million]. He'll play both ends at both of the wing positions. I know he's been undisciplined, but the Celtics will help him there. He can be a scoring machine if the Celtics can keep him within the system, which I think they'll do. Thibodeau is going to love having him. On the ball he's a good defender, though he loses his focus when he's off the ball. That's an area where he'll need to be coached. He's not a shooter but on this team they'll always have one or more shooters on the floor with him. They can play him as a second guard helping to bring the ball up against pressure alongside House, because a wing man is not going to be able to take the ball away from Daniels.
I view Rasheed as their X factor, because he can blow up and be a pain in the butt, obviously. He didn't take charge last year with Detroit. They had good talent on that team, and I know the coaching was terrible, but he could've taken charge there, and when he didn't, that raised a flag for me. But if the change of environment and playing with Garnett and the chance at winning a championship brings out the best in him, then he obviously brings a lot of good things. He can shoot the ball, he knows how to play and he has good basketball intelligence. He reads defenses very well, and when he's playing against someone big and strong and he's getting manhandled because of his age, Rasheed will be able to step out to the three-point line and stretch the defenses that way. The bottom line is that this move will work out for them because he'll want to win another ring and this is his last chance.
The offensive versatility of Garnett and Wallace brings up the possibility of playing both of them alongside Kendrick Perkins at center. But I doubt we'll see much of that -- only in certain situations depending on what the opponent is doing. That lineup can't run, and who is going to match up out on the wing?
If it's a tight game, will it be Rasheed on the floor in the final five minutes or will it be Perkins? I think it will be Perkins because of his defense down low. If they find themselves in a situation against Shaquille O'Neal where they need a pick-and-pop big man to pull Shaq away from the basket, then I can see Rasheed being a nice option to have. But Perkins is too good defensively to not be on the floor, and he's a low-maintenance offensive player. He's willing to set the pick-and-roll hard and not complain if he doesn't get the ball. Offensively he's much more confident. He'll go hard to the defensive glass, and you need that type of player out there. Perkins is a contact defender who does his work early. When a guy runs the lane, Perkins doesn't wait for him to get to the block; he's out there bumping him all the way down the lane to the block. He runs hard, plays hard, he's a low-maintenance gem. There used to be a lot of guys like him in the league.
Re-signing Glen Davis was a good thing because of the playoff experience he has built up. Shelden Williams isn't going to help as much; he's a big body to absorb fouls. Then there is Tony Allen, who is unreliable. He doesn't have a good basketball IQ. He'll make the steal but follow it with a stupid foul. You can't put him in comfortably to let the other guys rest. While he's in the game you're hoping he won't do something to screw it all up for you, and that kind of guy doesn't fit in with a team like this.
If Rasheed is healthy, Brian Scalabrine's contributions will be minimal. He's good insurance because he won't embarrass you defensively, he'll be good off the ball and he'll know every position he might ever need to play. It's a no-brainer to throw him in for a three-minute span, but he'll hurt you if he has to play big minutes.
Rivers is an excellent offensive coach who has continued to get better. I've always been impressed with his set plays and how organized he is. Defensively, he's good. Defense is important to him, and yet he doesn't need to be viewed as the coach of the defense, which says a lot about him. He doesn't have to take a backseat to anybody.