Who would have predicted before the season that these two teams would be meeting for a spot in the NBA Finals? The Nets, led by Jason Kidd, are making their first appearance in the Eastern finals. The Celtics, led by Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker, are here for the first time since 1988. Both teams play defense and rebound, but they differ in offensive philosophy. The Nets love to get in transition, while the Celtics often live and die by the 3-point shot. Both teams are 7-3 in the postseason after surviving hard-fought opening-round series. The Nets have home-court advantage, but Boston has yet to lose at Fleet Center this postseason. Kidd is on a mission, but the Celtics appear to have more weapons.
The Nets will win if...
They can push the tempo and get Kidd in the open court where he can do the most damage. To do this, the Nets will need to make stops and control the defensive boards. Kenyon Martin, Keith Van Horn and Todd MacCulloch must be able to get out on Boston’s 3-point shooters while still getting back to hit the glass. It also would help if Martin and rookie Richard Jefferson could slow Paul Pierce (37.0 points, 8.8 rebounds vs. Nets during season series) without having to bring help. On offense, MacCulloch or Aaron Williams must provide some kind of low post threat to make Boston pay for going small. Also, with Boston packing it in to shut off Kidd’s penetration, Van Horn and Kerry Kittles should get plenty of open looks. They need to knock them down.
The Celtics will win if...
Rodney Rogers or Tony Delk can provide the third scorer they need on a game-to-game basis. With Pierce and Walker, the Celtics boast a lethal 1-2 punch. Against the Nets’ balanced attack, however, it is imperative that somebody else, most likely Rogers or Delk, chip in with 15-20 points. Boston will try to go small, spreading the court and forcing the Nets big men to come out and guard them. The strategy worked during the season, as the Nets shot 40 percent from downtown in winning three games. On defense, veteran assistant Dick Harter will devise a scheme to slow Kidd. Kenny Anderson will need to stay in front of him and keep him off the backboards as much as possible.
Boston ranked third in the NBA in opponents’ field goal percentage (42.5 percent), behind only the Lakers and Heat. The Nets ranked sixth (42.9 percent).
Did you know?
No matter which team prevails, it will mark the first time since the league went to a 16-team playoff format in 1983 that a team reached the Finals without having made the playoffs the previous year.
|Prediction: Celtics in 6