And so ends the reign of the Celtics . . .
I can't help but feel a little disappointed. There were so many reasons to want the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals: The inflated media hype they generate, the cliche' "team of destiny" storylines that would've inevitably developed, the fact that they're completely finished and would've probably been pounded by the Cavs in 5 games, the revenge factor associated with embarrassing an aging and decimated Celtics team . . . It would've been a lot of fun.
With that said, I guess I can appreciate the silver lining in the Celtics' defeat: This was absolutely the end for them. Garnett may come back but he's never going to be the defensive enforcer that he used to be. Paul Pierce has crested the hill and is rapidly crashing back toward earth. Did you see him trying to take guys off the dribble in these playoffs? He looked like he was running in sand the entire time. Ray Allen? Entering the Reggie Miller "I can only contribute on a great team that can create wide open looks for me" phase of his career. The Celtics are done . . . for a while. Of course, when their cap situation improves, they are bound to land a marquee free agent or two. Players are always going to want to play in Boston. It's a decent town that gets a ton of media attention and the Celtics have a fantastic basketball tradition. But before the Celtics rebuild, they're going to have to pay the bill for the Championship they (along with Kevin McHale) won last year.
Another silver lining from the Celtics' failure: With Garnett going down, Glen Davis got to show just enough for someone (hopefully the Celtics) to wildly overpay for him this Summer. As a Cavs fan, you have to appreciate that. Sure, we may have our own bill coming due with Varejao but at least he's a legit 6'11 and can play center when called upon. The Celtics are genuinely screwed. Seriously, they're probably a 50-55 win team next year. It's our time now.
Bring On Orlando:
Before I can start breaking down the Magic as a team, I have to address a major subplot to this upcoming series that the networks are sure to miss. You may not have known this but Magic Center Dwight Howard has a real thing for porn stars; and not just any porn stars. He likes porn stars that poop in hot tubs. The sight of a floater cruising along in a steaming whirlpool really turns him on. Don't believe me? Follow the link below:
-Howard invited his porn star friend to a Magic game but insulted her by giving her crappy tickets.
-The object of Howard's affection seems to enjoy defecating and menstruating in hot tubs.
-Howard cornered Ms. Carey in a bathroom and whipped it out.
-Howard is a devout Christian.
You stay classy Superman.
Ok, so I've been waiting to post that for about, oh, I don't know, two years. Now that I've gotten it out of my system, lets talk basketball. Just for fun, we'll break down this matchup Terry Pluto style:
Can the Magic beat the Cavs?
Yes. Orlando is extremely dangerous but very little of that has to do with Dwight Howard. Howard may be able to protect the rim and hammer the glass but there's only so much damage he can do by himself. Rather, it's Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu that really present the problem for the Cavs. Both are 6'10 and can be extremely dangerous from the outside. If one or both of them get hot, there won't be a ton that the Cavs can do about it. When you're giving up that much size on the perimeter, closing out on a shooter will only protect you to a certain degree. The Cavs' defense thrives on packing the paint and making teams beat them with jump shots. Orlando is one of the few teams in the league that can actually win that way (hence the reason they were able to beat the Cavs twice by double-digits this year).
Can the Cavs pound Orlando like they did Detroit and Atlanta?
Yes. Here's the thing about Orlando: They may punch harder than Boston, and they may present a greater danger of knocking us down (aka, winning at the Q) but they don't have Boston's jaw. If we hit them hard in the mouth early in the series, they might just hit the canvas for good. This is a team that is a) inexperienced, b) built around the 3-point shot, and c) coached by a guy who is prone to freaking out in big moments. If the Cavs had taken games one and two at the Q against Boston, the Celtics would've come back and fought hard at home. However, if the Cavs really take it to Orlando Wednesday and Friday, the series might be over early. Orlando may have more talent than Boston but they don't have the Celtics' leadership, experience, or intestinal fortitude.
So what's the game plan?
Well, I'm sure with as much time as they've had off, Mike Brown and his staff know exactly how they're going to handle the Magic. If it were me, I'd make it my number one priority to contest EVERYTHING from the outside and take my chances with Howard. If nothing else, the Cavs have enough big men in Z, Varejao, Wallace, and Smith that they can just foul the shit out of him and make him beat them from the line. I'll take my chances with Howard shooting lots of jump hooks and free throws.
The Magic will win if:
They have an absolute lights out shooting night in either games 1 or 2 and steal one from a stunned Cavs team at the Q. Then, they go back home, take advantage of their crowd, and beat a still somewhat bewildered Cavs team twice more to go up 3-1. Then, they come back to Orlando for game 6 and finish it.
The Cavs will win if:
They can keep Orlando from penetrating. It sounds counter intuitive to worry about penetration when you're talking about a team with a dominant center and a bunch of 3-point shooters but realistically, it would be tough for the Cavs to lose 4 times unless they're getting beat off of the dribble. Howard might be good for one Orlando win on his own. Turkoglu and Lewis could win two more with hot shooting nights. Still, I don't see Orlando getting to 4 unless Alston and the other perimeter guys can break down the Cavs' defense allowing Howard to dominate the glass and get easy second-chance points. If the Cavs can stay in front of their men, I like them to win the series.
The good news for Orlando is:
The Cavs might have to rely heavily on Sasha Pavlovic in this series. Aside from Lebron, he's the only guy with both the size and quickness to bother Orlando's big shooters.
The good news for Cleveland is:
Lebron might just assassinate Orlando by himself. This isn't the same player we've seen in years past. He is now good enough not only to win games by himself, but to win entire series by himself. Then again, even if he doesn't, the great thing about having the home court is that you can count on your complimentary players to show up for at least 4 games in the series.
More good news for Cleveland:
Orlando's point guard is Rafter Alston. He is, uh . . . let's just say unreliable.
If you're betting against the Cavs at this point then you're insane. Orlando is capable of giving the Cavs a very tough series, and even capable of beating them if everything breaks just right for them. Still, if you're playing the odds, the Cavs have to be a pretty good favorite in this series. I'd say with the homecourt and the extended rest, they could probably beat Orlando in 7 series out of 10. That's why for my prediction, I'm going with Cavs in 6.
Wednesday can't arrive soon enough.