After 1230 regular season games and whole lot of Gatorade, the 2009 NBA Playoffs are finally upon us. Huzzah! Now, you've already heard my crackpot predictions — *ahem* — and KD throws in his two cents below, but we also asked a few team bloggin' experts to help us set the first round table. Up next: Jeff Clark from CelticsBlog and Matt from Blog-a-Bull breakdown the Boston-Chicago series.
CelticsBlog: The news of Kevin Garnett likely being ruled out for the remainder of the season is about as close to a death sentence for the Celtics title defense as you are going to get. With that said, the games will still be played and the Celtics will not go quietly into that dark night.
The first round was never much of a concern regardless of Garnett’s status. Even without KG, this team is head and shoulders above the Bulls. Of course that doesn’t mean they can be taken lightly.
The Bulls actually remind me of last year’s Atlanta Hawks. They are young and athletic, they’ve struggled with questionable coaching, and they made a big trade mid-season to upgrade the roster. They are on a hot streak now too, winning 12 of their last 16 games. If that wasn’t enough, the regular season matchup with the Bulls has played out like last year’s first round. The first two games were easy wins for the Celtics but the Bulls bounced back to beat Boston on St. Patrick’s Day.
However, with all due respect to Chicago, this series isn’t about them. This is about how the Celtics will react to the news of KG’s departure.
On one hand, at least the team knows for sure now. The Celtics have been playing without Garnett for months now, but there was always that thought that eventually he’d try to come back. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen have been carrying the team in his absence, but now they know that the cavalry isn’t coming.
They can’t do it alone though. Everyone has to step up; from Rondo to Perkins to Big Baby. They have filled in admirably, but the post season is a different level. Also, Leon Powe and Tony Allen are coming back from injuries of their own so Doc still has adjustments he needs to make in the rotations.
The Celtics match up favorably with the Bulls right down the line but Chicago’s players are very streaky and on any given night they can step up and look phenomenal. For example, on St. Patrick’s Day John Salmons dropped 38 points on the Celtics. Ben Gordon and ROY favorite Derrick Rose can go off on any given night. They also bring Brad Miller and Kirk Hinrich off the bench giving them a decent 7-8 man rotation.
With all that said, the Celtics are still the defending Champions. They still have two future Hall of Famers. They won 62 games despite a ton of injuries. They are 18-7 (a .720 winning percentage) with Garnett out of the lineup. I could see the Bulls stealing a couple of games but the Celtics will move on.
Celtics in 6.
Blog-a-Bull: Did Wednesday's home loss to a lottery team dampen the enthusiasm? No, the Bulls 'surge' in this season's final weeks was never that impressive to begin with.
They indeed have been better since trade deadline. The acquisition of John Salmons, Brad Miller, and Tim Thomas made the roster far more compatible, and even with Luol Deng out for the year the Bulls are a relatively stacked 8-man rotation for a 41-win team.
But are they deployed with the best chance to succeed? Unfortunately, while Derrick Rose has been a joy to watch in this star-in-making rookie season, the rookie head coach leaves plenty to be desired. Something specific in Vinny Del Negro's coaching that Bulls fans should fear is an over-reliance on veterans ('playoff-tested') Miller and Kirk Hinrich, especially late in games, a strategy that splits up the starting young and productive frontcourt of Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah. If the Bulls are actually in a close game, not only does VDN not really know who should be out there, but the players then rarely know what to do or who should get the ball. (It's Rose. To start the possession, anyway.)
But that's not the worst of it. They're 18th in defensive efficiency (worst in the playoffs), and have no real system on the offensive end either. They've been winning with an offensively-talented little-three of Rose, Salmons, and Ben Gordon, complemented by a bench that fills it up from outside as well. A glaring weakness in the Celtics is their propensity for turnovers, and that could help the Bulls get out and run, a tactic that fits their personnel and doesn't need organization. And it may actually scare the C's for a bit.
But while the midseason deals made the Bulls better (and I'd say better than anyone not in the East's top three), they're nowhere near the Celtics level. Even with a slowed KG, the Celtics are tough and disciplined. Thomas and Noah (with some referee assistance) could be overwhelmed physically and mentally, and what has worked on the perimeter offensively likely won't against one of the best team defenses in the league. If John Salmons is still slowed by a sore groin it becomes a two-man show of Gordon and Rose, with Rose the candidate to completely dominate a game. Though that's why the playoffs will be worth it, to see if that can happen.
Celtics in 4; 5 if KG's out all series.
Kelly Dwyer: Should we base our entire approach around one game? After all, Kevin Garnett missed this one. So did Luol Deng, but Kirk Hinrich, Brad Miller, and John Salmons were around for it; something you can't say about Boston's previous two wins over Chicago. Then again, Leon Powe had to leave this Boston loss after four and a half minutes, and he'll be healthy and ready to contribute for Boston starting on Saturday. Don't sleep on that. He's no KG, but he is a starting quality power forward.
The biggest thing that leaps out? John Salmons dropped 38 in that game, as Boston dealt with foul trouble and Chicago spread the floor. He's been pretty gimpy over the last two weeks, working through a strained groin. If he's 100 percent in this series, Chicago has a chance. Tyrus Thomas has to stay on the floor and hit his jumpers. Brad Miller has to rebound and not foul. Ben Gordon has to be the Ben Gordon we saw after the All-Star break. And that's just to have a chance. Otherwise, Paul Pierce will lead Boston to a gritty opening series win.