Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images
No introduction necessary.
A few days ago, I was able to ask Rock a few questions to preview the 2010 NBA Eastern Conference Finals between the Orlando Magic and the Boston Celtics.
One of the major storylines last year, and even this year, was the “what if” scenario, in which people wondered what the 2009 NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals would have been like had Kevin Garnett and to a lesser extent, Jameer Nelson, had been healthy. Given that the Orlando Magic and the Boston Celtics are playing well in the postseason, is there a chance we get to see the series that everyone wanted to see last season with both teams at full strength?
Oh, without question, this series is the one everyone wanted to see last year. And the fact that [Jameer] Nelson is playing out of his damn mind right now only makes it more interesting. Garnett, too, is on a roll, having destroyed the Cavs from the inside (when they put Antawn Jamison on him) and the outside (when they assigned Shaquille O’Neal). This series has a lot of potential even without considering those players’ return to form. But yes, the fact that both teams are at full strength only sweetens the deal.
Dwight Howard has been able to have more success against the Celtics this year against familiar foes like Kendrick Perkins and Rasheed Wallace, but that was the regular season. Wallace, in particular, right now looks like the player that gave Howard fits in past years. How do you think that matchup will pan out for Howard? Will it be different than history suggests?
Howard is going to have to make his own offensive opportunities in this series. I don’t think the Magic can count on him to score consistently in the halfcourt against Perkins and Wallace. He has to get his touches in pick-and-roll situations, on transition rim-run opportunities, and on the offensive glass. In turn, Orlando’s offense becomes more perimeter-oriented: Nelson, Vince Carter, and Rashard Lewis will have to pick up the slack from the outside. Orlando can still play inside-out, though, with Nelson getting into the lane.
But Howard’s lack of offense shouldn’t affect his work on defense or the backboards. He’s averaged 14.2 rebounds and 3.5 blocks against Boston since the 2007/08 season, when Danny Ainge first assembled the Big Three of Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce.
Overall, what is your biggest concern with regards to Boston’s personnel? Is is Rajon Rondo?
Rondo’s a guy who should scare the pants off of everyone, absolutely. Each of the Big Three will make the Hall of Fame, but right now, this is Rondo’s team. He controls the tempo, finds the open man–even in the halfcourt, where he’s extremely underrated as a ball-mover–and wreaks havoc on the perimeter on the other side of the floor. He’s also had some really great games against Orlando over the last ccouple of years, including a 23/4/6/4 performance in December of 2007. Granted, that came against the, shall we say, loose defense of Carlos Arroyo, whom he roasted for 14.8/6.2/10.2/2.4 in the first round of this year’s playoffs, but I digress.
In contrast, what matchup advantages do you think the Magic have against the C’s and need to exploit? What’s your series prediction?
I do think this is where Carter has to step up. As I said, Howard’s going to struggle in one-on-one offensive situations. Lewis, as you’ve written, has stepped up his game recently and has shown an increased willingness to create off the dribble, but Garnett is a very stout defender. Yes, Lewis beat him along the right baseline to make the game-winning layup in one meeting this year, but Garnett’s moved a bit better, as best I can tell, since then. The same can be said for Rondo and Nelson. But I don’t see any individual Celtic who can control Carter. It’ll have to be a team defensive scheme, and if he’s on the attack, there’ll be openings for other players. Plus, his ability to hit tough shots–you know, those one-handed ones in the lane, as he drifts to one side and hangs in the air for an impossible duration–could bail the Magic out here and there.
Guys like Matt Barnes, Mickael Pietrus, and Marcin Gortat, who can score without needing many touches or having plays called for them, will need to convert their limited opportunities.
I’m very, very wary of predicting this series. It went 7 last year without Nelson and Garnett, and Orlando only held a +5 differential during the 4 games this season. Difficult to forecast, and the only certainty is that it will take longer than 5 games on either side. I’ll go with Magic in 6 or 7, but the Celtics taking the series in 6 or 7 wouldn’t surprise me either. These are two hot, confident, dangerous teams.
I like to thank Ben for taking the time to answer my questions.