Interview with Zach Lowe of CelticsHub | Magic Basketball

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May 14

Interview with Zach Lowe of CelticsHub

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Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

The Boston Celtics — undoubtedly — have a rich history, a prestigious franchise, and some of the best team blogs in the blogosphere, which are supported by a loyal fanbase that really cares about their C’s. CelticsBlog and Red’s Army are some well-known sites that have been around the block but CelticsHub, which has been around for a little over a year now, has blossomed as a go-to source for daily coverage of the Celtics. CelticsHub is buoyed by a trio of excellent writers — Brendan Jackson, Zach Lowe, and Brian Robb, who combine to provide a rich blend of analysis, commentary, and news.

A few days ago, I was able to ask Lowe a few questions to preview the 2010 NBA Eastern Conference Finals between the Orlando Magic and the Boston Celtics.

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Is the Boston Celtics’ resurgence, or whatever what you’d like to call it, simply a matter of the team getting healthy and “flipping the switch” or is there another factor that people have been overlooking?

You know, I was skeptical about the possibility that they would flip the switch. But they have, and you can see it in both their defensive intensity and the decline in their turnover rate on offense. Their defense has picked up in just about every way. They held the Cavs, the 2nd-best three-point shooting team in the league, to about 28 percent shooting from deep. They forced about 15.5 turnovers per game. They protected the rim better than they had since Christmas.

Perhaps most importantly, they rebounded about 78.5 percent of Cleveland’s misses–a defensive rebounding rate that would have led the league in the regular season, and a huge jump from Boston’s season-long number.

And on offense, they transformed from one of the most turnover-prone teams in the league to a team that coughed it up at about a league-average rate. The Cavs don’t force a ton of turnovers, but neither do the Magic, so the C’s improved care for the ball should carry over.

As you say, some of this is due to health. Kevin Garnett hasn’t looked this good since he injured his knee in the middle of last season. He averaged 19 points per game on 58 percent shooting against the Cavs and destroyed Antawn Jamison in the post to the point that Mike Brown, who may be fired by the time your readers see this, actually switched Shaq onto KG during Game 6.

Rajon Rondo’s brilliance has been well-documented, especially against the Cleveland Cavaliers, but Tony Allen has been a pleasant surprise coming off the bench for the Celtics in the playoffs. What has he been able to do to play so well?

Ah, Tony Allen. The most polarizing role player in recent Boston history. We even compiled an official Tony Allen Dos and Don’ts List at Celtics Hub this season to guide Tony toward NBA competency.

Tony Allen hasn’t really changed that much, but considering how few minutes he plays, a small change makes a big difference. His turnover rate dropped slightly this season and has dropped even more in the playoffs. He barely shoots any jumpers any more. He put up career-best rebounding and steals numbers this season. And he remains a great on-ball defender as long as he’s not falling for pump fakes. Vince Carter will be seeing a lot of him over the next two weeks.

Basically, Tony has managed to do more of the things he can do and less of the things he does poorly. He’s still good for one or two bone-headed plays per game, but he’s earned his minutes ahead of Marquis Daniels and Nate Robinson, who, by the way, can’t even be bothered to listen to Doc Rivers in team huddles.

It’s no secret that Kevin Garnett had his way when he was matched up with Antawn Jamison. Do you foresee Garnett continuing to have success offensively against the Orlando Magic, taking into account some of the struggles he had against them during the regular season?

I do. I can’t stress this enough: KG was fantastic against the Cavaliers. He can’t play at peak form in every game any more, but if he can get there in, say, four of six games, the Celtics have a chance–provided he can get to 85 percent or so of peak form in the other two games.

The Celtics’ offense is just a more dangerous animal when he’s a post threat, and I expect the C’s to try and establish him as such against Rashard Lewis. Of course, the Magic have a fairly decent shot-blocker lurking to challenge close shots in the post, but the C’s will work hard to involve KG from 15 feet and in. His scoring and passing are extra crutches they can lean on when the pace slows, transition opportunities dry up and the rest of the offense is out of synch.

Can he guard Lewis on the perimeter? That’s another question. The highlight of Lewis taking KG baseline for a key basket in an early-season Orlando win became the de facto “KG is washed up” highlight of the 2010 season. And Lewis will be able to pull that off now and then in this series.

But I think KG is ready.

What needs to happen for the Celtics to beat the Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals? What’s your series prediction?

A lot of things. I don’t think Boston is a colossal underdog here, so I don’t think this is a series in which everything must go right for Boston to win. Some things will go right for both teams, and some will go wrong. The Rondo-[Jameer] Nelson match-up will get most of the attention, as will the question of whether Kendrick Perkins can guard Dwight Howard without a double-team.

If I had to pick one thing, though, I’d say the Celtics have to get something out of Ray Allen. The Magic shut him down last season, and they’ve added a bigger, stronger guy in Vince Carter who can give Ray problems on both ends if he’s motivated and playing well.

As for predictions, I can’t claim to have a clue. I predicted the Cavaliers would eliminate the C’s 4-1. I do think this will be a tough series that will go a minimum of six games.

The C’s are playing harder, and they are playing smarter. They are proof that in the NBA, teams can flip the switch if they have the right talent, chemistry and coaching.

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I like to thank Zach for taking the time to answer my questions.

10 comments
Billy (slickw143)
Billy (slickw143)

Yeah, saw what Barnes said after I posted that. That's interesting, makes sense too (especially after Ben's breakdown on OPP). Also, I'm waiting for the inevitable remark that stats never tell the story that people who have been proved incorrect by those stats use.

As far as the Nelson/Rondo argument, Eddy already said almost everything that could be said. I will say though that Felton is a better defensive PG than either Carlos Arroyo or Mo Williams. Much better. So there's that.

Eddy Rivera
Eddy Rivera

@Billy (slickw143)

Looks like it'll be Barnes on Shuttlesworth. As for Howard, yeah, he needs to continue playing a finesse game against Perkins and Wallace instead of trying to use brute strength to have his way on the low block.

@Will

Should be a great series, definitely. It's a toss-up, in my opinion.

Eddy Rivera
Eddy Rivera

@Bilal

Thanks for chiming in.

I watched every game. I have nothing but great admiration for Rondo's abilities but just because head coach Mike Brown attempted to scheme against Rondo to slow him down, doesn't change the fact that his strategies were poorly conceived. It didn't help, either, that Brown's personnel was ill-equipped to defend Rondo (not sure why they didn't put Delonte West on him more). Head coach Stan Van Gundy won't make those type of tactical errors, he's too good of a coach.

Besides, Rondo's splits against the Magic during the regular season were good but not great. Aside from a few games here and there when Rondo went off, Orlando has done a fairly decent job of scheming against him in the past. I'm not making bad comparisons. I'm simply pointing out truths. As for Nelson, he'll have a tough go of it against Rondo but I doubt he'll get dominated. In any case, it'll be a great matchup to watch.

As for Vince Carter, if he "disappears" ... other players on the Magic will probably step up. But I'm skeptical about the assertion that Carter doesn't show up in the postseason. Here's a look at the numbers:

REGULAR SEASON:
PER (21.1), .537 TS%, Offensive Rating of 109, 22.2 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 4.2 APG

POSTSEASON:
PER (20.6), .518 TS%, Offensive Rating of 108, 24.4 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 4.8 APG

Carter's success in the playoffs has directly been attributed to the teams he's been on, which have -- at most -- been good but not great. In the end, basketball is a team sport and you only get as far as your coaching staff and teammates allow you. Look no further than Kevin Garnett, who finally lands on a great team (excluding the '04 Timberwolves) and he wins a championship after being labeled a guy that couldn't win in the playoffs.

Let's not get revisionist in our history here.

I can go on but there are plenty of examples of great players being held back due to circumstances they can't completely control. We're seeing it now with LeBron James. Even then, Orlando isn't reliant on Carter to succeed in the postseason so if he falters (he may or may not), there are other players that can be relied upon. Like Dwight Howard. Like Rashard Lewis. Like Jameer Nelson. The Magic are a team, not a collection of players reliant on one guy.

Bilal
Bilal

@Billy (slickw143)

Its funny that you guys are talking about Vince's post game. Vince Carter has a reputation of disappearing from big series. He has a reputation of disappearing from the post season. And in the face of great defense, everyone knows that Vince turns into a jump shooter. These aren't predictions. History has proven this over and over again.

When Vince entered the league, he was regarded as one of the best young prospects. But it never materialized. He was picked ahead of both Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce. But obviously, any GM would pick Paul and Dirk over Vince in a heartbeat now. There is a reason for that. There is a reason for Vince being traded over and over again.

Now its up to Vince to re-write history. I think it will be an uphill battle for him. If Vince disappears, so will Magic's chances of prevailing to the Finals.

Bilal
Bilal

@Eddy Rivera

"– Rajon Rondo has played well in the playoffs, but to say he has a wide margin over Jameer Nelson isn’t really accurate. The argument has been made that Nelson hasn’t faced good defenders, which is true, but neither has Rondo. Carlos Arroyo and Mo Williams are defensive sieves, so it’s easy to see why Rondo was able to have his way in the first two rounds."

Did you miss the Celtics vs. Cavs series? Since pretty much the first game, Mike Brown's main focus was to slow down Rajon Rondo. They werent just afraid of Rondo's scoring, they were afraid of his penetration skills and his ability to dominate in transition.

Jameer Nelson has had to go through washed up/ defensively bankrupt PGs. That is not the same for Rondo. He was the focal point of Mike Brown's defensive schemes. Lets not make bad comparisons here.

I think Nelson really needs to step up and make sure he doesnt get dominated in the Rondo Nelson matchup if the Magic are to win.

Will
Will

Great coaching, great matchups, and the plusses and minusses kind of balance each other out on both sides (for example: I think Vince will get run around in this series by Allen. . .but not by Pierce while Garnett will get beat by Lewis often). This should be a series for the ages!

Billy (slickw143)
Billy (slickw143)

A Celtics fan talking about trying to be as unbiased as possible is hilarious. You guys are raised with Heinsohn calling your games, and Boston fans in general are well-known for being the biggest homers in all of sports.

Anyways, the comment was made about Vince's post-game, which, yes, would "abuse" Ray. Of course that mostly won't come to fruition because Boston would likely double in that case after a few buckets by Vince. Ray will run around those screams and give Vince trouble on the defensive side, but Vince will work him just as hard with PnR, iso, and post-ups.

Dwight has shown before against Boston that when he plays smart there is no one on Boston that can consistently stop him (if the perimeter players can successfully get the entry pass to him). He's too fast for Perkins, too fast and strong for KG or Sheed. He has gotten himself in trouble when he tries to just muscle up Perkins, who won't allow that, and throws up the running hook while getting pushed out instead of dropping a quick counter on Perkins. Great thing is that we don't need to him to drop 25-30 to win, just be the presence on both ends that changes the other team's gameplan.

The series should be good... but as Eddy said, there will NOT be an easy series, despite what Tommy might tell folks in New England.

Eddy Rivera
Eddy Rivera

@Jayson

Spot-on comment. Don't forget about Tony Allen on Vince Carter, though. That's something to keep in mind. And another suggestion for Dwight Howard is to get him involved in pick and rolls, utilize his athleticism and speed to counteract Kendrick Perkins' lower-body strength. That's one example.

@Anthony

Some thoughts:

-- Rajon Rondo has played well in the playoffs, but to say he has a wide margin over Jameer Nelson isn't really accurate. The argument has been made that Nelson hasn't faced good defenders, which is true, but neither has Rondo. Carlos Arroyo and Mo Williams are defensive sieves, so it's easy to see why Rondo was able to have his way in the first two rounds. Just looking at their numbers in the playoffs, so far, Nelson has a much higher PER (27.6 to 20.8 for Rondo), he's been more efficient (.651 TS% compared to .555 TS% for Rondo), and he's taken care of the basketball better (8.0% turnover rate compared to 19.3% turnover rate for Rondo). Rondo is certainly the superior distributor and defender but again, to say he has a wide margin over Nelson is just not true.

-- Vince Carter will probably show up for the series. It seems to be the "cool" thing to attack his playoff pedigree, even though he's historically played well on the big stage -- his postseason numbers fall in line with his regular season numbers.

-- If Rasheed Wallace and Kevin Garnett play at the same time, Howard isn't going to chase Wallace out on the perimeter. And he shouldn't, even though Wallace has been efficient offensively in the playoffs.

-- You're forgetting Jason Williams and Ryan Anderson coming off the bench for the Orlando Magic. The Celtics reserves have played well but the Magic are the deeper team and have a greater margin for error, in that regard. More quality players to use, like Brandon Bass.

I can assure you it won't be an easy series ... for either team.

Anthony
Anthony

No mattter how well Nelson is playing, I think Rondo still has the edge...by a wide margin. Ray Felton and Mike Bibby arent exactly defensive juggernauts. And Rondo is playing off the charts.

I know you didnt really say Vince will abuse Ray with a straight face. You will be lucky if Vince show up for the series. And Ray is a very underrated defender. He's done a nice job in the spot duties against Wade, Lebron, and Kobe (regular season and 08' Finals). Ray's playoff numbers has always been underlooked. Pierce and T. Allen will also be guarding Vince.

Paul Pierce vs. Matt Barnes. Pierce was shut down by Lebron but I dont think Barnes is as capable as Lebron. Just my take. Barnes is one of theose annoying scrappy guys but he cant be worse than Varejao.

Perkins/ Sheed/ Big Baby should be able to neutralize Howard somewhat. If Sheed and Garnett plays at the same time, doesnt Howard have to step out to guard them? Leaving Rondo/ Pierce an open lane?

That leave Rashard who has an edge over Garnett. But if Garnett plays well offensively, it will also give Lewis the same problems. So basically for Orlando to win, rashard has to play really, really well.

Sheed/ Big Baby/ T. Allen vs. Gortat/ Peitrus/ Redick. Open for comments but Celtics bench has played well in the playoffs.

Celtics were up at halftime of all 4 regular season games. Strangely up by 11 points in each of the last 3. All 4 games were close. Sheed had an open look that easily couldve won 1. Celtics loved to give up big leads in the last 50 games. This is a more confident and focused Celtics team. I dont want to get ahead of myself but hopefully it will be an easy series if they can maintain their focus. (I try to be as unbiased as possible)

Jayson
Jayson

Great stuff guys. I like hearing from both sides of the debate.

He was spot on with the Nelson vs. Rondo reference. I think that matchup will have the biggest impact of any individual matchup in this series. Nelson has been spectacular thus far, but he hasn't had to deal with a defender as athletic, active, and long as Rondo. Rondo is the best defensive PG in the league, and I don't see Jameer breaking him down off the dribble (unless Rondo gambles, which he's prone to do at times). Couple that with the fact that the Celtics play terrific help defense (especially in the pick-and-roll game) and I can't see Jameer taking over this series like he has the other two. He can still be productive, but I think his production will come more from playing off the ball, catching a pass after another guy penetrates, and catching the Celtics rotating.

Likewise, Dwight will have some trouble ahead. Perkins is one of maybe 3 centers in the league who are strong/physical enough to play him one-on-one. Every time I watch us play the C's, it seems like Perkins pushes Dwight just a bit further from the rim than he'd like to play. This really impacts Dwight when he takes those jump hooks across the middle. What he needs to do is get that drop step going early to keep Perkins guessing and prevent him from anticipating that hook shot.

This series is going to boil down to Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis. These two guys have the definite advantage for the Magic. Vince especially will have to be aggressive. Our best hope is that Ray Allen tries to defend him one-on-one. In that case, I think Vince can post him up and abuse him, forcing the C's to rotate and leading to open shots. Rashard will also have to be aggressive and take the ball to the rim against KG, who is going to do everything he can to keep Lewis from draining 3's all night.

The Celtics scare me a bit. Way more than the Cavs did. They have great balance, and you don't know who's going to be their best player on any given night. That being said, in order to win this series, we have to play OUR game. Extra passes, pick-and-roll, open 3's, great team D. If we do that, then this is our series to lose. Either way, its going to be fun to watch.