I feel like we've become a bit lost as a fan base. The Laker dominance of the past couple of seasons. LeBron and Bosh joining Wade and playing the victim. The media love affair over Melo and Amare, together at last. All these things have perhaps diffused our laser of hatred for a certain chowder-loving franchise into a mere floodlight. Well, tonight that's going to have to change.
For some reason, the Celtics have become those affable, lovable old men. For some reason, their big three is now the epitome of "building a team the right way." Pay no attention to the fact that Kevin McHale handed them the only title they got out of the unholy triumvirate on a silver platter on his way out of Minnesota. Pay no attention to their leader swearing at ball boys, undercutting people on jumpers and punching them in the junk when they're shooting. They're just savvy vets.
Well, I still see red when the Sixers play the green and I hope you do too. There's no team in sports I hate more than the Celtics, and every single time they face each other I'm hoping to see Boston's soul crushed.
I'm looking for the Sixers to fight fire with fire tonight. For every cheap shot Garnett takes, I want to see Rondo scraping himself off the floor on the other end twice. In fact, make that thrice. You know, forget Garnett's antics. I want to see Rondo doing two things in this game: hitting the floor, and building a house from the free throw line. Here's a stat ESPN doesn't care to share with you. Rajon Rondo is a worse free throw shooter than Dwight Howard. It amazes me that no one has tried the hack-a-Rondo on Boston yet.
He's so bad from the line that I firmly believe you can take his penetration game away from him completely simply by showing a willingness to take a hard foul every time he sets foot in the lane. There's some evidence to back this up. His attempts at the rim are down over 24% from last season. He's played 51 games this season. 20 times he hasn't gone to the line a single time. He's deathly afraid of it. If you want a defensive game plan, here it is.
- Give Rondo room on the perimeter. If he's taking jumpers, you've already won.
- When he does penetrate, send him to a big for help.
- DO NOT HELP OFF RAY ALLEN OR PAUL PIERCE ON RONDO DRIVES. Don't leave a shooter open for him to kick to.
- When he gets in the lane, you foul him and you foul him hard. I guess go for the block, but that's not even the important part. The important part is that Rondo winds up (a) on the floor and (b) on the line. Make it clear that will be the result whenever he drives.
- Go under the pick-and-roll, every single time. If he gets in the lane, see number four.
- And here's the key. If you find yourself in a double-digit hole midway through the fourth, foul Rondo every single time he touches the ball. Having a PG who can't hit free throws is much, much worse than having a guy like Howard or Shaq. The bigs don't need to touch the ball when you get into crunch time. I'm not sure how Boston would go about keeping it out of Rondo's hands if he was the one being sent to the line to split a pair every time down the floor.
Number six is obviously a last resort, and something I seriously hope the Sixers don't find themselves in a position to resort to, but I'd still keep it in your back pocket. At some point, someone is going to do it. I can't wait to see how Boston counters. The biggest key to this defensive scheme, though, is that Jrue can't be the guy taking fouls on Rondo. It has to be the bigs. The Sixers need Jrue on the floor.
OK, now that I've got that out of my system, you guys know the other matchups. Brand vs. Garnett is tough, especially considering how Brand's touch has been off since he dislocated his pinky. If they play even, I'll consider it a victory. Iguodala has abused Pierce in both the team's meetings (PP is on the list twice). I expect more of the same tonight, especially considering the night Durant had on Wednesday against AI9. Meeks is going to be busy all night chasing Ray Allen around, it would be great if he could return the favor on the other end. At the five, there may not be a more uninspiring matchup than Hawes vs Nenad.
I can't overstate how big a win in this game would be for the Sixers as they depart for a four-game road trip. All season long they've been bouncing back from tough losses with a surprising determination in the following game. This time, I hope they play angry and take out their frustrations on the Celtics.
Boston limps into this game minus Glen Davis, both O'Neals, Von Wafer and Delonte West. Arroyo and Sasha Pavlovic combined to play 23 minutes in their loss (at home) to the Clippers the other night. They're unbelievably thin pretty much across the board right now with Jeff Green being the only legit sub they have left (Troy Murphy apparently isn't in game shape yet). One more thing to keep an eye on: The Celts "small" lineups don't hold a candle to the Sixers. The Brand, Young, Iguodala, Meeks, Holiday lineup could put up a 10-point swing in one run against a small Boston lineup, I hope Collins goes right to it as a counter if/when Boston goes small.
Early preview today, so let's use the day to talk about this rivalry. Do you still consider it a rivalry? Let's say the Sixers were somehow guaranteed to win their first round matchup, who would you want them to beat? What would be the most satisfying?