Kevin Garnett is sick of people calling him old. Well, that's too bad because he is old. He's old, and Doc Rivers has been forced to grossly overwork him to get the Celtics into the playoffs and through the first round. It's time for all of those minutes to come back to haunt Garnett and Pierce. It's time for the Sixers to use their young legs to run the shallow, old Celtics right out of the playoffs.
Obviously, things are going to surface as the series grinds on, but I'm fairly certain we can name a few keys before Hawes loses his first tip. There are a couple of things I'd like to see Collins do. First, expand the rotation a little bit. I want to see the pace pumped up for the entire series, that's probably going to require more than the seven-man rotation we saw from Collins in the final three games of the Chicago series. Add Lavoy at the five back in there, at a minimum, maybe even Sam Young for 10-15 minutes. Keep the legs fresh and keep them running.
Second, defensive rebounding does not need to be a focus in this series unless the Celtics completely change their approach. The Celts were the worst offensive rebounding team in the league during the regular season. I want to see the Sixers attacking this philosophy. We talked about it a bit in the Bulls series, but it's going to be important for the Sixers to push the ball up with outlet passes, not exclusively with the dribble. One of the playmakers on the floor needs to linger around the mid-court line and put himself in position to get that quick outlet. Furthering this point, Thad needs to be a lightning streak once the defensive board is secured. He's going to have Garnett, Bass, Hollins or Steisma guarding him. None of them is quick enough to run with him. Worst case, Thad sprinting down the floor coupled with a long outlet is going to mean instant mismatches, even if the Celtics hustle back.
Defending the Celts in the half court is pretty much the opposite of the Sixers' philosophy. They're usually fine with big guys taking 18-footers. Well, that's exactly what the Celtics are trying to get. Rajon Rondo is an extremely talented passer, but his otherworldly assist totals are buoyed by the simple pick-and-pop plays they run incessantly. Guarding the paint on those plays is less of an imperative against the Celtics than any other team. Or at least it shouldn't be a focus if the Celtic bigs are hitting their long twos. Garnett and Bass each shot the long two at 48% this season, so it's not advisable to just give those shots to them. Thad is going to be a key if the Celtics punish the starting lineup with long twos. He's the only big really capable of hedging the pick-and-pop and recovering quickly enough to contest the jumper on the pop. If the bigs can't do it, we're looking at wide-open jumpers or some serious rotations involving the entire team being a step quicker than Boston's passes.
As for the matchups, this is what I think we'll see to start the series:
Celtics on offense
- Turner guarding Rondo
- Jrue guarding Avery Bradley
- Iguodala guarding Pierce
- Hawes guarding Garnett
- Brand guarding Bass
The bigs are questionable. I went with Hawes on Garnett because Garnett is more of a focal point in the pick-and-pop game, and Collins went with Hawes on Boozer at the end of the Chicago series. I think Collins thinks Hawes is more mobile and better able to close on the bigs shooting jumpers. This is a toss-up because Bass is also a long-two big, so call it a hunch.
Sixers on offense
- Rondo on Jrue
- Bradley on Turner
- Pierce on Iguodala
- Garnett on Brand
- Bass on Hawes
I expect Doc Rivers to use Bradley on whichever guard is hot throughout the series. His defense is phenomenal. If he's on Turner, I don't expect much from ET. If Jrue gets off to a hot start, expect Doc to make the switch. If he does, Turner can definitely work against Rondo, especially down on the blocks. I think it's going to be very important for the Sixers to make Garnett and Pierce work on the defensive end of the floor. That means Iguodala needs to be active off the ball, and when he's handling the ball, I want to see him driving. I'd use Brand away from the hoop setting screens and running pick-and-pops of his own. Garnett is probably the best big in the league at hedging on those plays, but it takes a lot of energy to chase guards around and get back to your man.
The Celts bench is led by a hobbled Ray Allen. Basically play up on him and don't give him any daylight to shoot threes, especially in transition. Jrue or Turner will draw the assignment, most likely. Steisma is a shot-blocking big who picks up garbage points. Need to match his hustle and get into his body when you drive. Pietrus, Dooling, Marquis Daniels and Ryan Hollins don't even belong in the league anymore. Pietrus and Dooling will shoot threes, but not very well. Daniels' specialty is supposed to be defense, but it's mostly fouling. When these guys are in the game, the Celtics are stealing minutes for their 6.5-man rotation and you absolutely have to make them pay for the luxury. Which brings us full circle. The goal has to be to make this game so intense, it'll be nearly impossible for Rivers to use Garnett and Pierce for 40+ minutes. And if he does decide to overextend those guys in games one and two, they won't have anything left for games four and five. Fresh legs running. I'll let Drago take it from here:
The tip is at 8pm on TNT. Game thread will land around six. Second round, folks. Work to be done.