Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Eastern Conference redux

The 2008 NBA Eastern Conference Finals are bringing back an old school match up; the Boston Celtics vs. the Detroit Pistons.

Two teams that have given us so many hard fought series in the past are once again fighting for a chance at the championship, and this one is likely to be another classic. These two squads have been tight at 1 and 2 in the Eastern Conference for the entire season, so let’s see how they match up nose to nose.

Point Guard- Rajon Rondo vs. Chauncey Billups
No one is really sure how to pronounce one’s name (Rah-jon? Ray-jon? Ron-jon?) and the other’s nickname is Mr.Bigshot; That about sums it up.

Rondo has showed a bit of promise for a young point man, but he didn’t inspire enough confidence from the organization for them to pass on adding backup guard Sam Cassell. Yes, Sam Cassell still plays ball at a ripe 76 years young. Rondo quickness and scoring ability has been essential in Celtic wins, but he tends to lose his composure late in tight games.

Billups has been the centerpiece that led this team to the conference finals 6 years in a row. If he can go at 100% after the injury he suffered against Orlando, he will likely be the most important player in this series. A confident Billups is near-impossible to hold down, and the Celts don’t have the personnel to match up with him. He will capitalize on Rondo’s inconsistencies and give Detroit the clear one up here.

Advantage: Pistons

Shooting Guard- Ray Allen vs. Richard Hamilton
In a battle of the big screen against the big stage, the matchup between Jesus Shuttlesworth and the Phantom of the Opera will be key.

After being held completely in check by a mediocre Cavs squad, Ray Allen will need to regain his confidence and his jumpshot against the much more defensively sound Pistons in order to be a factor.

The always reliable Rip Hamilton seems to show up whenever his team absolutely needs him, and when he does he can completely take the game over. If he can produce while also keeping Allen’s presence on the stat sheet at a minimum, this match up could swing the series.

Advantage: Pistons

Small Forward- Paul Pierce vs. Tayshaun Prince
The Truth gave us a showdown for the ages in a huge game against King James, but can he keep it up? If Pierce is anywhere as poised as he was in game 7, he can win games by himself. However, he has been known to occasionally disappear on offense when faced with a tough defensive task, and Prince is just that.

Tayshaun Prince may be the league’s most underrated player, and he will be a true test for Pierce. Prince can be a deadly spot up shooter, and despite his slightly lanky build (weighing in at 12 lbs 9 oz) he can take it to the rack and D up with the best of them. He is by far the most likely candidate to be the dark horse of this series

In the end though, the Truth came out on top over LeBron, so you’ve got to give him the slight benefit of the doubt here.

Advantage: Celtics

Power Forward- Kevin Garnett vs. Rasheed Wallace
K.G. vs. Sheed will, if nothing else, be the most fired up match up of the series. As the emotional barometers of their respective teams, this will likely be the most decisive one-on-one battle of the series.

Garnett has looked fierce with the ball thus far, getting unusually amped with each point he scores (has anyone else noticed after even the most conventional jumper this guy seems to run back up-court screaming profanities?). Well, at least until crunch time. K.G. has seemed to shy away from the big shots in the playoffs, but he’ll need to sack up in crunch time if he wants any chance to make the finals.

Rasheed is always at full throttle (I can just picture him laying down to bed with his wife at night, “I LOVE YOU!! YOU’RE MY WORLD, SWEET DREAMS!!!”), and his team follows suit. When he is using his emotions productively the Pistons are tough to beat. If he can keep the incessant whining to a minimum and focus on playing the post rather than drifting out to the arc for jumpers, Sheed can win Detroit this series.

Advantage: Even

Center- Kendrick Perkins vs. Antonio McDyess
Plain and simple, this is a match of role players. Both have greatly helped in their team’s success, but you wouldn’t notice much if either was missing. Their teams however, may feel differently.

Perkins can be a monster on the boards, so he needs to stay tough on the glass and help clog up the key when the Pistons slashers come through the lane. If he can help keep the Pistons’ points of layups down, he could be huge.

McDyess isn’t the same explosive player he once was, but he can still contribute. His versatility should allow him to lure Perkins away from the hoop and free up inside shots for teammates. He also gives the Pistons another solid spot up option on late game kickouts.

Advantage: Even

Boston brings solid backups off the bench in Leon Powe, Eddie House, and Sam Cassell. The only problem is, it always seems to interrupt the flow of their offense. Outside of their starting 5, Doc Rivers hasn’t been able to find a combination that flows together.

The Pistons bench is full of athleticism in players like Rodney Stuckey, Arron Afflalo and Jason Maxiell. They all have the ability to score, but more importantly their high energy level can wear opponents down while the starters get their rest.

Advantage: Pistons

Prediction- Detroit Pistons in 6
While the Celtics have shown brilliance at times, they haven’t lived up to the preseason expectations of being unstoppable. They inexplicably falter at times to far less talented squads, and have yet to win a game on the road this post season.

It comes down to consistency, and for years the Pistons have been the model of such. Each season they show the ability to hang with any team in the league on any given night. Their wide array of scorers also allows them to remain in any type of game. Bottom line is they can win in so many different ways, it’s hard to imagine they won’t against the unpredictable Celts.

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