The State of the Celtics 2011 Version

Last year at this time, I had pretty much written off the Celtics on the eve of their first playoff game.  Going into the playoffs they were slow, aging, and overall not interested in basketball.  Then they flipped the switch and had a magnificent run to the Finals where they were two and half minutes and a Kendrick Perkins injury away from winning the NBA Championship.

This year going into the playoffs, many people in Boston aren’t high on them again.  Some still say they aren’t getting any younger (again).  Some say the late season Kendrick Perkins trade messed with their chemistry and depleted their front line.  Others say they don’t have that tough interior defense that Perk provided.  With Shaq’s health a major question many don’t believe the Celtics can go far with Jermaine O’ Neal and Nenad Krstic playing the center position.  Most troubling to me, is Rajon Rondo has looked ordinary the last 2 months of the season.

The Celtics will open their 2011 second season against Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks.  There is no doubt that this is the most exciting first round playoff matchup in the East.  unfortunately, I am not interested in the Celtics having a tough first round opponent.  I have major concerns about how physical the matchup will be.  The March 21st matchup between these two teams was literally a bloodbath.  While I think the Celtics will handle the Knicks in six games, I am not as confident in what will happen after the Knicks series.  In all likelihood the Celtics will play the Heat in round two.

The Celtics will be forced to put Kevin Garnett on Amare Stoudimire.  Fortunately for the Celtics, the Knicks don’t have any other big man who could hurt them on the offensive end.   Jermaine O’ Neal, Kristic, and even Glen Davis should be able to handle Ronny Turiaf.

Chauncey Billups is a mixed bag these days.  While Rondo should be able to blow by him without any problems time and time again, Billups is a proven winner and has the ability to hit the big shots in crunch time.  I will be interested to see if “Playoff Rondo” shows up early and inserts his will upon the game.  Remember it wasn’t all that long ago when Celtic fans claimed they would NOT trade Rondo for Derrick Rose straight up.

The X-Factor in this series in my opinion is  Toney Douglas.  Douglas comes off the bench for the Knicks and has the ability to put up 12 points before you can say what college he went to (Florida State).  I would have to believe he would be Delonte West’s assignment and Delonte has been and is banged up right now. Landry Fields also concerns me.  I expect Carmelo and Amare to get their buckets.  But if the Celtics aren’t able to contain their supporting cast, they will be in trouble.

To quote the great Jim Ross, this will no doubt be a slobberknocker.  The Celtics have the playoff experience.  The Big Three have never lost an Eastern Conference playoff series.  For that trend to continue, they will have to be even better than they have in years past.  The road to the NBA Finals starts Sunday and it is filled with land mines.  The Celtics will have to be better than they have in years past to get there.  If they are, they will get to the Finals.  If not, they could be out as early as the second round.

I can be followed on Twitter @ScottieNTCF

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