Our good friends at Google supplied the following definition for the term “perfect storm”:
A particularly bad or critical state of affairs, arising from a number of negative and unpredictable factors
That pretty well sums-up the way this weekend played out for the chief rivals of my Boston Celtics.
First take what Boston did for themselves. The Celtics were able to take advantage of the injured and defensively scattered New York Knicks to get Rondo back to playing his game and running Doc’s offense the way it’s meant to be run, while simultaneously winning the serious in a sweep and gaining a chance to rest old bones, recover from nagging injuries, and maybe even get Shaq on the floor for a practice. Additionally Garnett seemed to get the notice that they need him to play aggressive again, and Ray Allen and Paul Pierce rediscovered their jump shots.
Then there’s the Miami Heat who managed to get off to very weak starts in both games against the Sixers this weekend and actually lost one of them extending their series an extra game. Better yet, the Sixers seem to have uncovered a crucial defensive weakness in the Heat’s starting line-up with Mike Bibby and the Zapper (Ilgauskas for you terrible people who don’t watch Futurama. Uggh.), which basically entails moving the ball side to side, setting cross screens and watching the two of them drift out of defensive position like icebergs. The best part is, given Spoelstra’s need for veteran experience and outside shooting at the PG and C, he’s likely to play the two of them anyway. Rondo should watch a lot of film and eat this up. Also the 10-0 run that the Sixers put on to close out the win brings up all the “unclutch” concerns that swirled earlier. It’s stupid, but it may distract this sensitive group of superstars.
Orlando went down 3-1 to the Hawks. How great is that for a team that lost Kendrik Perkins and looks unlikely to have Shaq back by the Finals? Not that the Magic would be favored in a series against the Bulls in round 2, but should they get to the conference finals, they were a secret worry of a lot thoughtful Celts fans who know Garnett can’t handle full-size power centers like Dwight. Now it looks like the Magic won’t get the chance to play the Bulls, and if they do manage to slog through the Hawks in 7 games AND the Bulls, it’s doubtful that Howard will be 100% given the way the Hawks disposable big men have hammered him, and Chicago’s Thomas and Asik promise to bring more of the same.
The scariest team in the East entering the playoffs was of course the league leading Chicago Bulls. This weekend Chicago managed to extend their series against Indiana by getting turned over about 100 times in the last two games and giving up their strangle-hold on the boards. Heavy pressure d seems to have an effect. Hopefully Rondo and Delonte are paying attention. And not only do the Bulls have to play an extra game, but their best player, the predicted MVP Derrick Rose, managed to hurt his ankle in the last game. I hope he’s okay, but objectively that is advantage Celtics in the long run.
The hated Los Angeles Lakers had the worst weekend of all. Not only did they find a way to lose to the Hornets, again, but Bryant picked up a mysterious ailment to his foot. I know it’s possible that these early struggles may actually make them tougher in the later rounds, but going into the playoffs it looked like LA had the easiest possible path to the Finals. They dodged the high-octane Nuggets, mismatch crazy Trailblazers, and physically daunting Grizzlies and landed an injury-plagued Hornets team whom they were expected to exploit with their superior size and sweep directly out the door and onto the golf course. Then the second round looked like they’d get to prey on the staggering winner of a seven game battle between the Mavs and Blazers, while exhausted Spurs and Thunder brutalized each other for 6 or 7 games prior to a WC finals matchup with a now humming Lakers. Chris Paul has returned to “best per-minute point guard ever” form and foiled that nefarious nightmare.
Now none of that solves the Celtics existing problems. Shaq is still out indefinitely with an advanced case of old age and the resulting series of lower extremity injuries. Delonte West and Jeff Green have both completely lost their ability to catch and shoot and seem pretty useless outside of post-up opportunities. Doc still thinks playing Green and Baby at the 4/5 together is a feasible NBA line-up (not sure a team could get away with that in the Big East). Rondo still thinks instead of shooting when left open at 15 to 17 feet from the basket. Pierce is still a little slower and little less able to create something out of nothing. There’s a lot to worry about, but at least the oldest team in the East is the first one to get back home for some R&R, and the best strategic coach in the East gets a jump on scouting the Miami Espy Winners.