It only took a few minutes after Boston advanced to the NBA finals for the questions to turn to “can you win the title?” But Boston had already been talking about that. Orlando had been talking title, too, which makes this one hard to take.
Fans love Nate Robinson — he’s a guy their height who can come in and shoot their team to a win on any night.
Coaches fear playing Nate Robinson because he freelances and can shoot you right out of a game just as easy.
Doc Rivers had used Nate Robinson sparingly because of that. But he knew. Someday he was going to need Nate Robinson.
“I told him almost every practice, I made a point of going over to him and say, ‘stay engaged, at some point you’re going to win a game for us’,” Rivers said in his post game press conference broadcast on NBA TV.
That game turned out to be Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The one that sent the Celtics into the NBA finals for the second time in three years.
Nate had 13 points, all in the second quarter, having been forced into action after a nasty fall to Rajon Rondo.
“The game could have gone either way at that point, we were up 6 or 8 and Rondo gets hurt, and he came in and was such a spark plug,” Paul Pierce said.
Actually, the Celtics were up 11, but the game still felt like it was close. Robinson hit two quick threes to start a Celtics roll from which the Magic would never recover. But more important was his defense. Robinson is not exactly a shut down defender. Sort of the opposite. But on this night he was all over Jason Williams and later Jameer Nelson, keeping the Magic point guards in check.
One of the key reasons Rivers had gone away from Robinson ad been defense, but that had changed.
“He gave him confidence in Game 5 that he had bought into the defensive system and there were a couple of sets that he could have success against them with,” Rivers said.
Robinson, between his time with the Knicks and Celtics, had been off the court far more then he had been on it this season. A lot of players get soft — physically and mentally — when that happens. Not Robinson.
“I’ve been patiently waiting to play,” he said in an interview with NBA TV after the game. “I think I can help the team in so many ways… Doc told me I was going to help the team win a playoff game, today was the day.”
It couldn’t have come at a better time.
Well, maybe a game in the Finals would be better. And does anybody doubt that’s a possibility?
And lo, I saw green horse, and on them green riders, and their names were the Celtics. And hell followed with them.
The Boston Celtics are returning to the NBA finals with a defense of the fiercest machinations, led by veteran stars who are still quite capable of eviscerating a defense. After dispatching the Magic in Game 6, ending any discussion of a chokejob in Beantown (well, another one, eh Bruins?), the Celtics can turn their attention towards their final opponent, whoever that may be.
So how do the Celtics match up with the two Western contenders? Let’s begin with the less likely of the two options.
Phoenix Suns: I’d bother with telling you the Suns won both regular season matchups, but the Celtics have already shown that the regular season doesn’t mean anything to them and the results are meaningless. The Suns do represent the classic foil to the Celtics. Even with a tougher, more defensive approach, they’re still the unstoppable force to the Celtics’ immovable object.
The Phoenix offense isn’t exactly a cake walk for the Celtics. The same spread perimeter attack that enabled the Magic to crawl back into that series is there for the Suns. Steve Nash is one of the few point guards with the confidence and versatility to counter Rondo’s brilliance on the offensive end. The Suns rebound well and have considerable length. They have experience in Grant Hill and versatile wings in Jason Richardson and Goran Dragic. And they possess a bench unit with considerable advantages over Boston.
The run and gun style of the Suns would give the Celtics problems, as injuries and fatigue have become more and more of a factor for the Celtics, though it’s a factor they’ve admirably overcome. Slowing down that transition attack by stopping the ball in Nash’s hands would fall to Rondo, whose length would likely give the Celtics a chance to do so. Coverage of the perimeter shooters in transition would be more difficult, but it’s also a shot the Celtics are willing to take.
All in all, you have to give the Celtics the advantage based on two factors. One, the Celtics’ toughness and physical nature would likely knock the Suns back on their heels. Amar’e Stoudemire would be pounded by tough, long defenders, and the Suns’ mob bench would be overwhelmed on the glass from Kendrick Perkins, Rasheed Wallace, and Glen Davis. Jason Richardson wouldn’t be able to counter Pierce, nor Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo would make Nash look like Derek Fisher on the defensive end. This has to be the result the Celtics are looking for if they want an easy route to the ring.
Los Angeles Lakers: Hello, darkness my old friend, I’ve come to welcome you again. The Lakers and Celtics know each other and an epic ratings-soaring finals matchup would satisfy both clubs’ requirement for destroying the other on their way to the championship. Any championship without beating the other would seem empty for these two.
There are plenty of reasons to suspect this matchup to follow the blueprint of two years ago.Paul Pierce is controlling the force of the game with his offense, as he did in 2008. Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins create a tough bullying counter to Pau Gasol, and Lamar Odom is always likely to vanish for a game or three.
So what’s different? Ron Artest gives the Lakers a defensive attack dog to unleash on Paul Pierce, which they didn’t have in 08. Shannon Brown can at least deflect some of the damage from Nate Robinson, and Andrew Bynum’s appearance is significant in a possible series. It would open Pau Gasol in space. The Lakers can’t just depend on Kobe Bryant, but this time they have enough weapons to offset the Celtics’ defense.
The one huge red flag for the Lakers has to be the play of Rajon Rondo. Derek Fisher has done a phenomenal job in managing Steve Nash, but Rondo’s a whole other set of problems. With length, speed, and a sick amount of athleticism, Fisher would need considerable weakside help to slow down Rondo. At some point in that series, Kobe Bryant may be switched on to Rondo much like he was to Russell Westbrook in round one.
The Lakers overall talent probably puts them in a favorable position. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned this postseason, the Celtics don’t care how big of an underdog they are, how much more talented the other team is. They focus, execute, and deliver. If these two meet in the finals as it seems destined they will, it will be fire on the mountain.
Jameer Nelson came off the picks like he had done for the last two games, attacked into the paint like he had done for two games, tried to shoot like he had for two games.
And there were long arms in the way. Not fouling, but altering shots. His kick-out passes led to contested Magic threes that were missed. The Celtics seemed to be everywhere, contesting everything. It looked like the first three games. It looked like 2008. They held the potent Magic offense to 43 percent shooting, more importantly just 6 of 22 from three.
The defense got the Celtics the win. The defense got them past Cleveland then Orlando in the East. It put them in the NBA Finals for the 21st time. It should strike fear in whomever comes out of the West.
The Celtics brought much better defensive energy tonight, plus they got back to what their game plan had been all series — go ahead and let Dwight Howard get his, don’t let the three point shooters get going.
Howard had 28 points on 11 of 17 shooting. With the Celtics fans letting him have it — he has become public enemy number one after the hard fouls in Game 5 — Howard did his part. But the rest of the Magic did not. They are an inside out team that shot just 27.3 percent from three.
It was not all great defense. The Magic had their chances — they got some open looks. But when things went bad, the Magic went away from what they do.
“I think early in the game we got outstanding shots, and they didn’t go down…” said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy in his post game press conference, televised on NBA TV. “Then we started forcing our offense, instead of trying to get the same shots we had. Then we had some defensive lapses, we didn’t get back on defense. They had 16 first half points.”
Then at the start of the third, two key Ray Allen three solidified the Celtics lead at 19. After that the Magic pressed, they gambled, and none of it worked. For the most part the Celtics stayed disciplined. The Celtics seemed to have defensive lapses in the second half, but the Magic could do nothing about it.
Next Thursday either the Lakers or Suns will meet the Celtics defense. Two very different, very difficult teams to stop. But after what the Celtics have done the last two rounds, it is those teams out West that should fear the Celtics defense (the Lakers have it seared into their minds what it can do). If Boston keeps playing like they have, knocking off the teams with the two best records in the NBA, there may be no offense that can keep them from having to find room for another banner.
Boston’s defense is back. With it is the running game and the big leads that the Celtics had in the first half of the season.
Boston’s aggressive defense was back, holding the Magic to 44 percent shooing, and more importantly just 2 of 6 from three. With the Magic missing shots, Rajon Rondo got back to leading the Magic on the break. Boston picked up a number of easy transition baskets and that got them out to a healthy lead
It also led to foul trouble for the Magic, with Dwight Howard picking up three fouls, and Jameer Nelson two.
Then to rub salt in the wound, good Nate Robinson showed up. The streaky backup guard scored 13 points on 4 of 7 shooting.
The Magic made it a little closer at the end, primarily based on Vince Carter finally showing up for the series and scoring 13. But the Magic will need a totally different second half to have a chance.