The Boston Celtics open Round 2 of the 2012 NBA Playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers Saturday May 12th at 8 pm. Fresh off their six game win over the Atlanta Hawks in Round 1 the Celtics will have home court advantage against the 76ers, and Games 1 and 2 will take place at Boston's TD Garden. The 76ers won the season series 2-1 over the Celtics, winning two blowouts in Philadelphia before getting crushed in Boston on Easter Sunday. While most will see this as Boston catching a lucky break, getting to face the eighth seeded Sixers instead of the number one seed Chicago Bulls, Philadelphia is a significant challenge for the Celtics to overcome. They will certainly be the favorite, but the series will be no cake walk, and the Celtics will need to bring their A game in order to move on. The Celtics probably have the edge in most of the matchups, but there is more to this series than meets the eye.
Point Guard – Rajon Rondo vs. Jrue Holliday
This is an interesting one. While Holliday clearly is not in Rondo's league, he is an awfully good player with the quickness that gives him as good a chance as anyone of staying in front of Rondo and keeping him out of the paint. Additionally he has a significant size advantage, standing 6'4" to Rondo's 6'1." The Celtics often like to post up Rondo against other point guards which enables him to use his array of scoop shots and floaters to get going offensively. Rondo abused Jeff Teague in the post in Game 3 against Atlanta, but Teague stands on 6'2." At 6'4" Holliday is a much tougher post matchup. Rondo will still likely have his way and should be able to get into the paint and get the Celtic offense going. However Holliday has to tools to make life tough on him.
On the other side of the floor Rondo shouldn't have too much trouble with Holliday. He got beat by Teague a few times in the six games against Atlanta, but Teague is faster than Holliday and Rondo should be able to stay in front of him. The one thing to watch is if Holliday can burn Rondo when Rondo gambles. Rondo is an excellent individual defender, but he's also a roamer on defense and is constantly poaching passing lanes looking for steals. While this does generate turnovers and transition points for the Celtics it also occasionally comes back to bite them when Rondo's gambles don't work out. Teague burned him a few times in the Atlanta series and Holliday is every bit as good a shooter as Teague. If he repeatedly burns Rondo for gambling it will mean Rondo has to stay home more on defense, and subsequently less steals for the Celtics.
Shooting Guard – Avery Bradley vs. Evan Turner
A matchup of two 2010 first round draft picks. Turner, the second overall pick out of Ohio State has a lot of game, as he showed when poured in 26 points in Philadelphia's 103-71 blowout over Boston on March 7th. However that was before Bradley, the 19th overall pick out of Texas and already one of the best perimeter defenders in league, got into the Celtics' starting lineup. On March 7th Turner took advantage of a tired Ray Allen, who had played 41 minutes the night before in an overtime win over the Houston Rockets. When he had to deal with Bradley in the Sixers lone visit to Boston on Easter Sunday, he managed 10 points on 3-6 shooting with four turnovers. Turner, while raw, is very talented and capable of scoring in bunches when he gets going. However the quick hands and feet of Bradley can give any guard problems, and Turner will also have to keep his head on a swivel on defense to not get burned by Bradley's famous cuts along the base line.
However, with all that being said, there are two major things to watch in this matchup – size and health. Bradley stands at 6'2," a full five inches shorter than Turner's 6'7." Size disadvantages haven't bothered Bradley in the past – he did a pretty good job holding Joe Johnson in check despite Johnson also being listed at 6'7" – but it is a challenge that he will have to overcome. Additionally Bradley is battling a strained rotator cuff in his left shoulder that has clearly been bothering him in the post season. He is still moving well, but his jumper has not been falling the way it was in the regular season, and he was just 2-10 from three point range in the Atlanta series. He also played significantly fewer minutes than usual in Round 1, and while some of this had to do with the return of Ray Allen, some of it also likely had to do with health. Bradley has been fighting this shoulder injury for most of the season so he should be able to play through it, and the Celtics don't desperately need Bradley to be burying jumpers to win against Philadelphia anyway, but it would definitely help.
Small Forward – Paul Pierce Vs. Andre Iguodala
After six games of chasing Joe Johnson around Paul Pierce now has to deal with Andre Iguodala. No rest for the weary. While one of the premier professional scorers of the last decade, Pierce is 34 and playing with a sprained left MCL. Iguodala is 28, a freaky athlete in the prime of his career, and one of the better individual defenders in the league. Based on those facts it's hard not to give the edge to Philadelphia. One could easily see Iguodala's defense giving Pierce all kinds of problems, and having to chase Iguodala around on defense wearing the Celtics' captain out. But here's the thing that everyone always forgets about Pierce – he is incredibly versatile. Even when he is clearly not at full strength, which he isn't now and his knee is obviously bugging him, he can never be completely contained. If Pierce can play he can score. It's that simple.
There is no one way to stop Paul Pierce because he can score in a million different ways. He's not one of those players who, if his jumper isn't falling, simply isn't very effective. Certainly he is less effective when his jumper won't stay down, but Pierce is going to find a way to get his points one way or another. Pierce's jumper wasn't falling in Game 6 as he didn't have the lift in his legs, but he still found a way to put up 18 points, none more important than the fourth quarter layup he squeezed in to get the Celtics back within one with 2:05 remaining. If his jumper won't stay he'll post up his man, or drive to the hoop and get fouled. Paul Pierce is going to find a way to score. You can't stop Paul Pierce, the best you can hope for is to slow him down. Iguodala has a better shot at it than most, and if he can start scoring in the half court the way he does in transition he can put a big hurt on the Celtics. However the idea of him stopping Pierce just doesn't seem realistic.
Power Forward – Brandon Bass Vs. Elton Brand
Brandon Bass has been a bit of enigma in the post season thus far for the Celtics. After a very good regular season in which he posted career highs in practically every significant category, Bass had a rough go of it in the first round of the playoffs, repeatedly making errors on defense and really struggling to contain Atlanta's Josh Smith. He still played pretty well offensively, consistently burying his patented midrange jumper, but he became such a defensive liability that he barely played in the fourth quarter. In fact Doc Rivers actually went with Ryan Hollins over Bass during crunch time of Game 6 even though Hollins wasn't even on the Celtics' roster six weeks ago. However, while Bass is still getting caught in the wrong place too often and his rotations do need to improve, it does get a little easier for him against Philadelphia facing Brand instead of Smith.
Elton Brand is very good player. While on the back nine of an excellent career he is still a legitimate post threat who can score on the block as well as anyone. However he is much more of a traditional power forward, playing with his back to the basket much more than Smith, and thus is a much easier matchup for a traditional forward like Bass. Brand still gets the edge, will get his points, and is also fully capable of hurting the Celtics on the boards. However the matchup won't be the landslide that the Bass-Smith matchup was. Brand will probably get the best of Bass more often than not, but Bass should be able to at least slow him down.
Center: Kevin Garnett Vs. Spencer Hawes
Is this even a question? Kevin Garnett just got finished chewing up Al Horford, one of the best young centers in the league. Is there any doubt that he will have his way with Spencer Hawes? No not really. The 10th overall pick in the 2007 NBA draft by Sacremento, Hawes had a pretty good season in his second year with Philadelphia, posting career highs in rebounds and field goal percentage. However he is not in Garnett's class. KG has been beasting on the league's best big men since the All-Star Break. He will make short work of Hawes. As long as he gets enough rest so that he isn't exhausted by the fourth quarter, forcing Rivers to sit him when the Celtics need him most, this is where the Celtics will be going when they really need a hoop. Hawes does stand at 7'1" so, unlike most of the league, he actually has the size to bother Garnett's shot. However in terms of quickness this is not a contest. Garnett should win this matchup no problem.
The one thing to watch here is the boards. Garnett is a good rebounder, but he gets the boards he gets because of his length, athleticism, and instincts. He really does not box out much. Meanwhile Hawes is the kind of wide bodied tough rebounded that has given Boston major problems this season. Unless he gets a lot of open jump shots Hawes won't be scoring much in the half court against the former defensive player of the year. In fact Garnett will probably help off of him a lot, and likely spend a good deal of time guarding Brand. However, if Hawes gets stuck in on the glass and the Celtics don't put a body on him he can hurt Boston that way.
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