Do you believe yet? Are you ready to put that lackluster regular season behind you, or do you still want to see more before you get back on that Celtics bandwagon?
If you answered yes to the first question, then you are an optimist. If you are still wavering, congratulate yourself on your cynicism. It’s certainly been well-earned this season.
“At the end of the day,” Doc Rivers said after Wednesday’s practice, “all we’ve done is win two home games and Miami has yet to play a home game. That’s how they’re thinking for sure. Whether we won the last one by one, or whatever we won by, Game 3 is going to tough, and we understand that.”
The Celtics have had all the right answers in this series since about midway through the third quarter in Game 1 (excepting Kevin Garnett’s foolish elbow) and Rivers has pushed all the right buttons.
His decision to start Glen Davis in Game 2 obviously was the right one, and he has utilized Tony Allen just right, riding with him throughout the second half of Game 1 and using him more judiciously in Game 2, when he threatened to break all of M.L. Carr’s records for spontaneous towel-waving.
The defense has been superb and the offensive execution has been sublime. It’s been a pleasant reminder of what this Celtics team is supposed to be about, but it must be said that this is supposed to be the norm, not some momentary aberration.
Now that the series has shifted to South Beach, starting with Friday night's Game 3, here comes the hard part. The mission is clear: Get one of these two and finish off Miami at home in Game 5. That will get people’s attention.
IT’S STILL ALL ABOUT D-WADE
Dwyane Wade has taken 18 shots in each game and he’s made 11 of them in both. True to form, he cut down his turnovers from seven in the first game to just one in the second game. He wasn’t able to get to the rim as easily in Game 2, but he made up for it by making 5-of-7 from 3-point range.
He is getting everything he wants and taking what the defense gives him when he can’t get it and scoring anyway. And it’s not enough.
“We don’t win if everyone is not playing well,” Wade said after Game 2. “I don’t care if I score 50 — we don’t win the ballgame.”
The Celtics have a general philosophy with opposing superstars. “Our theory is always that great players are going to be great,” Rivers said.
Wade is on another level right now, but more importantly, his teammates are not. There is no secondary option to take the pressure off Wade and it’s causing everything to collapse for Miami the way the Celtics big men collapse on Wade whenever he even sniffs the paint.
Make no mistake, the Celtics are paying an inordinate amount of attention to Wade in this series, and until someone else steps forward it’s going to continue to be that way because as great as he is, he can’t win this by himself.
CAN PERK CONTINUE TO BE A BEAST?
Related to the above, Kendrick Perkins took Jermaine O’Neal completely out of Game 2, holding him in check in a 1-for-10 disaster. In typical Perkins fashion, he was nonchalant and direct when asked about guarding O’Neal.
“Just keep a body on him,” Perkins said. “You can’t let him get deep post-ups, challenge all the shots. That’s about it.”
But there’s a little more to it then that. Because Perkins has the ability to play almost anyone in the league without the benefit of help, and that frees up everyone else to focus in on Wade.
“Perk’s been fantastic defensively,” Rivers said. “A lot of it is one-on-one, which we need. We can’t use too many guys on O‘Neal with Wade running around. What he’s doing great is, he’s doing his work early. He’s trying to fight him off the block and he’s been pretty good at that. I thought Perk was the best player in the game.”
Perkins ability to take the best low-post option on opposing teams not only frees up the guards, it also allows Garnett to be one of the best help defenders in the game.
“It’s huge,” Rivers said. “Before the year when we sit down as a staff, we try to predict what positions would we ever have to double team, and with Perk and Kevin you hope never have to double team at the 4 and 5 spots. The way our league is right now, we assume the 2 and 3 spots. But it’s really nice going into every game knowing you don’t have to dig much and you don’t have to trap much. That allows your defense to be really good.”
And the Celtics defense has been really good. Per NBA.com analyst John Schuhmann, Miami has had 177 possessions in this series and has scored just 72 times.
But there’s still more than just containing Wade and making O’Neal disappear.
RAJON RONDO WREAKS HAVOC
Early in the second half Rajon Rondo decided to pick up full-court pressure on the ball. This is his call. It depends mostly on his energy level, he said Wednesday, but when the time is right, he goes.
“When he did that, the game changed,” Perkins said. “The [Miami] coaches had to make an adjustment. They had to take both their points guards out of the game.”
That left it up to Wade to handle the ball, just one more responsibility that has fallen on his shoulders.
The Heat set up perfectly for Rondo to cause damage because in Carlos Arroyo and Mario Chalmers they have two capable sure-handed guards who make shots but don’t do much to initiate the offense. That also means that they are rarely involved in the pick and roll (again, that would be Wade), which means that Rondo doesn’t have to worry about getting hammered on high picks.
That in turn gives him more energy, which allows him to break Miami’s offense before it even gets started.
Rondo finished fifth in the Defensive Player of the Year voting, the only point guard in the league who even received a vote. (It must be said that the fact that Dwight Howard didn’t receive a unanimous first-place vote and that David Lee somehow wound up with as many points in the voting as Perkins makes the whole process a little suspect).
Regardless, Rondo’s reputation as a top defender is well-earned. When he goes into full-court attack mode, he’s a game-changer.
CAN GLEN DAVIS ADJUST?
Davis was phenomenal in Game 2 and he helped change Game 1 with his effort on the offensive glass. The trick for Davis is whether he can put the Ticket Stub away with Garnett back in the lineup and just focus on being Big Baby or Glen Davis or whatever he calls that version of himself.
Davis will back up Garnett, but he could also see time alongside KG in Game 3. Rivers does not want to put Perkins and Rasheed Wallace on the floor together at the same time because of the obvious speed issues. But if Wallace isn’t getting it done, Rivers has no problem going with Davis in his place.
For all the grief he takes, Wallace still can make a positive impact in this series with his length and his low-post scoring. He has had a rough time with help defense, particularly as it relates to Wade, but as long as Erik Spoelstra goes with one of his true backup centers (and really, why was Jamaal Magloire getting time ahead of Joel Anthony?) then Wallace’s lack of foot speed isn’t a huge issue.
Still, Davis has emerged along with Tony Allen, as the two most important reserves that Rivers has on his bench. That’s a big role and it’s one that should fit him, no matter what personality he’s using.
DESPERATE TIMES, ETC.
No one really knows how the Heat are going to come out for Game 3. They were embarrassed in Game 2 and they let Game 1 slip away. They have been getting killed in the Miami press for a lack of toughness, both physical and mental, and it can’t be lost on any of them that most of them won’t be back next season.
The Celtics say they are going to expect a hostile atmosphere and that they are ready for whatever Miami throws at them. This should be a test to see, yet again, just where this Celtics team really is and where they might be heading.
They received an enormous break with the way schedule set up, allowing them two days off between the first three games, and now they have to take advantage of it.
“We are a veteran group,” Rivers said. “We should be able to handle adverse situations pretty well, but we didn’t at home, at times.”
They have handled things better on the road this season, but there is still that nagging question of when things get rough, will they be able to put it back together? They were able to do so in Game 1, rallying from a 14-point second-half deficit, and they were able to do so in Game 2, blowing out Miami without Garnett.
Now they have to prove they can do it on the road against a team that is playing for its life. Game 4 is Sunday afternoon at 1, and we all know how poorly the Celtics have done over the years in day games.
Game 3 is the one to get. Win it, and they can start thinking about Cleveland. Lose it, and they still have work to do, both in this series and with themselves.