Against the odds, they’ve made it this far. The aging, stumbling, never-able-to-pull-it-together 27-27 Boston Celtics morphed into another team once the playoffs began — melting the Heat, vanquishing the musclebound King and the Cavaliers, and trouncing the Magic, nearly blowing it, then putting their foot down in Game 6 to get to the NBA Finals.
As a fan, you can’t ask for a better ride — and a showdown against the Lakers for the championship. The two most celebrated teams in the NBA, going at it once again.
With tip-off a mere hour away, here are some keys for the Celtics tonight:
1) Get Rondo Going Early. The third-year point guard has been the Celtics’ best player of the postseason, without a doubt. But despite his incredible development, there are still times when he does not really facilitate the offense — passing the ball to Pierce, or Ray, or whoever, and stepping back. During their playoff run two years ago, Rondo was frustrating when he drove circles around the opponents, got close to the hoop, then looked to pass. In the first quarter tonight, he needs to aggressively go after the Lakers and set the tone.
2) For the Four Minutes Rondo Needs a Breather (Total), Put in Nate Robinson! Actually, put in Nate Robinson whenever the team needs some energy. The man who may have saved the Celtics’ season was all over the place in the second quarter of Game 6. If he continues playing with such confidence and oomph, there’s no reason not to make him a regular part of the rotation.
3) Good Rasheed, Please Show Up. That’s the Rasheed Wallace who does strong post-up moves, plays aggressive defense, gets in the head of the other team’s stars, and only shoots a couple of three-pointers.
4) Whither KG? As my good friend pointed out at the end of the last game, Kevin Garnett appeared “gassed.” After his revival in the Cleveland series and part of the Orlando series, he seemed to lose something as the battle with the Magic wore on. Perhaps he can summon some more vintage performances during the Finals. It’s not a question of will — more like a battle versus time.
5) Fundamentals and Focus. The Celtics have come this far because of good defense, execution when it counted, and, yes, togetherness. But they’ve shown a confounding lack of focus at times — witness the Game 3 slaughter at the hands of LeBron, the potential closeout Game 4 against the Magic, and various technical fouls (and the occasional ejection) here and there. They can’t afford such slip-ups tonight.