Looking back over the 2009 Celtics title defense, there were the usual suspects when it came to players who rose to the occasion against Boston: LeBron, Dwight, Dwyane, Kobe, and Duncan.
But then there were a few surprises along the way. Players who, after the second or third meeting, you worried about a little more when you saw them coming. Here are the six players Celtics fans won’t miss once the postseason rolls around, based on their stats against Boston:
• David Lee, Knicks: (10 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 63% field goal percentage; 17 pts., 8 rbs, 4 steals, 4 asts, 61% FG; 14 pts., 14, 3 blocks, 2 asts, 50% (W); 18 pts., 18 rbs, 53% FG)
Not a single game under 50% from the field. A double-double machine who can shoot, Mr. Lee is becoming the go-to Knick on a young squad well in the lead in the 2010 LeBron Sweepstakes. (LeBronstakes! LeBron Steaks?) Unfortunately, he may be the odd-man-out by the time LeBron makes his globe-shattering decision; which is clearly why he’s getting all his Celtics butt-kicking out of the way this year.
• Zach Randolph, Clippers: (18 pts., 8 rbs; 30 pts., 2 rbs, 3 asts (W); 17 pts., 14 rbs, 53% FG)
For some reason, this fat slob loves us. Maybe he feels Big Baby is a kindred spirit. Maybe he just loves eating at Faneuil Hall. Whatever the reason, he’s had three monster games against the Celts this year; and one victory with the lowly Clippers of all teams. The man who believes he’s better than Chris Bosh is good for a double-double and not-quite-50 percent from the field every night. And he’ll huck up a couple three-point bricks for good measure, as well. He’ll also punch you in the face if you try to kiss him.
• John Salmons, Bulls: (11 pts, 50% FG; 22 pts., 3 rbs, 5 asts, 57% FG; 38 pts., 3 rbs, 70% FG)
The best shooter to come out of the U. of Miami since 7th Floor Crew, Salmons was miraculously traded to a team with a fighting chance of making the postseason this year. After spending the last three seasons on the soon-to-be Anaheim Kings, Salmons is now a Bull. Deep-dish pizzas and eight seeds for all! Maybe being a two-or-three seed won’t be so bad. Thirty-eight points on 70-percent shooting is not something you need to see in the first round.
• Brook Lopez, Nets: (13 pts., 8 rbs, 5 blks, 2 asts; 28 pts., 10 rbs, 71% FG; 10 pts., 5 rbs, 4 asts, 80% FG)
The better half of the Lopez Twins, Brook (isn’t Brook a girl’s name) has shot 70 percent or better in two of the three Nets-Celts tilts this season; and you can only expect him to get better. Until he’s old and then he’ll be worse. Oh, and don’t think Post writers aren’t excited about a guy named Brook moving to Brooklyn. The headlines practically write themselves!
• Troy Murphy, Pacers: (10 pts., 8 rbs, 5 asts, 3 stls (W); 10 pts., 10 rbs, 2 asts; 15 pts., 6 rbs, 67% FG; 20 pts., 13 rbs, 3 asts, 2 blks, 55% FG)
One of the teams that has given us the most trouble in 2009 for one reason or another: The Indiana Pacers. Most of that is due to Danny Granger, but quite a bit of it is attributable to the Fightin’ Irishman himself, Troy Murphy. Three double-doubles out of four opportunities. Two games over 50 percent shooting. Three steals in the early-season upset. The man is a pest. A big pasty-white pest. Unfortunately, because of the economy (and the fact the Pacers only show up to play against the Celtics and Lakers), there are rumors that they may be leaving Basketball Mecca. Insiders say David Stern has even contemplated a league-takeover (a la The Expos/Nationals) and a move to London. (Still not nearly as drastic as the Memphis Grizzlies’ rumored relocation to the Moon.) If a journey to the Motherland’s the case, Mr. Murphy better brush up on his… English.
• Stephen Jackson, Warriors: (30 pts., 5 rbs, 6 asts, 3 stls, 61% FG; 28 pts., 7 rbs, 4 asts, 2 stls, 53%, (W))
The man who has had perhaps the best year against the Celtics (until LeBron drops 60 on them in the Conference Finals)? Stephen Motherbleepin’ Jackson. In two games this season, the Celtics have played the hapless fan getting punched in the bleachers. And S-Jack’s been the puncher. Twenty-nine points, six boards, five assists, three steals, a block and better than 50 percent from the field. Not a bad two-game average for Captain Jackson. Thank God the Warriors suck so hard this year, I would not wanna see this man in the postseason. Or in a darkened alley, for that matter.
In a fortnight, the Celtics will begin their title defense (most likely against the Sixers or Pistons). They’ll face many obstacles along the way, but at least we can rest assured that Troy Murphy won’t be on the other side of that court. It’ll probably just be Rasheed instead. Wait… crap.