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NBA Playoffs Celtics Cavs Game 5: Let's not overlook the return of the Celtics' horsemen

May 12, 2010, 11:14 AM EDT

pierce.jpgI understand the reaction. I had the same. Shock. Disappointment. Disbelief. It’s not about who you root for. LeBron James performing at a high level? It’s good for the NBA. It’s good for the playoffs. It’s good for the sport. And his monumental failure last night left a lot of basketball fans feeling betrayed, and left the media baying like wolves at the edge of the woods, waiting for the last fires to die out in Game 6.

But beyond all that, we’ve got to take a moment and see, very clearly, that this Celtics team, at least right now, is everything they have said they were.

They told us not to worry when they looked old, weak, and vulnerable in the regular season. They said they would turn it on, that they were just bored, that they could and would show up. They said they were the real contenders and that all the media attention elsewhere was misguided and misplaced.

And they have been right, so far.

The Celtics, as it was in 2008, start with their defense. And while LeBron James had ample opportunities he simply dismissed outright in Game 5, the Celtics gave him good reason to shut it down. Receive the ball on the perimeter, and face a primary defender set at the arc and a second one just to the inside, with a third ready to spring up from the low block. They had the book on James, and they executed it. This is not easy.

It takes discipline, devotion, and a system of rigorous principles. He beats the first two men? Foul. Hard. Make them reset or shoot free throws. Whatever it takes to deter him. Don’t worry about the fouls, we’ve got enough bigs.

Meanwhile, they made Mo Williams into a joke. Williams, a former All-Star point guard, couldn’t dribble. And that’s not an exaggeration. The Celtics converged on Williams on any probe inside and either forced a turnover or a wild exit pass to reset the offense. And that meant the Cavs had less than 10 seconds usually to execute their offense.

Much will be said of James’ terrible offensive performance, but let’s not overlook what the Celtics did to the Cavs’ much ballyhooed defense. Rondo wasn’t even needed in the first half. And when he was needed in the second, he delivered. The Celtics beat them in every way possible Kevin Garnett is still a long, tall, lanky former-MVP who can nail turnarounds and hook shots as long as a seven footer isn’t defending him. Ray Allen? That spring around two slip screens, catch-and-shoot? That’s as reliable as 7-11. Always open. Allen’s dedication to his jumpshooting craft is paying off, and the Cavs’ simply have had no answer. But all that was still survivable until the Truth showed up.

Pierce did it all last night, nailing the elbow jumper he’s known for, taking threes in transition, dropping low for pump-fake easy shots, the works. When Pierce, Allen, and KG are firing? That team is damn near unstoppable. When Rondo’s doing it, too? You can take out the near. Just unstoppable.

And that’s all before you get to a bench. The Celtics’ bench is shakey. Has been all season. But they need so little that to get the performances they’ve gotten in the playoffs from Glen Davis, Tony Allen, and even, to some degree, Rasheed Wallace, just adds to their danger.

There’s no telling how this team will match up with the Magic if they manage to win Game 6 or 7. But last year Paul Pierce said on Twitter that the Magic were poodles and the Celtics were Rottweilers. That was dismissed earlier this season as delusional.

Turns out that when the chain’s off, the bite is worse than the bark.

  1. Kansachusetts - May 12, 2010 at 12:25 PM

    Excellent analysis.

  2. Rowdy Rowdy Pao - May 12, 2010 at 12:35 PM

    One of the most flawlessly crafted examples of intelligent sports writing I have ever read. Moore, you’re a real poet sir.
    Lakers 2009-2010 NBA World Champs (again)

  3. clint - May 12, 2010 at 12:48 PM

    Hey Matt,
    Your writing is like last night’s game…damn good!I’m a celtic fan
    and last night those boys reminded me why.Is lebron really a king?Celtic dynasty still rules.

  4. Craig - May 12, 2010 at 1:34 PM

    Well written article. The truth and nothing but. My wife and I have said all along that the Celtics, if healthy will pull off another one. Should be a great finals. Kobe, are you gong to be there?

  5. IMJCS2 - May 12, 2010 at 2:14 PM

    Thanks for reminding us of the rest of the story. Regretfully, I was too distracted by Lebron’s implosion to fully appreciate how precise and determined the Celtics were last night.

  6. [a] proxy - May 12, 2010 at 2:56 PM

    Lebron is no “king” without a “ring”! GO LAKERS!

  7. [a] proxy - May 12, 2010 at 3:07 PM

    Kobe will be there. A better question is will the Celtics be there? They have to at least make to the Eastern Conference finals first. Maybe the Celtics should learn how to SWEEP like L.A., Orlando, and Phoenix.

  8. roger - May 12, 2010 at 3:43 PM

    I heard Barkley go off several times that the Cavs are the better team. Remember last year when the Cav were knocked out of the playoffs, LeBron and his coach both stormed off the floor without shaken the other team’s hand. That’s called Karma.

  9. Greenwonder - May 12, 2010 at 3:46 PM

    last year the lakers and the magic got lucky KG was hurt,if the ref dont cheat on the celtics like in game 1 the celtics will defeat the cav in 6 however this series is not over yet and the celtics need to play turnover free ball in order to beat the cav
    if they turn the ball over then they will be in trouble and may lose the series in game 7.

  10. Mick the ripper - May 12, 2010 at 3:48 PM

    Very well written, Celtics have really come out of their shell this series. I believe Rondo is proving himself to be the best player on this team. Like Steve Nash with Phx, Celtics would be nothing without Rondo.

  11. gville - May 12, 2010 at 3:58 PM

    Let’s not forget to give Doc Rivers and the coaching staff some credit. They have stepped up to the plate. This team is peaking at just the right time. If they can devise a defense to stop Orlando they can handle the Lakers. The problem with Cleveland is that everybody plays off “King James”. The Lakers And Orlando have this same achilles heal, Three/(4) against one is pretty good odds…

  12. Shane - May 12, 2010 at 4:34 PM

    really? FYI, the Celtics are playing the best team in the league (record wise) in round 2, Lakers played the worst team in the playoffs, the Jazz, big deal, you swept them, good luck with Phoenix your gonna need it.

  13. [a] proxy - May 12, 2010 at 5:13 PM

    No luck necessary, but good luck trying to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals where the Orlando Magic will be well rested waiting for the winner of your series.

  14. Mike - May 12, 2010 at 5:26 PM

    When the Celtics win it all again, it will prove the Lakers were a fluke last year and only won because KG was hurt.

  15. Rick - May 12, 2010 at 5:58 PM

    Spot-on analysis. Well-written and nicely presented. … Thanks for showcasing the other side of the story.

  16. sanclementejedi - May 12, 2010 at 6:12 PM

    Sweep as in the Celtics swept the Lakers the last time they played them in the finals?

  17. [a] proxy - May 12, 2010 at 8:23 PM

    Know your facts before you make a bold statement like that. Unless, your definition of a sweep is 4 – 2 in a series . However in the real world, a sweep really means 4 – 0 in a series. Get your facts straight buddy or learn what the word sweep means.

  18. Mary - May 12, 2010 at 8:35 PM

    Awesome article. I have been a Celts fan since birth, kind of amazing as I am from the deep south. I was at Game 6, when as they left the court for halftime, PP turned-made a bit of a salute and said “And that, is that”. Brian, a true Celts fan and Boston boy, said “we have won this game”, and of course the rest is history. Healthy and on their game, I doubt Bird, Magic or MJ could have fared well against these Celts….

  19. Spelling - May 12, 2010 at 8:46 PM

    The Celtics’ defense is “shakey”? So is your spelling!

  20. Bob - May 12, 2010 at 8:54 PM

    Good article telling the other side of the story for Game 5.
    Two points to add:
    1. The continued improvement of KG. Two months ago, KG was not playing at this level. A few articles have suggested that the recovery time for his surgery is 1 yr plus. That adds to the Celtics rise as this long season progresses.
    2. Rondo’s maturity. The reason Rondo’s stats were down in the first half and it was the big 3 getting Boston started. The Cavs, now well aware of what Rondo was capable of, were collapsing on him and giving the big 3 more openings. Rondo’s smart enough not to force things and content to take what the Cavs defense was giving him. When they went back to guarding the Big 3 more closely in the 3rd, guess who started driving through the lanes that were now opening up.
    The big IF on the Celtics all year has been their health, but neglected was their BBall IQ and their ability to trust in each other and play as a unit. These last 2 factors is what separate them from most other teams. When all 3 of these lineup and they play this way for 4 quarters (their chief flaw this year has been to slack off, and being an old/veteran team, they have a hard time coming back explosively once they’re in a hole), they ARE an elite team capable of beating anyone.
    Still hard to say how far they’re going to go in the playoffs, but right now, I guess most teams would prefer not to play them.

  21. jp - May 12, 2010 at 9:15 PM

    I’m amazed a non-Boston sports writer actually can see the forest through the trees w/o prejudice. I don’t know how long the C’s can keep this up but it is pure, unselfish, basketball; a true pleasure to watch team basketball. I loathe diva basketball teams and the divas everyone kowtows to. (that means you refs). It’s demeaning to the game when individual play has more importance than team play. You can’t have true team play without total dedication to defense. When will people understand this is the root of all dynasties – i love Doc because he gets it and coaches that way and he’s lookin’ good.

  22. sunsalltheway - May 12, 2010 at 9:33 PM

    it is pretty amazing that no one outside of the state of Arizona give the Suns any chance to beat the Lakers. Lopez is getting healthy and Dragic snd the bench will eat up the Lakers. Suns in Five or Six

  23. Eric of Melbourne - May 13, 2010 at 1:20 AM

    Great article!
    How good is Rondo going to be? Amazing that with all the extreme talent in the NBA, some guys can simply crank it up a few more notches!
    Is it too soon to pray for a continuation of the legendary Celtics/Lakers rivalry?

  24. Whipping post - May 13, 2010 at 3:55 AM

    Great article.. I rarely agree with these sport analysts.

  25. LeBoob - May 13, 2010 at 1:18 PM

    I have to say this was a well written article except for the omission of the coaches. As usual Cleveland has been blessed with another great regular season coach, we already had that with Lenny Wilkens, Mike Hargrove and Marty Schottenheimer.
    Around Cleveland the fans are saying that in a 30 point loss you can’t blame the coach, it is on the players, I disagree. Doc Rivers is not getting enough credit and Mike Brown isn’t being hammered the way he should be.
    The Cavs rotation has been deplorable. Do we have to insist on starting Shaq because he is here to help the King win his ring? No, when you are dealing with an older Celtics team you get Hickson back out there or Moon and bring Shaq in off the bench and what exactly was the reason we brought in Powe?
    Stick with what was working late in the season. They throw Jamison and Shaq out there at the same time when they only played in four regular season games together. Z was sent away and came back and it shows. Trust the guys that played together during the last month, month and a half of the season. The Cavs don’t need experience, they need players that can run and create offense. Running set offensive plays obviously isn’t working.
    Have you noticed that during the broadcasts they show the Celtics huddles three to one over the Cavs, is it because there is more substance from Rivers or is it because Mike Brown doesn’t take charge of the huddle?
    The game plan is supposed to start with the head coach and trickle down from there. As wise as Lebron thinks he is, he is not a coach, he is a player and needs to stick to the roll he is getting paid for. Suggestions and motivation are great but don’t take over the huddle because that just tells me that Mike Brown is there to waste space and nothing more.
    The focus is on the thumping the Celtics gave the Cavs the other night but we have already forgotten the thumping the Cavs handed the Celtics in game three in their house. Between those two games there was a 60 point swing. Since then Boston has been able to adjust while the Cavs hope everything works out for the best.
    When the Cavs lose this series I am 100% positive Mike Brown will be gone. As for LeBoob he is looking like another Jose Mesa for us poor Cleveland fans.

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