Yesterday, I did a Q & A with Steve Weinman, of TrueHoop's D-League Digest, who just happens to be a lifelong Celtics fans and writer for CelticsBlog. Although he had the misfortune of being born into a Celtics-rooting home, he's still a pretty cool guy and quite knowledgeable when it comes to basketball, especially about those chumps in green. So, I decided to pick his brain for his thoughts on Game Seven. ( Oh, and he's bleeds Dodger Blue. Does that help some? Maybe after Thursday...) You can view my answers to his questions here.
Wondahbap: Obviously, the big story going into Game Seven is Kendrick Perkins' injury. I always thought his presence was one of, if not the most, crucial aspect to the Celtics' defense against the Lakers. What can the Celtics do to overcome his absence?
Weinman: There is no question that losing Perk is a major blow (which is not some excuse-in-advance for Game Seven or an implied claim that Game Six, an out-and-out disaster from the green perspective no matter who was on the floor, would have gone all that differently without him). He has been the team's most consistent low-post defensive presence throughout the year, and particularly against a team with the Lakers' size, the Celts need all the bulk they can get....
More after the Jump...
That said, this Celts team has gotten it done by committee throughout the postseason, and the green will need the same to hold true to take care of business in Game Seven. It's not so much about any one player having a monster game as it is getting solid minutes across the board from Rasheed Wallace, Glen Davis and whoever Doc Rivers elects to use as his fourth big, be it Brian Scalabrine or Shelden Williams. To my eye, Wallace has been the team's most effective defender against Pau Gasol (his work in the second half of Game Four comes to mind in particular). The Infuriated Infant has given the Celtics solid energy off the bench, but he's been inconsistent, posting fine offensive performances in Games Three and Four and going scoreless since. If the Celts can avoid foul trouble and get a little bit from bigs two through four and something more resembling a turn-back-the-clock game from the elephant sitting in the corner of the room in this discussion (you know, the future HoF power forward whose performances have been all over the map), I think they'll have a reasonable shot to pull this one out in spite of Perk's absence.
Weinman: Stranger things have happened. But I don't have much else to add to that. The Lakers have terrific size in their frontcourt, and Bynum and Gasol were causing problems while the Celts were at full strength. Can't help to lose your center. Speaking of losing centers, however, I have no idea what to expect from Bynum health-wise at this point, and if he's limited physically (which I have no desire to see), that would be a notable step toward evening the scales.
Weinman: As I mentioned earlier, Rasheed has done a good job with Pau in this series. During the Celtics' bench-sparked run in the fourth quarter of Game Four, Wallace's work against Gasol on the block defensively kept him on the floor despite another rough night shooting the ball. While I don't know how thrilled I am about KG taking Bynum at this point (if Bynum is anywhere close to healthy, he just has more strength), I think we'll see a lot of Wallace taking Gasol. Further, if Bynum is limited, Garnett is definitely the better match-up for Odom than Wallace would be.
Offensively, Rasheed's presence is... weird. Here's a guy who shot 28.3% from the three-point line in the regular season, posted a 50.4% true shooting mark during the year and has been better but not spectacular in the playoffs at 35.3% and 53.6% on those figures, respectively (and he's 4-for-17 on threes in this Finals) - but he still unquestionably requires attention that Perk doesn't. There's the obvious point that even as poorly as he has shot from deep over the duration of the season and through this series, he still has three-point range and can't be completely ignored. But of potentially even greater value (if he would just commit to going to the block) is that he's far more capable of creating his own shot inside than Perk is. If Wallace posts up, his length and craftiness give him the ability to cause trouble with his fade to the baseline and stand-up bank from the wings as well as a couple of moves going toward the middle of the paint.
Of the many things about this Celtics team that have baffled me all year, Rasheed Wallace is close to the top of the list. I was ready to run him out of town by the early spring, and while I'm still not sure that feeling has completely changed, he's also had important flashes of value this postseason. I have no idea what to expect from him or how it affects this team in Game Seven. I hope he plays well.
Weinman: I really liked what we saw from Shelden Williams in the opportunities he got early in the season before the Pugnacious Papoose (Big Baby) returned from injury. Thought he showed himself capable of contributing both on the glass and defensively, and there were times this throughout the season when I would have liked to see more of him, especially because I thought he was more the victim of circumstance and the numbers game than actually playing his way out of the rotation. That said, he hasn't been a regular part of the in-game activities for several months now, and that makes the results on Tuesday and at the end of the first half of Game Two less than surprising. While I expected him to look better than he did in his limited minutes, the time without game action takes a toll. If the Celts' bigs can stay out of foul trouble, it's hard to see him getting any significant run in Game Seven, and at this point, I'd have a hard time faulting Doc for that.
Weinman: It's absolutely Rajon Rondo, although getting him established has more to do with the defense than the offense. The Celtics' 22nd ranking in pace this season is more a testament to the fact that when they end up resetting into halfcourt sets, they don't take a lot of quick shots. It doesn't mean that they don't like to run. The Celts flourish offensively when they get stops, get the ball to Rondo (although he starts his own share of breaks by collecting the boards himself) and push in transition. Given his speed, it's no great insight on my part to say that he's most dangerous in the open court, and once he gets defenders on their heels in odd-man rushes, the Celtics' offense jumps a notch - or several. Once Rondo gets to the rim a couple of times, it's going to be that much easier for Ray Allen and Paul Pierce to get space from the outside and Kevin Garnett to start making catches wide open from the elbows extended. Further, when the Celtics run, Rondo ends up creating easy transition lay-ins for his teammates, and each of the big three could benefit from a couple of easy look at the outset, especially given how each have struggled at times this series.
I'm all aboard the Rondo train when it comes to his importance to this offense, though it bears noting that any team with even a slightly unreliable free throw shooter as primary ball-handler is playing with fire, much less a point guard who has gone 4-for-17 from the alleged charity stripe in this series. Still, an active and effective Rondo could make the greatest positive difference on his teammates in this game.
Bill Simmons: Uniquely polarizing
Weinman: There are way too many divergent views among Celts fans for me to feel comfortable speaking for anyone other than myself on this one, so I'll cop out on the "most Celtics fans" part, but I'll try for this Celtics fan: It's amazing what an underachieving regular season will do for your perspective. At the beginning of the year, I expected the Celtics to be one of the league's two best teams, and if you told me that the Lakers and Celtics would be playing in a seventh game for the title, that wouldn't have been much of a shock - or a problem. Of course, I want to see the Celtics win this game. Badly. But going into the season? There are 30 teams in the league. One of them goes home champion each year. As a fan, if you're going to believe that the season is a complete failure any year that doesn't end in a title, you're going to spend a lot of time moping around.
But by the time early April rolled around, all evidence pointed to Cleveland and Orlando being clearly better in the East and Atlanta probably causing major match-up problems for the Celtics. Out west, the Lakers...and possibly everyone else...looked like they could be a problem. Getting to watch this team turn it up over the last two months has been a special experience, and I'm thrilled to have been along for the ride. I'm a big believer that the championship is the ultimate ends-justifies-the-means (off-court misconduct excepted) for performance over the course of a long season. Win, and I expect a lot of people to see the whole of 2009-10 in a different light. Win or lose, I'm still proud of what this team has accomplished during this postseason run and happy that I got to experience four rounds of mostly excellent basketball. But you won't see as many folks ready to forget some of the missteps of the regular season. Maybe that's not fair. But when you have guys talking about 70-plus wins at the season's outset, and when you come out with as many complete no-shows as this team did against clearly inferior competition this season (even with the health issues taken into account), particularly on its home floor, well, tough nuggies when it comes to what's fair. This team earned the beating it took from its critics during the regular season, and that made the bar to vanquish the frustrations of the regular schedule that much higher. So it goes. I hope that made some kind of sense.
Wondahbap: Your predictions for Game 7?
Sadly, I am not much of a subscriber to the theories of the IntangiblesMetrics community (one can only imagine where Derek Fisher ranks in Grit Produced), so I'll channel my inner Ken Tremendous (come on, who else sorely misses FJM?) and say that I think the team that plays better offense and defense and in effect scores more points, well, I think that team will have a super-decent chance to win.
Sorry, couldn't resist. Honestly, that goofiness aside, I don't have a clue how it goes tonight, and I couldn't be happier about it. It's Game 7 of the Finals between two great teams who also happen to represent the league's two most storied franchises. Seriously, what could be better? Regardless of what happens tonight, it will be worth remembering how excited you felt leading up to this game. I know I will.
Of course, there's no way I'm not picking the Celts, so just for prognostication's sake, I'll say the green wins, 93-86. I picked those numbers off the top of my head. There is no hidden meaning. I promise. Good luck, thanks a ton to Rob and the crew here at SSR for having me aboard, and go Celts.