What the Celtics need to remember is a little phrase that Kevin Garnett himself screwed up in 2008; “anything is possible.” He meant to say “impossible is nothing”, the slogan of his former shoe sponsor, Adidas, but that’s besides the point. What matters here is the idea behind the phrase. While the Celitcs are looking at an improbable 2-0 hole, it’s not an impossible one. CelticsBlog did most of the leg work to breakdown the Celtics chances based on the NBA’s playoff history to actually come back and win this series. According to the numbers, NBA teams have come back to win a series after going down 2-0 only 14 times.
But the game of basketball isn’t a coin flip and historic percentages don’t guarantee future results. Adjustments need to be made if the Celtics want to comeback to win. Watching the first two games, Miami seemed to outclass Boston in all aspects of basketball. in Game 1, the Heat won on virtue of their outside shooting. Not only did they hit 47% of their 3-pointers, they continually knocked down improbable jumpers from 17-20 feet out, one of the most inefficient shots you can take. The final result in the game was a 9-point victory for Miami but as a Boston fan, you weren’t that fearful. Pierce had been ejected in the game and outside of Ray Allen, no one showed up. Looking at the box score to see that Miami held the Celtics to just 42.7% shooting (Boston leads the NBA in FG%) was the most encouraging sign. There was no way Miami would stay that hot from the floor and Boston was bound to find the basket sooner or later.
Game 2 came and Miami’s shooting returned back to Earth but Boston still couldn’t find the rim and their defense seemed to be more Clippers than Celtics. Boston gave up 38 points in the paint and was only able to get Miami to turn the ball over 10 times. Add to that Miami’s game leading 44 rebounds, 12 of them on the offensive glass, and you begin to paint a picture of exactly how the Heat ground the Celtics down to pulp.
But this can’t be all the Celtics have left int he tank, can it? The Celtics beat the Heat three out of four times in the regular season and, for the most part, did it convincingly. So what’s different here?
Shaq has missed the last four games vs. Miami. Boston won the first game he missed but they had the assistance of Kendrick Perkins but dropped the final match-up of the season after Shaq was sidelined with injuries and Perkins was delt to the Thunder. In the games without a big man to clog the middle, Boston has gone 0-3 against the Heat. Not to knock Jermaine O’Neal but he’s played no more than 21 minutes in each of the playoff games vs. Miami. He’s played well,
having an overall +/- of +2 despite the Celtics being an overall -20 for the series but his limited minutes lead to long stretches of the game where Garnett or the struggling Glen Davis have to man the middle.
So, can a 39-year old, oft-injured, Shaq really be the answer? Currently, the Celtics are struggling on both ends of the floor so they can use all the help they can get. According to 82games.com, the line-up of Rondo, Allen, Pierce, Garnett, S. O’Neal played 266 minutes together and produced an offensive rating of 117 points per 100 possessions while only allowing 99 points per 100 possession and producing a +/- of +101 points. It’s not that Shaq is an all-world defender or a threat to win his 4th finals MVP trophy. He’s just big. He’s big and he can still score one-on-one due to his massive size.
One of the biggest issues Boston is having is with Wade and LeBron playing the passing lanes, essentially neutralizing Rondo’s greatest strength, passing. Rajon loves to get deep into the defense and then find the open man with a kick-out, but with Davis struggling and Jermaine not giving anything on offense, the Miami defense is able to rotate more and shoot the passing lanes in comfort. A few times in game 2 Rondo beat his defender off the dribble, got into the lane and had the defense collapse around him. He had no inside threat to hand the ball off to (Garnett loves to hang out at the 17-ft range) and was unable to get the ball to the shooters because Wade and LeBron had no need to rotate off of Allen and Pierce. The results from Rondo’s drives were a variation of a forced layup by Rondo, a blown lay up by Davis or steals on the desperation kick-out passes to the Boston shooters.
In the first three games with Miami, Boston won by a total of 16 points. In those games the Celtics had over 40 rebounds twice and had 19+ assist in all 3 games. They also got to the free throw line 25+ times in each game. Since the third game Boston hasn’t had a game of where they collected more than 39 rebounds, they haven’t had more 18 assists or gotten tot he line more than 22 times. They’ve also lost the battle for the paint. Boston scored a combined 112 points int he paint over the course of the first three games. over the last 3, they have scored just 90. They’ve also been outscored in the paint by 18 in those 3 games compared to their +22 point advantage in the paint over the previous 3 games.
Shaq’s ability to be that dump-down guy for Rondo will help immensely. Not to mention, it will probably force Spoelstra to play Big Z more minutes which will send unsung hero, Joel Anthony, to the bench for longer than Miami can afford. It worked in the first three match-ups and Boston has to hope it works in the playoffs. But the key, as has been since Danny Ainge decided to ship Perkins off, will be Shaq’s health. If he can fill in the 20+ minute void that Jermaine O’Neal is leaving behind, Boston will have a good chance to get back into this series, especially with three of the next four games being played in Boston.
It’s going to take a lot of hard work and some luck for the Celtics to turn this one around. Thankfully, the Big Shamrock is finally active for game three. Now let’s see if he’s effective.
Shane is a contributor to Stacheketball.com, LarryBrownSports.com & NBAoffseason.com. You can find him babbling about basketball all over the net or tune in as he tweets nonsense on twitter @Suga_Shane.