Everyone mentions the Kevin Garnett injury, and that is of course key. Even if he’s only worth a couple of points a game over his replacement (I would argue it’s more), that’s all five games against Chicago that don’t go into overtime. Fewer games, shorter games. More energy for Orlando. Whether KG would have been a difference maker versus Cleveland is now moot. But it would have been interesting.
Leon Powe’s absence gets mentioned occasionally. I am less convinced by that. Powe would have had some of Scalabrine’s minutes, some of Davis’s. Given his inconsistency, I’m not sure there’s much advantage. Having a 1-2 punch, with a player who is like Dwight Howard, might have also been enough advantage, given that both series were so close.
I haven’t heard anyone mention James Posey. As the Celtics did well in the regular season without him, he doesn’t automatically come to mind. But the way the playoffs have gone, Posey would have provided a) defense, b) rest for Pierce, and c) shooting roughly equivalent to Eddie House. I think that combination of advantages, even with KG out, would have the Celtics winning both series in 6 games, going into the Eastern Conference finals with less fatigue. Ah well. Too late now.
On the plus side, I don’t think we have to spend money to keep Leon Powe now. Glen Davis has some defensive liabilities, but is certainly an adequate backup at PF. A rotating triad of Garnett/Perkins/Davis will be fine up front. For now.
The Big Three are now the Biggish Three. Ray Allen tired is not quite Ray Allen. Paul Pierce tired is an All-Star, but no longer able to take over games. Garnett? Dunno, but he’s a year older as well. The emergence of Rajon Rondo has been very satisfying, but the playoffs showed he cannot consistently take over a half, though he can do it sometimes. He and Perkins, with normal improvement, likely just offset the diminution of the Biggish Three next year.
Except. Except there may be no improvement in Rondo, Perkins, and Davis next year if defensive coach Tom Thibodeau takes a head coaching job elsewhere. That would be a largely invisible, but enormous, loss.
Thus, bench strength becomes the key for next year. Big Baby has already discussed – he can be a respectable 6th man. But who will give Pierce a rest? Who will back up Rondo and not be a sharp dropoff in talent? Eddie House filled in valiantly, but not expertly. When Stephon Marbury came, House’s 3-point percentage went way up, which means he can back up Ray Allen if there is a legitimate point guard.
Backups are doubly important with older teams. Paul Pierce not only needs more rest, the Celtics also need someone who isn’t terrible if Pierce gets injured. Quality backups at PG and SF, whether they bring more offense or more defense doesn’t really matter. See you next year.