Monday, May 18, 2009

Celtics 2008-9: Postmortem

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.


Ben Wyman said...

I don't think your assessment of the Celtic's needs is totally accurate. You're thinking of substitutions as 1-to-1: Who replaces this guy? Who backs who up? What kind of drop-off is there?

Subs don't replace players, they give the coach opportunities to give teams different looks. Posey gave us another SF/SG last year to add in, so while he could replace either Allen or Pierce, he could also come in for Perkins and give the Celtics a new look as they went small-ball. That was his big advantage: he was a guy who could change the flow of the game by his presence.

This playoff, the Celtics simply lacked bigs. We had Perkins, who was huge, but that still left us with Davis and Scalabrine (both jump shooters who play 15 feet from the basket), and no one else. Our rotation wasn't deep enough to give Allen and Pierce rest, and they wore down. Marbury had some nice moments, but he couldn't play on the same floor as Rondo, it bogged down the offense, he was a sub only.

The Celtics played as hard as any team in this playoffs has played, and they showed a lot of resilience, but they were old and worn down and it showed, and they didn't have any energetic young bodies to throw out there and run the floor.

Look, these playoffs showed HUGE strides for a lot of our subs who were previously considered barely-NBA-quality players (Scalabrine, Baby). I'm all for resigning Baby, Powe, and House, since they've all been great for us, but next year Allen, Pierce, and Garnett all need to coast heading up until the playoffs, and we don't have the horses for that right now, and we've got to do something about that if we're gonna have a chance at one last big go-round with this bunch.

Gringo said...

We are back to 87-88. Old and injured. Perhaps Danny made a mistake in letting Posey go, in thinking that the team could compete better in 4 years w/o his salary.But we couldn't have gone much further this year w Posey and w/o Garnett, so that argument may be scotched. BBD certainly stepped up.

In any event, Danny's trading got us the first title in 21 years. Just hope another 21 don't have to transpire.

Maybe MIT can clone #6.