(This is the second and final installment of our Q&A with Nick LaRocque of ChatCelts.com.)
Knicks Fanatics: Other than what you have already stated, are there any matchups that we should pay close attention to in order to get a feel for how this series will end?
Nick: I think this is the series where Ray Allen gets going again. I don’t think Landry Fields is going to be able to chase him around screens all night long. Billups may be able to do this, but I don’t know if you want him expending that much energy on that end of the court. Toney Douglas is certainly athletic enough, but he’s giving up three inches to Ray. As the Celtics offense has become less effective over the past month, Ray’s shot attempts have plummeted. As I expect the Celtics offense to return to form, I expect Ray to get a lot more open looks. This series provides the perfect opportunity for his resurgence.
Also, this isn’t necessarily a matchup, but Jeff Green is a guy who I see as the Celtics “x-factor” during this postseason. Many people say that the reason they lost game 7 last year was because Perk was out and they got killed on the boards. To me, more than anything, that game 7 loss was less about the absence of Perk and more about the tendency of the Celtics to become stagnate offensively in the fourth quarter of games (Rondo is often less aggressive during these times, as he doesn’t want to go to the line). Green scores more easily than any bench player we’ve had in a while, but he’s been really inconsistent. If he’s contributing offensively, I think the Celtics are going to be really dangerous.
Knicks Fanatics: Although the older elements of the "Core Four" seem to be in great shape, it appears that Rondo is mentally off balance as his game has deformed somewhat since he was effectively cut from the Olympic Team and lost his best bud Kendrick Perkins. Could he be feeling lonely and disrespected? Do you think there is any truth to that observation and will Rondo be mature and competitive enough to become the dominant force he can be?
Nick: I would actually disagree that he has been off balance since being cut from the Olympic squad. He began this season looking better than ever before. His assist numbers were off the charts. His jump shot, albeit still not reliable, had improved. He seemed to be directing and utilizing the pieces around him at an incredible level (as evidenced by the fact that all 5 starters were shooting over 50%). It’s been a rough year for Rondo physically. He’s been battling plantar fasciitis (a silent killer) since November, he sprained his ankle and missed time in December, and he had a finger injury in March. There’s no question he misses Perk. We all do. I think the shakeup has caused on the court issues. But, do I think his emotions about it are affecting his game? No.
I really think Rondo is going to be fine. The Big Four just got a week off to refocus. The pairing down of the playbook should help execution, and I expect Rondo to be extremely aggressive. I know the impact of Perk on his psyche has been a big story. But, if it really has that effect on him in the postseason, then everything I’ve learned about him as a competitor is false.
Knicks Fanatics: They've been aging for a few years now but the Big Three keep coming back ready to play a full season. It is likely they will be ready again next season, but there are obvious holes in the bench, at the five spot and will likely be a bigger hole in the coaching area along the sidelines. Are Boston fans at all concerned about the team's future especially with the rise of the Heat, Bulls and ultimately the New York Knicks?
Nick: There’s no question that the future is uncertain for this squad. The departure of Perk added an additional layer of mystery. On Doc: I didn’t expect him to be back this year, but he is. I don’t expect him to be back next year, but the fact that next season is the last with the big three under contract could feasibly coax him back. As you said, there are a number of concerns. Center is a big one, but I think they should be able to find someone on the relative cheap who can fit their system (someone who can protect the rim). What concerns me the most are the contract of Delonte West, Jeff Green, and Glen Davis. I’d LOVE for them to keep all three of those guys, but I don’t think it’s feasible. It sounds a bit twisted, but Delonte’s prior demons and his comfort level in Boston might help the Cs sign him to a cap friendly deal. After that, I think they find themselves in a position where they need to choose between Glen Davis and Jeff Green. With the way Davis has been coming on, I’m worried that he’s going to have a chance to go elsewhere for far more than the Celtics can or should pay him.
Essentially, the time to win is now. In the past the big 4 have been able to attract quality vets for cap-friendly deals because those guys wanted a title shot. But, as you said, with the Heat, Bulls, and Knicks being much improved, those valuable free agents may prefer to take their talents elsewhere. In that sense, I’d say a lot of their success in the offseason will be shaped by their success in these playoffs. If they exit early, they’re going to have a hard time getting guys to sign on the cheap. Plus, right now they’re in good shape for 2012-2013 (only Rondo and Pierce under contract) so they won’t want to give out any unnecessary long term deals to mess that up.
(Chatcelts.com is undergoing a major reconstruction which will be completed shortly after the publication of this article. Visit Nick there and follow his blog on twitter @ChatCeltics. Also follow us on twitter @LINJLNY and Facebook)