This is not the matchup most “experts” including myself thought would happen. Most of us had the Magic playing the Cavs but the Celtics deserve to be here as they proved to be a better team than Cleveland. This is actually a very even matched series and don’t forget that the Celtics won two games on the road to beat the Cavs which means they aren’t too worried about the Magic having home court advantage. Here is a close look at the matchups in this series:
POINT GUARD: Rajon Rondo has stepped up his game as he has been the best player on the court for the Celtics this post season. That’s really saying something seeing how he’s playing with three future Hall of Famers. Rondo has played in 11 games (all starts) this post season and he is averaging 41.9 minutes, 18.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, 11.1 assists and 2.1 steals per game. He excels on both ends of the basketball court and I don’t think that will change in this series.
Jameer Nelson has been the guy that has made the Magic go this post season but he hasn’t played against a guy like Rondo who will be in his face this whole series. Nelson is a shoot first point guard. He has played in 8 games (all starts) this post season and he is averaging 33.4 minutes, 20.5 points, 2.6 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.6 steals per game.
SHOOTING GUARD: This should be a exciting matchup at both Ray Allen and Vince Carter are offensive players first. Ray Allen is a sharp shooter so the Celtics hope they will be able to get him some open looks in this series. Allen has played in 11 games (all starts) for the Celtics this post season and he is averaging 37.1 minutes, 17.4 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.0 steal per game. The Celtics need him to average at least 15 points per game in this series if they are going to win it.
Vince Carter will have to step up his game in this series because I have a problem in believing that Jameer Nelson is going to do well against Rondo. Carter has played in 8 games (all starts) in the post season so far and he is averaging 35.3 minutes, 16.9 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. Carter is not known for playing his best in the playoffs but the Magic can’t afford to have him lay an egg in this series.
CENTER: Kendrick Perkins does the dirty work for the Celtics and he is going to be a big key to this series. Perkins is a tough guy who will try to battle Dwight Howard inside in this series. Perkins has started all 11 games this post season and he is averaging 26.7 minutes, 6.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 0.9 assists and 2.3 blocked shots per game.
Dwight Howard is without a doubt the best player on the court in this series. But he will need to stay out of foul trouble and that could be hard as he will have to help guard Kevin Garnett inside as there is no way Rashard Lewis will be able to stop him. Howard has started 8 games this post season for the Magic and he is averaging 31.9 minutes, 15.4 points, 11.3 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game.
POWER FORWARD: Kevin Garnett is too tall for Rashard Lewis to defend. This puts the Magic in a bind as Garnett has been playing very well in the playoffs. If the Magic try to guard K.G. with Howard then the Celtics would have a huge advantage inside with Perkins over Lewis. Garnett has played in 10 games (all starts) this post season and he is averaging 34.8 minutes, 17.6 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.0 steal per game.
Rashard Lewis is a pretty soft power forward as he likes to shoot a lot from the outside. This will force Kevin Garnett away from the basket making things easier on D for Dwight Howard. Lewis has played in 8 games (all starts) for the Magic in the post season and he is averaging 36.9 minutes, 16.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. They need Lewis to be on his game offensively if the Magic hope to win this series.
SMALL FORWARD: Paul Pierce has had a rough go in the post season so far as he is only shooting 39.6% from the floor. But he won’t have LeBron James in his face in this series so he should do much better against the Magic. Pierce has played in 11 games (all starts) during the playoffs and he is averaging 36.5 minutes, 16.3 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. I look for Pierce to put up better numbers than that in this series.
Matt Barnes is allegedly a defensive stopper so we will see if he lives up to that reputation in this series. Barnes has played in 8 games (all starts) for the Magic in the playoffs in which he is averaging 24.8 minutes, 7.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.0 steal per game. The Magic are going to need Barnes to get a little more involved offensively in an attempt to slow down Paul Pierce by making him work on defense.
BENCH: The Celtics won’t likely go too deep on the bench in this series. Tony Allen was the main man off the bench against the Cavs for the Celtics and he will likely be really active in this series. Allen has played in 11 games (0 starts) in the playoffs and he is averaging 18.5 minutes, 7.5 points, 2.4 rebounds, 0.7 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Glen “Big Baby” Davis has also been pretty solid for the Celtics in the playoffs. Davis has played in 11 games (1 start) for the Celtics during the post season in which he is averaging 18.6 minutes, 7.4 points, 3.7 rebounds and 0.5 assists per game. Rasheed Wallace hasn’t done much in the playoffs yet but he knows how to win the big game and he could make a couple of big plays in this series. Wallace has played in 11 games (0 starts) in the playoffs in which he is averaging 15.3 minutes, 5.1 points, 2.2 rebounds and 0.3 assists per game. Michael Finley has played in every game in the post season (11) for the Celtics but he isn’t getting much P.T. averaging 6.5 minutes, 1.4 points, 0.7 rebounds and 0.4 assists per game.
The Magic will likely use their bench more than the Celtics in this series. SG/SF Mickael Pietrus has been hot all through the playoffs for the Magic so far. He has played in 8 games (0 starts) for the Magic in the playoffs and he is averaging 22.1 minutes, 10.3 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.0 assist per game. C/PF Marcin Gortat could be a huge factor in this series based on the sheer size of the Celtics’ front line as he might team with Dwight Howard on the front line more than usual. Gortat has played in 8 games (0 starts) for the Magic during the playoffs and he is averaging 16.4 minutes, 3.9 points, 4.5 rebounds and 0.6 assists per game. J.J. Redick and Jason Williams will likely share the minutes behind Jameer Nelson and Vince Carter. Redick has played in 8 games (0 starts) in which he is averaging 14.0 minutes, 4.8 points, 1.4 rebounds and 1.1 assists in the playoffs. Williams has played in 8 games (0 starts) for the Magic in the playoffs and he is averaging 14.1 minutes, 1.8 points, 0.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game. Ryan Anderson will provide some relief at small forward in this series. He has played in 8 games (0 starts) in which he is averaging 9.8 minutes, 2.9 points, 3.6 rebounds and 0.4 assists in the playoffs so far.
COACHING: Doc Rivers easily outcoached Mike Brown of the Cavs but that’s not saying much. Matching X’s and O’s with Stan Van Gundy is a completely different animal. Still, Rivers is battle tested in the playoffs as the Celtics are 34-24 (58.6%) under him and he has a NBA Championship Ring on his finger as a coach in Boston. He will have his team ready to play.
Stan Van Gundy is a solid basketball coach. Even though some of the players whine about him, Van Gundy always has them ready to play. The Magic are 26-16 (61.9%) under Van Gundy in his career with them.
PREDICTION: As I looked at the matchups in this series I have come to the conclusion that the Celtics will win this series in 7 games. They just have more good basketball players than the Magic do and that will be a huge factor in this series.