Problem: You are the Celtics, one of the most egregious examples of a team built for the short-term in the NBA's history. If it hadn't been for the Shaquille O'Neal/Gary Payton/Dwayne Wade Heat, you would probably be the worst, and if you lose this year, history will remember you as something akin to basketball's equivalent of the Jose Canseco/Greg Vaughn/Fred McGriff Tampa Bay Devil Rays. You have to do well right now because the chances of another injury-free, high-spirits season are slim.
Solution: Remember that Paul Pierce is still in his prime, averaged at least 25.0 points per game for the two years before this one, and has always come to play in big games. Last night he was as good or better than LeBron, and he will present serious problems for Detroit in the next round.
Problem: Now you have to play the Pistons, you have a terrible record in away games, and as an opponent, the Pistons are vastly superior to the Cavs and the Hawks.
Solution: This is going to be a tricky puzzle for Boston if the Celts can't find some offensive continuity. Last night, it was depressing to see Kevin Garnett unable to shake Ben Wallace laterally and be forced into shooting turnaround jumpers, and I'm of the opinion that he'll do the same against Rasheed Wallace. It was even more depressing to see Ray Allen mired in what has to be one of the worst slumps of his career. Doc Rivers benching him for most of Game 7 will not bolster his confidence.
However, the Celtics have something to counteract the Pistons: defense. I believe that Garnett can shut down Rasheed Wallace in the post and on the perimeter, Rondo can give Chauncey Billups serious problems, James Posey can hold off Tayshaun Prince, and that Eddie House can guard Richard Hamilton. I think that's exactly the way the Celtics should try to match up, because they will still be superior offensively, can float Paul Pierce around wherever he pleases, and can try to work Ray Allen in as a sixth man. If Allen gets his groove back, it's over.
The problem with this, obviously, is that Detroit will have another big man on the floor, but I like the strategy of making the Pistons adjust to a small lineup. The other big man will most likely be Antonio McDyess, who can't defend Pierce and who is mainly a mid-range jump shooter. If Detroit decides to use Jason Maxiell, this will be more of a problem for Pierce, but again, on offense, he will be almost untouchable. I think in this scenario the Celtics could and should win the series within six games.
Problem: P.J. Brown just knocked you out of the playoffs.
Problem: It is 2008, this is the playoffs, and P.J. Brown is emerging as your second best player.
Problem: Last night's game was one of the worst examples of officiating I can remember. To the credit of the refs, they were fairly impartial in their incompetency. The only time the game had any flow was in the latter half of the third quarter, when the refs swallowed their whistles and watched as Paul Pierce and LeBron James engaged each other in great display of individual rivalry within team sports.
The only thing more frustrating than the refereeing was the shoddy coverage by ABC. They refused to show replays of bad calls and Jeff Van Gundy failed to notice many of the errors. It seemed like he was more concerned with one-liners, and it was quite vexing to hear the commentators discuss the replays being shown to the Garden crowd (eliciting loud boos) but not get to see them on the broadcast.
The sorry state of refereeing is a real problem in the NBA, and I'm always astonished how bad the playoff crews can be. I realize that they can't see everything, but there's one ref for every three players out there and they are generally inconsistent, inattentive, and combative.
Specifically, last night's crew of Ken Mauer, Eddie Rush, and Bennett Salvatore was calling fouls with a complete lack of uniformity (the only thing Van Gundy noticed), missing travels and double dribbles, unable to see who touched the ball last as it went out of bounds, not getting offensive fouls right, and doing a grave injustice in failing to assess Delonte West a technical foul for his antics during the Eddie House jump-ball fiasco. The crew not in control, they let players and the crowd influence them, and they were not up to the standards of professional referees, let alone the more elite crews that are supposed to officiate playoff games.
Some background on the bunch: Ken Mauer served five months in jail for felony tax evasion in 2000. Eddie Rush is statistically one of seven referees in the NBA who had worse records for the home team against the spread than Tim Donaghy. Salvatore is remembered for making two series-changing calls in the Miami/Dallas finals of 2006 including a foul call with 1.9 seconds remaining in a game the Mavericks led by one that led to a problem wherein "ABC sports, the television network covering the 2006 finals, could not display a conclusive replay supporting the call by Salvatore". (See Salvatore's wikipedia entry. He also once said "I can't tell you how many times I make a call that I think is correct -- and then go into locker room and it's wrong or vice versa.")
This is the play from the 2006 Finals (fast forward to 3:55). Keep in mind we're talking about a last second shot here in a one point game in overtime in the NBA finals with a series tied at 2-2.
Solution: For all the NBA's talk, they obviously have poor accountability. They happily let Tim Donaghy ref important playoff games despite years of statistics showing a spread-based bias, and he'd probably be doing the same thing if the FBI hadn't stepped in with some help from an organization that knows how to conduct an investigation.
It's not that hard to explain to refs what rules you want standardized and how they should be called. The NBA probably employs a few hundred people who are experts in basketball, even compared with the most self-righteous fan (me). Why can't they figure out a program to shore up the refereeing and make the games more about basketball?
I truly believe the games would be much more fun to watch if the referees called the game consistently and let the players play in the playoffs. Though I was happy they didn't call a foul on PJ Brown on LeBron's last drive last night (which was, by the way, a very good call).
Problem: David West won't be at 100% tonight after being injured by Big Game Bob.
Solution: Chris Paul.
As always, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org