Suns @ Celtics "Hype-a-palooza" continues with a mega-Q&A starring Jim of SBNation's Green Bandwagon and Steve Weinman of CelticsBlog. We (and by "we" I mean Phoenix Stan) asked them the hard questions, and got back all sorts of goodies in return. Time to pull out your lucky shamrock and jump in to see what they have to say (quick answer: a lot!).
Bright Side of the Sun: Last year at this time the C's were in full-on tank mode and now you are a contenda'. We know that Lakers fans have a sense of entitlement to winning and take it for granted. Portland diehards are simply thrilled to be somewhat relevant. How have the Celtic's Nation respond to this huge swing?
Green Bandwagon: It takes a lot to impress New England sports fans due to the success of the Red Sox and Patriots over the last several years. In fact the loss to the Giants in the Super Bowl and inane spring training topics like Doug Mirabelli getting waived are still arguably bigger stories on Boston's most popular sports radio talk show. The casual fan did not really pay attention until victories on the road in San Antonio, Houston and Dallas. Meanwhile, the die hards were initially content with being relevant. But the success this regular season has made it such that we'd be disappointed with anything less than a Finals appearance.
CelticsBlog: Uh-oh...an individual speaking for an entire fan base: this can only lead to trouble for me. So I'll do the dishonorable thing and completely straddle the fence. I think the group is somewhere in the middle of the two extremes but by and large leaning toward the "happy to be here" side. Yes, there have been more than a few occasions on which one loss prompted a string of the-sky-is-falling threads on fan sites, but for the most part, those threads have been met with a majority response of "No, the sky is not falling. The team is 40 games over .500. Remember we were a year ago, and look where we are now! Just enjoy the ride!"
Undoubtedly, fans don't take losing well. I'll be the first to admit guilt, having spent a day moping around after Hedo Turkoglu beat the Celts at the buzzer back in January. But by and large, there is definitely an understanding across the fan base that there is something surreal about this seaosn and that there really is an unbelievable aura that should be drank in each and every day on which we get the pleasure of experiencing it.
Bright Side of the Sun: Who coined the phrase "Big Three" and did they get rich on the copyright usage? Beyond "The Three" which Celtic's players 4 thru 8 are most valuable to your team and what do they bring?
Green Bandwagon: I'm actually against using the Big Three unless it refers to Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale. They were big and won championships. But now anytime a team has three stellar players, particularly in the NBA but also in the NFL, people feel inclined to dub them the Big Three. I've shied away from it and unlike "The Curse of the Bambino" I'm not entirely sure where it started, as it may have been in existence prior to the 1980s Celtics. However, I can definitely answer the second half of your question. The best part about the Celtics this season is that Celtics fans don't know who will step up outside of Garnett, Pierce and Allen on any given night. That said I'm most confident in the following players:
Kendrick Perkins - He gives the Celtics size and toughness at the center position. All of their other options at center - KG (don't want him taking the beating), PJ Brown (old), Leon Powe/Glen Davis (undersized) and Brian Sclaabrine (long list) - are not ideal. Perk also knows his role and does some little things well even if he does get into foul trouble, earns technical fouls and has been injured in the past.
Rajon Rondo - Originally drafted by Phoenix he is the holdover from last year whose game has improved the most. I'm a huge fan of his ability to get to the rim and his athleticism in general. Rondo has grabbed some big rebounds this season and is a pesky defender as well.
Leon Powe - A hardworking player that makes the most of his minutes. Though he can get in foul trouble at times, Powe is a proven rebounder and he has a sneaky offensive game. If it were not for knee problems in college I doubt he would be a Celtic. Bonus points because I'm somewhat afraid of him.
James Posey - Even though his three point shot has not been dropping like it was at the beginning of the season he still contributes. Posey is a versatile defender, a nuisance to other teams and seems to know a lot of tricks of the trade. He would fit right in with the San Antonio Spurs. Overall he is one of those guys that you want to have on your team.
Sam Cassell - I'm not entirely sure what it is, but he has it.
CelticsBlog: I wish I could tell you that Big Three didn't date past the '80s Celtics, but alas, word from my vague recollections of history classes in years gone by is that Big Three might have been used to refer to the Allied forces in World War I and was definitely used to refer to the Allied leaders in World War II (FDR, Churchill, Stalin). No word on the royalties issue as of yet.
As for the Celtics, I'll go with Rajon Rondo and James Posey and then cop out by maintaining that what's special about this group is that true 'team nature' that has prevailed all season.
For all the questions about Rondo entering the the season, it has been a pleasure to watch Raj grow all year. He is becoming a stud on the defensive end, and his offensive game isn't far behind. During the absence of Kevin Garnett back in early February, it seemed that Rondo really gained the confidence that he could be the man running the show (Rondo's increased role was a huge part of the reason the C's went 7-2 sans KG), and he has helped change the complexion of the Celts' offense since then. With a more aggressive Rondo truly running the offense, the Celts aren't as likely to stagnate into isolation sets for one of the three stars that fail to properly utilize all the weapons that this team has at its disposal. With Rondo using his speed (he's a blur) to get into the lane, he forces defenses to collapse, thus opening up passing lanes and looks for everyone around him. Or lay-ups for Raj. So long as he stays confident and doesn't get too trigger-happy with his mid-range jumper (which has improved greatly), he will continue to be a major asset to this team.
Posey is the team's top all-around reserve. He brings a bit of everything: championship experience, veteran leadership, toughness, rebounding hustle, three-point shooting, quickness and aggression off the bench and defense on players at three positions. Also, the pre-game hug that he gives each of the starters is routinely the longest embrace I've ever seen. Just an awesome dude to have on this team.
As far as everyone else goes, the values really do change on a night to night basis. There are no eight-man rotations in the world of Doc Rivers. Twelve guys dress every night, which means that twelve guys could see heavy minutes. The question mark that is Kendrick Perkins is huge. Perk was his usual pedestrian self for much of the first three-quarters of the season and then blew up in late February and early March. Lately, he has come back down to Earth a bit, but when he hasn't played well, Leon Powe and the Infuriated Infant (Glen Davis) have both stepped up and done great jobs at different times. Sam Cassell and PJ Brown will both be assets to this team come playoff time. Eddie House might well be my favorite player on this team. As you'll likely remember from his days in Phoenix, the man's energy is super-infectious. It really has been a different cast of supporting characters stepping up on a nightly basis for this team, and that has been a pleasure to watch throughout the season.
Bright Side of the Sun: Amare or KG. If both were free agents right now which would sign?
Green Bandwagon: I'd give Kevin Garnett the edge on defense, leadership and the fact that his teammates seem to like him. That last point does not seem to be the case with Amare Stoudemire. However, even with Stoudemire's knee surgeries, his age coupled with his returned explosiveness make him hard to turn down. I realize Steve Nash makes the team go and the acquisition of Shaquille O'Neal was motivated in part by the point guard's championship window closing. But I'd argue that every move Phoenix makes is in some way tied to Stoudemire. I'm sure the Suns aren't crazy about that but he's just so talented, particularly offensively. And while KG is one of the players in the NBA that has a shot at containing him there are not many. If it were a two year deal I'd go with Garnett. Anything beyond that I'd take Stoudemire.
CelticsBlog: The age issue (Amare is six years younger) throws a major monkey wrench into play here. STAT is just such an excellent offensive force and has plenty of time left to continue to develop his all-around game. But that said, until he really proves himself on the defensive end, I'll continue to believe that KG can be The Man on a championship team (largely because of his leadership and the presence he brings on the defensive end of the floor) but that STAT cannot as of yet. So I'm taking KG for now. But I'm not ruling out the possibility of Amare putting in the work to change my feelings (particularly regarding his prospects of being The Man on a title team) over the next few years.
Bright Side of the Sun: The NBA is famous for making teams pay their due. While the Celtics have a "storied franchise" this team doesn't have playoff experience together and they have a lot of young players in the rotation. Why do you think you can beat the Pistons or Cavs in a 7 game series?
Green Bandwagon: A lot of people seemed to like the deal Cleveland made at the trading deadline this season. I was not one of those people. I don't necessarily disagree with the trade. I'm just not convinced it vaults the Cavaliers into the Eastern elite, particularly with their current injury situation. So while I'm terrified of LeBron James, as everyone should be, I still think the Celtics have the better team. The Detroit Pistons are a tougher case. They have that championship core and this season young players (Jason Maxiell and Rodney Stuckey to name a few) have carried the load at times and made the Pistons deeper. But Allen, Pierce and Garnett have all played in a conference finals, Rondo has no fear and KG helps solve the Rasheed Wallace dilemma that plagues a lot of other teams. I think it could go either way in a seven game series but love Boston's chances.
CelticsBlog: The Cavs would scare me a lot more in a one-game, single-elimination type of playoff. On any given night, we don't know what LeBron is going to do, and that is a legitimately terrifying thought. But it's my contention that this team is good enough as a unit that asking Bron to overcome the C's four times in seven tries will just be too much to ask. I said at the time and still believe that the best-case scenario is that Danny Ferry adjusted his team laterally at the trading deadline, although there is certainly a possibility that he made the Cavs worse with his blockbuster deal with Seattle and Hicag. That team comes down to one man, and I don't see him winning four games all by his own self against the C's and their top-ranked defense.
As for the Pistons, hmm. There is no questioning here that Detroit and Boston would meet for a heck of a tough series. The teams met three times this year, and all three were close until the end (don't let the final score of the March 5 game fool you; the Pistons were in that one all the way, too). But at the end of the day, this Celtics team has the veteran leadership both in the three stars and several role players (Posey, Cassell, Brown) to help the youngsters stay composed during the playoffs, and the Celts simply want this more than the aging Pistons do. The Pistons have pulled this "cruise control" act for most of the last two seasons, and we saw how it ultimately worked out for them in the playoffs last season. The Celts out-fought them in the regular season, and the championship hunger on this team only grows by the day. The Celts will be ripping and clawing at every loose ball, and they will be playing every game just as they have every game this year: Like it's their last. When all is said and done, they may just have the desire to do the dirty work better than the Pistons do.
But I'm certainly making no guarantees about match-ups with either of the teams you mentioned. They are easily the Celts' top competition in the East, and those series would be tooth-and-nail battles to the finish.
Bright Side of the Sun: In the 1976 finals the Celtics needed a blown call to beat the Suns in the critical game 5. Do you think if our teams meet again in the finals you can count on this kind of help to win?
Green Bandwagon: I was not alive then and outside of the triple overtime game that championship, for whatever reason, is not as big a part of Celtics lore as others. Hence I'm not sure. I'd say the bigger issue would be the Celtics currently have home court advantage and would definitely bring the legends - Bill Russell, Bob Cousy and everyone else - to those games. And home court advantage is a good thing because I don't remember many arenas being as loud as the US Airways Center was the last time these two teams met. That game was also one of Boston's worst losses of the season so I'm interested in how this rematch goes. It is one of the few tests the Celtics have left on their schedule.
CelticsBlog: Well, I know after last spring that if I ask a Suns fan, I could certainly well be told that the league has it in for your boys (even if David Stern did make the right decision about the suspensions - ed note: Good point, Steve. Like the Sports Guy said, they correctly enforced "a stupid, idiotic, foolish, moronic", etc. etc. rule ). So perhaps the league hates the Suns, or perhaps the entire post-season will be one extended 'make-up call' for your team. But really, you're asking a fan if he can count on help for the refs? So far as I know, no fan in the history of sports has ever seen his (or her) team get the benefit of the doubt from the zebras. I see no need to start being objective about these matters now. :-D