Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Texas Three Step - Part 2

No team has swept the Texas Trio in one fell swoop since C-Webb and the Kings in four days in November of the 2001-2002 season. The Celtics haven't been able to win all three games in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio since February of 1987. The great 1986 team, considered by many to be the best team in NBA history (me included), couldn't sweep, losing the opening game in Dallas by a point, and beating the other two.

This Celtics team, currently FORTY games over .500, relishes challenges. When pundits were questioning their mettle after an easy schedule to begin the season, KG and company proceeded to sweep the dreaded post Christmas road trip 4-0. They won two road back-to-backs, first against the Kings and Sonics, then, after one night off, handling the Jazz and Lakers on consecutive nights.

This is a great team that relishes challenges. While many worry about the age of the Trinity, Pierce, Garnett, and Ray Allen have lead their team to an incredible 24-5 in back-to-back games, including 9-2 where the second game is a road game. They have swept 10 B2Bs already out of 14, and have only been swept once. The Celts actually have a higher winning percentage in both B2B games (.827) and road second games of B2Bs (.818) than overall (.803). That says a lot about the determination of this team. After tonight's big game with the streaking Rockets, the Cs play only three more B2Bs the rest of the season, with four of the six games against non-playoff teams and one against both the Hawks and Wizards. Even though the Cs will not have one home and home B2B combo all season, there's a good chance that they will win over 75% of their back to back games this season, which is incredible.

I will be stunned if the Cs don't go into tonight's game with the Rockets firing on all cylinders. This is a huge nationally televised game against a team on the second longest winning streak in league history. The Celtics are going to want to smoke the Rockets, the latest Western contender being pimped by the national media. There have been a bunch of Flavors of the Month out West this year (Jazz, Hornets, Lakers, and now Rockets), while the Cs have steadily won eight out of every ten games all season long. I'm guessing that the veterans on the Celtics must feel a bit slighted by all this attention to these Western teams while they have steadily beaten all comers. The Cs gaudy 21-4 record versus the West should be all the evidence needed that they are far and away the best team in the NBA.

The victory in San Antonio was monumental in a lot of ways. They dispatched the defending champion for the second time this season without the services of one of their all stars. They came back from a 22 point deficit on the champ’s home floor, and erased an 18 point lead in nine minutes. After fighting like crazy to get back in the game, they had an extra gear to shift to when down nine points with five minutes left. NBA teams always seem to get back into games after big deficits, but not many have the ability to overcome another lead late in the game after expending so much energy just to climb back into the game. One of the main reasons for the great comeback was new addition Sam Cassell, who seems to have the magic ability to seize the reins whenever his team is faltering, and to stick the dagger into an opponent when his team is on the precipice. Against the Spurs, he did both, all the while embracing and encouraging his overstudy, young starting PG Rajon Rondo.

The rest of the NBA should be terrified of the Celtics with a fully integrated Sam Cassell. Has any other team in recent league history had this many players who can rise to the occasion and hit the big shot? Imagine a one possession game with KG, Posey, Pierce, Ray Allen and Sam Cassell? How about a small ball line up of Garnett, Pierce, Ray Allen, Cassell and Rondo? Good luck getting stops against that line up. Or a one defensive stop needed unit of Kendrick Perkins, KG, Posey, Tony Allen and Rondo? Need a three? How’s Pierce, Ray Allen, Posey, Cassell, and Eddie House?

The Rockets get to tackle all of these line ups and more in their big showdown tonight in Houston. In their first meeting, the Cs held the Rockets, who were without Tracy McGrady, the Cs shot 53%, and really locked down Houston defensively. The Rockets, led by Luis Scola, seemed to get every loose ball, as well as 13 offensive rebounds and made a game of it before losing 97-94. I expect the Cs to actually score on Houston, who has been playing Celtics-style lock down defense during their impressive win streak. I also expect the Rockets to struggle offensively as they did in Boston, and if the Cs take care of the defensive backboard, they should end the winning streak. I see it 103-95 Boston.

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